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expressed the same idea in the well-known saying,
" Give me the making of the songs of a people and 1
care not who makes its laws."

When we add to all this, that the chief laws of the
state were imprinted in the memory of the youth that
they might know what was expected of good citizens,
we shall find reason to confess that the Athenians fell
little short of the most advanced nations of Christen-
dom in their care for the moral training of their

An examination of the means used by the Athenians
in intellectual education, should serve to mpdify in
some degree the stress which we of to-day are inclined
to lay on the study of foreign languages, as an almost
indispensable means for the attainment of high cul-
ture, and for the mastery of the vernacular. They
knew no language save their own; and yet through the
mastery of this by the thorough use of its own re-
sources, their poets and orators, their philosophers and
historians, attained such excellence as still to be con-
sidered by many as well-nigh unattainable models of
literary perfection; nor can we deny to them the pos-
session of an extraordinary culture, though they dis-
dain as barbarous all languages and literatures save

language: reading, literatuee 123

their own. Still it would be unsafe to generalize too
far from this one shining example; for we shall see,
some centuries later, how deeply the descendents of
these same Greeks degenerated, from lack of intel-
lectual intercourse with other races and of its attendant

The necessary first knowledge of reading was gained
by the Athenian school-boy by a method which has but
recently ceased to be used by us, that is by learning
the alphabet first, then forming syllables from the let-
ters, and finally advancing to words. This method
was however less unreasonable in a language like the
Greek in which the letters represent fixed sounds, than
in English, which has many more sounds than charac-
ters to represent them, and which presents besides ex-
traordinary irregularities in spelling.

When the boy had mastered the elements of read-
ing, in which special care was given to securing nicety
of pronunciation, correct use of the accent, and mel-
ody of intonation, he proceeded to what we may prop-
erly term the study of the choice literature of the lan-
guage, the works of Homer and the cyclic poets; of
Hesiod; of Solon, who was poet and philosopher as
well as lawgiver; and of others of the ancient sages
from whose works selections were made for school use.

On account of the scarcity of books, there was large
use of memory and of oral teaching, the teacher dic-
tating and explaning what the boys were to write and
learn; and there can be little doubt that much of the
best literature of the Greek race was thus securely
fixed in the minds of the boys, with great corresponding
benefits to taste and morals, as well as to intelligence.


Xot only was religious teaching interwoven with this
instruction in the works of the poets and sages, by
way of explanations of the mythology, especially in
the poems of Homer, who was, according to Greek
ideas, an inspired teacher of morals; but interesting
evidence exists that objective aids like pictures were
used to insure a proper realization of what was taught.

The Greeks had become skilful in the literary use of
their language, and had brought it to a high degree of
perfection, long before they began to trouble their
heads about its anatomy; for the grammatical, or more
properly rhetorical structure of the Greek tongue, did
not become a subject of school study until the fifth
century B. C, when it was introduce by the sophists,
and the first formal grammar of the language was pre-
pared by Dionysius Thrax, an Alexandrian scholar,
about 80 B. C.

The art of writing was taught by the use of tablets
covered with wax, in which the letters were traced with
an iron pen called a stylus, having one end pointed to
incise letters in the wax, and the other flat to obliter-
ate badly wTitten lines. The copy written by the
teacher was first retraced by the pupil to become ac-
customed to the necessary movements, and then imi-
tated below. The Roman Quintilian, speaking of the
same mode of teaching writing which prevailed at
Eome, suggested that the copies should be incised in
a hard surface to facilitate the learning of the move-
ments by the pupils.

From an expression of Plato in the "Laws'*, it
would seem that rapid or ready writing was not con-
sidered to be within the scope of ordinary elementary

grammak; pei^manship; arithmetic 125

education. The copying of books was done chiefly by
slaves on papyrus with reed pens, and it is not impos-
sible that ready writing may have been considered
slavish. In much later times persons have been known
to pride themselves on a cramped and illegible pen-
manship, as though it were a mark of intellectual
superiority, or of a soul elevated above mere mechani-
cal dexterity.

Arithmetic, or more properly the art of reckoning,
was taught on a system of fives with the aid of the
abacus, which had been introduced from Egypt, and
with a great use of the fingers bent in various ways.
Beckoning was in general carried no farther than was
absolutely necessary for the usual affairs of life.

The Greek notation was too cumbrous to encourage
any other than the most needful use, though it was
much better than the Roman notation in this respect.
It consisted of the use of the letters of the alphabet
separated into three groups of nines, one character be-
ing interpolated in each group to make the requisite
twenty-seven, the characters in the first group stand-
ing for the units, in the second for the tens, and in
the third for the hundreds, while a short vertical line
drawn under a character multiplied it by a thousand.
Thus a=one, /3^=two, /c=20, 9^ = 6, f = 90, r =300,
S =4,000, X =30,000, etc.

Plato thought that to the art of reckoning should
be added those principles of geometry which apply
to common measurements, and so much of astron-
omy as is implied in a correct knowledge of the
days, months, seasons, and stars, since " it is shameful
for the masses not to know these things." Beyond


this he evidently did not think these studies should be
carried save by choice spirits; though he had so high
an estimate of the value of geometry for philosophers
that he is said to have made a knowledge of it a requi-
site for admission to his lectures.

Such then were the few and simple means of educa-
tion employed by the Athenians to the middle of the
fifth century B. C. ; gymnastics for the body, includ-
ing dancing and graceful deportment; for the soul,
music, the chanting of the old heroic, patriotic, and
religious hymns of the Greek race, accompanied by
the notes of the lyre and flute; for the intellect and
taste, reading and a little writing, the simplest and
most practical elements of arithmetic, geometry, and.
astronomy, and a most enviable intimacy with the
greatest works in their national literature.

This seems a meagre scheme of studies to produce
such eminent results in national character and artistic
accomplishment as had already distinguished Athens
before and during the age of Pericles; yet it may be
questioned whether the small number of the branches
then available for school culture may not have been
positively advantageous, by compelling a more inten-
sive use of ^what they possessed, and especially of music
and the treasures of their vernacular literature.

Amidst the multiplicity of subjects which are
crowded upon the educator of to-day, and which are
pertinaciously urged upon his acceptance by an un-
thinking public and an eager press, there is always
danger that he may be beguiled into thinking that
since there are so many useful and interesting things
to know, school children should make the attempt to


know something of them all. And so languages and
mathematics and sciences and histories and the tools
of various trades, are likely to be thrust immediately
upon the immature intelligence, which needs to be
developed quite as much as furnished, — with the in-
evitable result of a superficial jumble of half-formed
notions and few or no clear ideas; mental powers so
frittered away in aimless and uncompleted efforts that
no definite mental habits are formed; taste and judg-
ment weakened because no time is given for the proper
use of either; formal examinations taking the place of
culture; and finally the body neglected and the devel-
opment of character overlooked in the vain chase after
a shallow and useless universality.

From such dangers of over-crowding with the con-
sequent mental indigestion and thwarted development,
Athenian scbool-boys were free; and to this fact may
have been due in some degree the purity of taste and
the strength of certain intellectual traits by which
the Athenians as a people were distinguished.

The special characters of the Athenian common edu-
cation may be boldly presented, and at the same time
usefully reviewed, by quoting from Karl Schmidt
(i. 572) the striking passage in which he contrasts
Athenian with Spartan education.

" The education of the Spartans, by which just as
much constraint was put upon the individual, as in
Attica freedom was permitted to him, was a general,
public, and uniform one, in which also the maidens
shared; the education of the Athenians w^as national
only in its import, whilst in its form it essentially em-
phasized diversity and individuality.


" In Sparta the physical tyrannized over the spirit-
ual education; in Athens a proper equilibrium between
body and spirit was the end for which they strove.

" In Athens, the woman was reared more in the pri-
vacy of the home than in Sparta; and consequently
public female education was cared for more in Sparta
than in Athens.

" In Sparta, education was the care of the state,
and was therefore directed by the state for the state ;
in Athens education was a private matter supervised
by the state only in a general way; hence in Sparta it
was strictly limited by law, whilst in Athens, not
hampered by laws, it developed itself freely in all

" Sparta limited instruction, aside from gymnastics,
to music and the sharpening of the judgment; Athens
strove by its scientific instruction, and especially
through exposition of the classic writings, to sharpen
the powers of thought, to waken the sense of beauty,
and to inspire a feeling for the noble.

" The Spartan music in which the youth were in-
structed was quiet and elevated; the Ionic, to which
the Athenians were inclined, was of a more exciting
character. Gymnastics at Sparta aimed especially at
endurance and physical strength; at Athens, it strove
to attain harmony and strength and agility.

" Education in Sparta promoted blind obedience; in
Athens the individual judgment of the youth was
developed. In Athens a part of filial duty was based
on gratitude; in Sparta, all duty of the child to his
parents consisted in obedience.

" The Athenian education was one which developed


with the development of the people; the Spartan re-
mained fixed and unalterable. Hence in Sparta there
was only one education; in Athens there were an old
and a new education. The Athenian education strove,
by the harmonious development of all the powers, to
make of the youth a beautiful whole, a moral work of
art; and the subsequent practice, in public life ad-
vanced the work of education, generated self-confi-
dence, kept all the powers in full tension, and pro-
moted keen observation and prudent judgment of
persons and circumstances, aud, in general, energy
and worldly wisdom. The deeper moral ideal of man,
and, with this, of education as a genuine religious
culture, the Athenian did not and could not know,
since he viewed all spiritual as well as physical life
only in the light of the aesthetic idea."

This higher humanitarian ideal of man, of his des-
tiny, and of his consequent education for an earthly
career which should be a fit preparation for an immor-
tal life, still awaited, not merely the coming of Christ,
but the full development of the consequences of his



During the fifth century, B. C, the number of de-
sirable studies in Greece, but more especially in Athens,
was somewhat increased by reason of the more compli-
cated relations which were introduced into their
political life through the substitution of democratic
institutions in place of the old aristocratic polity.
These new branches however had exclusive reference
to the hio^her training of the comparatively few elite
and more ambitious youth for a life of political and
social activity; and so they wrought no change in
that elementary education which was given to the

These more advanced subjects, which ultimately ex-
panded into a true university system, will claim our
attention in the present chapter. They were such as
were concerned with a more precise study of the rela-
tions of man to the state, to his fellows, and to the
supreme good, giving rise to politics, to ethics, and to
philosophy; or with the means of sifting ideas and
arguments in order to discover their truth or their
falsity or to confound an adversary, whence sprung
dialectics; or with aiding men to attain the power of
ready, effective, and convincing speech in the presence
of a multitude, whence rhetoric arose.

To teach this new class of subjects, a new set of


teachers was needed, with larger acquirements and a
wider range of experience than the old Athenian
schoolmasters, and a class called sophists arose to sup-
ply the need. J'hese men, who for many ages have
had a peculiar stigma attached to their name, which
in most European languages has embodied itself in
words of derogatory meaning, have at length found a
brilliant apologist and defender in Grote, who in his
History of Greece (Chap. 67) depicts them as at first
migratory teachers of subjects needed for social and
political life, who ' ' were prized all over Greece, travelled
from city to city with general admiration, and ob-
tained considerable pay."

Bringing to their vocation " a larger range of knowl-
edge with a greater multiplicity of scientific and other
topics " than was then common, possessing " a con-
siderable treasure of accumulated thought on moral
and political subjects ", and having " not only more
impressive powers of composition and speech, — but
also a comprehension of the elements of good speak-
ing ", their aim was to m.ake men ready and practical
as citizens under conditions such as then existed in
Greece, able not only to think and act appropriately,
but to express their opinions effectively in public

" Their direct business was with ethical precept,
not with ethical theory: all ihat was required of them
as to the latter was that their theory should be suffi-
ciently sound to lead to such practical precepts as were
accounted virtuous by the most estimable society in

They imparted a useful smattering of many subjects,


such as politics and ethics, science and philosophy, of
which men needed to know something that they might
make a creditable figure in public life; and gave a
special training in rhetoric as an art oj effective speak-
ing, and in dialectics, which answers to what we term
logic. The latter art, which men like Socrates, Plato,
and Aristotle employed to discover truth and to reach
what they considered the essence of subjects, the
Sophist used to make men ready in debate and dex-
trous to answer and confound opponents.

It may readily be seen that such a training furnished
weapons which could be used for bad purposes as well
as good, and which in the hands of unscrupulous
men, or even of good men intent only on immediate
results, could easily be employed to obscure truth and
to make the worse appear the better reason. Doubt-
less in Athens the art of persuasive speech and dex-
trous argumentation, acquired through the teaching
of the Sophists, was often perverted to improper uses
— as where in the world's history have such arts not
been liable to misuse ? This fact, together with the
superficiality of their teachings, which aimed only at
imparting knowledge immediately usable, gave oc-
casion to philosophers like Plato, themselves pro-
found but rival teachers, to attack both them and
their system.

Undoubtedly also the fact that the Sophists ex-
acted for their services fees which were often very con-
siderable, added bitterness to such attacks, since men
like Plato and Socrates considered this a desecration
of the office of moral teachers; and aided to fix a
stain upon a class which held in its ranks many high-


minded and useful men like Gorgias and Isocrates, who
were pursuing a calling for which there was at that
time a large demand. This last subject of reproach
would have no weight in our days; for no one for many
ages has thought that higher teachers lowered the dig-
nity of their calling by accepting payment for their
services, or in other words, that no one but persons of
independent fortunes should presume to teach young

Such is an outline of Mr. Grote's defence of this
interesting class of higher teachers, which I have
given not only because it seems reasonable in itself
and pertinent to our subject, but also because a special
pedagogic interest is attached to the efforts of these
much-vilified men; since the more extended scheme
of studies which they had done much at least to
popularize, passed in the next century into the hands
of men of a more profound though speculative genius,
and by them was wrought into a form in which it be-
came the basis of the first University systeui of educa-
tion. It is well therefore to vindicate the origins of
so important an educational factor from any unmerited

The men of genius to whom we have just alluded
were first Plato and Aristotle, followed after a few
decades by Zeno and Epicurus, eacli of whom founded,
a philosophic system that was represented in the Uni-
versity when it assumed a somewhat settled form. The
old gymnasia, the Academy and the Lyceum, which
had become recognized places for social meetings of
citizens and for the interchange of opinions, were
utilized by the great teachers also for their discourses.




LATo. 4'Ji»-347, B. C.

Aristotle. ;*4-3^2, B. C.

/hNo A4: - >7{), B. (J


;;4-j -jvo. Ji. c.

Thus Plato lectured and questioned in the groves of
Academe. Aristotle (see page 119) paced back and
forth followed by his auditors in the walks of the
Lyceum, whence his school came to be called the Peri-
patetic, i. e., those, who walk about. Epicurus taught
in his own garden at Athens, whither crowds flocked to
hear him from idl Greece and from Asia Minor. Finally
Zeno established his place for teaching in a porch or
stoa, whence his disciples were called Stoics.

Plato first set the example of the endowment of
teaching, by the gift of his two plots of land to his


favorite pupil, Spensippus, while designating him as
his successor. Other great masters also named their
successors, with or without endowment; and thus four
systems or schools of philosophy arose, the heads of
which at first named their successors, but later the
head was chosen by the disciples. The practice of
endowment spread in later times, and a university sys-
tem gradually developed itself, in which the dominant
studies were rhetoric and the four schools of philoso-
phy, these studies being evidently pursued in the same
spirit and for the same purpose that actuate the mass
of university students of the present day.

Ehetoric, which was divided into theoretic and prac-
tical rhetoric, began with the study of Greek litera-
ture, both poetic and prose, and passed thence to the
technique of expression and to the practice of care-
ful writing.

The four schools of philosophy limited themselves
each to teaching and expounding the doctrines of its
founder, but unfortunately without imitating his
originality, or attempting to modify in the least what
the master had taught. . Hence the tendency of philo-
sophic teaching was to promote rather the acceptance
of a settled body of doctrine, than a truly philosophic
freedom of thinking on great subjects.

Up to the Christian era, the schools were wholly in-
dependent of the state, and were supported by endow-
ments or by the fees of students. Somewhat later, the
Eoman emperors established chairs of rhetoric and of
politics the salaries of which were paid by the state,
and they not unfrequently interposed in filling such


places.* According to Gibbon, the emperor Hadrian
in the 2d century A. D., founded a splendid library
for the university.

The head of the university had the title of sophist,
from which it would appear that no odium then clung
to that name. Besides the professors, there came to
be large numbers of tutors living by fees received from
students. Among the various teachers sharp compe-
titions for numerous hearers arose, in which the stu-
dents riotously participated, forming societies whose
chief bond of union was adhesion to some teacher, and
contending with each other for new-comers, whom
they "rushed" for their favorite tutor or professor.
Karl Schmidt (i.86o) gives the following interesting
account of these student societies, and of some stu-
dent usages, derived from authors of the last cen-
turies of antiquity.

" They were called corps, fraternities ((pparptaL)
etc., and had a senior at their head whose duty it was,
at the beginning of the school year, to march to the
Piraeus at the head of his corps, to take charge of the
freshmen arriving from Egypt and Pontus, and to win
them to his fraternity. Such fraternities were usually
made up, not so much according to nationality as from
adherence to certain teachers. Those students who
entered any fraternity were bound to attend on a cer-
tain prescribed teacher. From the nature of the case,
there was not lacking rivalry among the teachers as
well as among their students."

After giving a curious example of two noted rival
teachers who were constrained to have their private

*For the mode of filling professorships see Schmidt, 4th ed., i.869, 877.


lecture rooms that they might be secure from the tur-
bulence of the opposing factions, and whose adherents
even came to blows in their zeal for their favorite pro-
fessors, our author remarks: "This kind of life and
conduct reminds us of the conditions of the middle
ages and of modern times. Even many details of the
present student customs have their origin in antiquity.
Thus we hear of tossing freshmen in blankets, and of
all sorts of singular usages at initiations, of the debts
of students, of the collection of dues by scouts, of poor
students who were supported by Athenian citizens,"
and other things of like character, showing how little
youthful human nature has changed in the lapse of

The students were distinguished by a college gown,
the wearing of which seems to have been a privilege
conferred only by the Sophist. The usual time of
residence at the university was from five to eight
years; but there were no prescribed courses or degrees,
the system being wholly elective and voluntary. The
fewness of the subjects then available for higher in-
struction rendered this lack of definite system less
troublesome than it would now be; but there is abund-
ance of evidence that there was much idleness and
dissoluteness on the part of students, doubtless due in
part to the lack of any oversight or any tests of
progress— though from a passage in Plutarch it would
seem that examinations at the completion of studies
were not wholly unknown, and that these consisted in
a display on the part of students of how skilfully they
could use the knowledge they had gained.

Other sources of disorder arose from the fact that


in the schools there were no limits of age, no rule as
to numbers of studies, no enforcement of attendance
on anything, and no discipline save the little that was
possibl}^ exercised by archons elected for brief periods
by the students themselves. In short, we have here
an example of " freedom of teaching and freedom of
study " in its purest form. Reliance was evidently
placed on the interest of the great body of students

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Online LibrarySamuel Gardner WilliamsThe history of ancient education; → online text (page 8 of 20)