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Ancient Greek Education

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In Athens the popular viewpoint of the time was that the state and its government were set up to benefit the individual citizen. The training of boys, both physical and mental, should be for citizenship and for living, not just for warfare. Such education involved the cultivation of the mind even more than the body, and had as its goals the attainment of character, taste, and, above all, sophrosyne, or patience, moderation, and good behavior in word, thought, and daily actions.

In Athens, education was largely a private matter. There were, of course, exceptions. For example, certain large gymnasiums were built and maintained for public use.

Not much is known about Greek education other than the subjects taught. We do know that only boys were generally educated, not girls, and that the sons of wealthy Athenians began school earlier and stayed longer than the sons of not-quite-so-wealthy parents. These latter boys usually left school around the age of fourteen.

Little children were taught at home by their parents or by a slave, called a paedagogus. At the age of six or seven the boys were sent to primary school which was usually within the neighborhood. Elementary school teachers were always men, never women. Because of the low pay, and the Athenian aversion to taking a job, these men were themselves little educated and had little social standing. The money these teachers made came from the tuition fees the child's parents sent monthly. The costs of tuition and the topic of study were the choice of the teacher.

In school, the boys sat on plain benches while their teacher sat in an armchair, called a cathedra, and dictated, or read to the boys, their lessons from a book. At this time, books were very expensive. Therefore, the boys did not own copies of the books they were studying. Instead, while the teacher was reading out loud, the students would write down on tablets of wax what he was saying. Later they would memorize what they had written. In this way, entire books were memorized by Athenian students!

Interestingly enough, Greeks never read silently to themselves--always out loud. Proper enunciation of sound and clearness of words were essential and voice training was constant. Classes were taught and information was learned almost entirely from the spoken word. This is why the Greeks had a love of drama, recitations, public recitals, and contests. Paintings the Athenians put on their vases show us pictures of the school rooms. They had writing tablets, rulers, baskets full of manuscripts, and, for music, lyres and flutes. Playing the lyre, an instrument resembling a small hand-held harp, was considered so important, that if a boy couldn't play the lyre well enough, it was thought to be a sign of bad breeding.

In the better and larger schools reading, writing, and mathematics would be taught by a special teacher, called the grammatistes, lessons in music and poetry were given by teachers called the kitharistes, and physical training was directed by the trainer, or paidotribes."

Education in ancient Greece was far different from education today. The Athenian boy in school had a study program far easier than boys (and girls) have today. The Athenian boy could concentrate only on the Greek language and literature because no other languages were taught. Mathematics was basic and simple. There was little scientific knowledge in the fifth and fourth centuries (499 -300) B.C. The readings were mainly the works of Homer, Hesiod, Theognis and the lyric poets and probably, towards the end of the fifth century (499-400) B.C. the tragic plays of various



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