Socrates teaching
For the most part, upper class youths were the only Greek children who received an education. Teachers, in most cases, were either educated slaves or tutors hired out for a fee. Most children began their studies at age seven. but there were no strict rules governing when a child's schooling began or how long it should last.

In the classroom a tablet and slate were used for writing and an abacus was used for calculating. Students wrote by hand onto papyrus scrolls with ink made of soot, resin, wine dregs and cuttlefish. Schools were sometimes set up in front of shops by street teachers who were paid a few coins by noblemen to teach their children.**

In the 7th and 6th century B.C. education was thought of as preparation for war and membership in the upper classes. Sports and athletic were taught to prepare boys for war and music and dance was learned by both boys and girls for acceptance among the elite. In the 5th century B.C. the Athenians developed schools that were not all that much different from those today. Younger students were taught reading, writing and arithmetic and older students studied philosophy, rhetoric and geometry. [Source: "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum,||]

A typical upper class education included instruction in poetry, music, oratory and gymnastics. The emphasis was more on the spoken word than the written word. At the gymnasiums, men taught boys about their duties to the community, proper behavior and how to carry oneself as a man.

The Lyceum was one of the great schools of philosophy in ancient Greece along with Plato's Academy and the school created by the Cynics after the death of Socrates in 339 B.C. See philosophy.

For the most part there were few established centers of learning, nothing like modern universities anyway. Teachers tended to teach wherever they could: in their own homes, those of wealthy patrons, city hall or rooms in public baths.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Book: “ A History of Education in Antiquity” by M. Marrou.

World’s First University in Alexandria?

Alexandria Library Inscription
Before the library was built in Alexandria, Ptolemy I founded the Mouseion, a research institute which some regard as the world’s first university. It had lecture halls, laboratories and guest rooms for visiting scholars. Archimedes, Aruistarchus of Samos and Euclid all worked there. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Smithsonian magazine, April 2007]

Excavations in downtown Alexandria in the 1990s and 2000s revealed lecture halls from the Mouseion. The area that has been reconstructed thus far shows a row of rectangular halls. Each has a a separate entrance into the street and horse-shoe-shaped stone bleachers. The neat rows of rooms lie in a portico between the Greek theater and the Roman baths. The facilities were built about A.D. 500.

Grzegorz Majcherek. A Polish archaeologist from Warsaw University who is working the site, told Smithsonian magazine, he believes the rooms and hall “were used for higher education — and the level of education was very high.” Texts in other archives show that professors were well paid with public funds and they were forbidden from teaching private lessons except on their days off. There is also evidence that both Christian and pagan scholars worked there.”

Perhaps similar institutions existed in Antioch, Constantinople, Beirut or Rome but no evidence of them has turned up. Majcherek believes Mouseion may have attracted many scholars from the Athens Academy, which closed in A.D. 529. There is some evidence that intellectual activity continued after the arrival of Islam in the 7th century but things later quieted down and likely shifted to Damascus or Baghdad.

Plato's Academy

Plato's Academy
In 387 B.C., after returning to Athens a second time, Plato founded the Academy, about a mile outside of Athens, in a garden near a gymnasium and grove sacred to the Hero Akedemus (also known as Hekademus), the source of the name Academy. At first Plato’s Academy was little more than a place where students gathered. Over time, Plato reputation as a lecturer grew and he received enough financial support from the aristocracy to have buildings constructed. A nobleman named Dionysuis II reportedly gave Plato the equivalent of half a million dollars.

The Academy has been called the first think tank and the first university but it had some unique features. There was no admission and no tuition fees. Plato got by on donations and presents from the rich parents of some of his students. The students reportedly dressed in elegant clothes in what were pleasant bucolic surroundings. They were encouraged to live ascetically and be celibate. Plato continued teaching at the Academy until his death at age 80.

The atmosphere of the Academy was quite different than the marketplace where Socrates held court and gymnasiums where they the Sophists lectured.. Students came from all over. They usually stayed for four years. Aristotle stayed for 20 years. The curriculum focused on mathematics and the pursuit of truth while its rival school in Athens, Isocrates, taught rhetoric and persuasion.

Plato's Academy provided a model for universities and social and scientific academies that developed later. His students, which included Demosthenes, Aristotle, Lycurgus and several women, studied mathematics, philosophy, law and music.

Aristotle’s Lyceum

ruins of the Lyceum

Aristotle established the Lyceum in in Athens, He taught there from the age of 49 until his retirement at 62. The Lyceum was one of the great schools of philosophy in ancient Greece along with Plato's Academy and the school created by the Cynics after the death of Socrates in 339 B.C. The Lyceum was more than a school. It had an extensive library, gardens and a museum. The library was extensive. Some have called it the first well-organized library. After he died his heirs ordered the books and scrolls buried to keep them out of the hands of his rivals.

Aristotle liked to stroll around the garden while he was teaching. Some people called the Lyceum the Peripatetic School (the Walking Around School) because of Aristotle’s teaching methods. Morning classes were for serious students. Evening ones for anyone who wanted to come. Afterwards there were often symposium — festive meals — were conducted according to Aristotle’s rules.

In the classes, students didn’t just listen to lectures and engage in discussions they also studied the habits of insects and dissected animals. In response to students that complained about the smell and guts, Aristotle told them: “The consideration of the lower forms of life ought not to excite a childish repugnance. In all natural things there is something to move wonder.” Aristotle and his students were encouraged to take notes on everything and share them with each other.

Aristotle spent twelve years at the Lyceum. In 323 B.C., during a wave of anti-Macedonian feeling, that followed the death of Alexander the Great, Aristotle was accused of impiety and forced to flee Athens. He ended up in Chaleis on the island of Euboea, where he died the next year at the age of 63. He was rich when he died. He left most of his money to his family and freed some of his slaves.

Alexandria Library as an Intellectual Center

The Alexandria Library also contained a museum, or literally "a Place of Museum." Unlike a modern museum it was gathering places for scholars and intellectuals. According to one classics professor, "it had a dining hall in which they took their meals in common, private studies, laboratories, a cloisterlike promenade for thoughtful strolling, and so forth, all funded by generous endowment from the crown." Strabo wrote, "They formed a community who held property in common with priest appointed by the kings."

Among the great minds who worked there were the mathematicians Eratosthenes and Euclid, the physicists Archimedes, the poet Theocritus and, and the philosophers Zeno and Epicurus. Euclid completed his famous “ Elements” at the library. Eratosthenes, who made his famous measurement of earth's circumference, worked as a librarian of the library. Others worked out the principal of the steam engine, dissected human bodies and worked out the brain was the center of the nervous system and intelligence.

Alexandria Library

The Alexandria Library was "the seedbed of the ancient Greek Renaissance.” Scholars there mapped the stars and planets, created geometry, came up with the idea of the "leap years," revived Plato and Aristotle, translated works by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and collected Buddhist, Jewish and Zoroastrian texts. “ Greek Grammar” by Dionysus Thrax was used as a guide to grammar and style until the 12th century.

One of the greatest achievements was the essential creation of the Old Testament by seventy-two Jewish scholars, when they translated the Hebrew Bible (the Torah), "which from its beginning was enshrouded in legend and folklore," into Greek. The scholars were brought together by Ptolemy I. According to a Jewish legend, he asked each of the Jewish scholars individually to translate the whole Hebrew Bible and miraculously the result, was 72 identical versions. Modern copies of the Bible are all based on the Greek translation.

Education for Wealthy Athens Children

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The father also decided how the child would be raised and educated, some favoring home schooling and others bringing in tutors to educate them. (Alexander, the Great's father King Philip brought in Aristotle to serve as teacher and mentor to the young Alexander.) Children grew up playing with a variety of toys ( rattles, balls, miniature chariots, wooden boats, clay houses; animal figures- pigs, goats, etc.) as well as perhaps a small number of pets- dogs, ducks, mice and, even, insects. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“Formal education covered the usual 3 R's ( reading, w riting and a rithmetic) as well as physical education and music. For the ancient Greeks, music was considered to have great importance in a proper education curriculum and students learned both to sing and to play various instruments. The school master and the music teacher conducted lessons in their own homes, not in state constructed schools. Although the state valued and took an interest in education, carrying out the instruction was a matter of private initiative. The works of Homer were an important part of the course of studies serving an a source of inspiration for lessons dealing with matters of a moral or religious nature. Homer was perceived as a guide for a proper life while the writings of Hesiod and Solon were considered of secondary importance. |

“By the age of eighteen the young Athenian was ready for military service. Prior to this, from roughly the age of twelve, he would have had considerable exposure to physical training participating in a range of activities- running, wrestling, jumping, discus and javelin. Of course many of the skills learned in these sporting endeavors would prove to be useful in time of war.” |

Education for Spartan Children

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “The father also decided how the child would be raised and educated, some favoring home schooling and others bringing in tutors to educate them. (Alexander, the Great's father King Philip brought in Aristotle to serve as teacher and mentor to the young Alexander.) Children grew up playing with a variety of toys ( rattles, balls, miniature chariots, wooden boats, clay houses; animal figures- pigs, goats, etc.) as well as perhaps a small number of pets- dogs, ducks, mice and, even, insects. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“The Spartan student curriculum developed only basic skills in reading and writing. The emphasis was on content that would be useful in a military career- survival training, how to endure hardship, overcome obstacles and fend for yourself in hostile territory. Spartan youth went barefoot, they wore a single cloak in all kinds of weather and they were fed sparingly. They were encouraged to supplement their rations by stealing food and then whipped if they were caught in the process. The whip, in fact, played an important role in their upbringing. |

“By twenty, the Spartan youth had reached adulthood. At this stage he joined a “dining group” of his military peers. He ate all his meals with that group, bonding and developing a sense of camaraderie essential for hoplite warfare where all relied on each other. Sometime in the course of the next decade he would marry and live, not at home, but with his military messmates until he had reached the age of thirty. |

“Spartan girls enjoyed more freedom than their Greek counterparts in other states. They were educated by the state and their primary mission was to have children, particularly young soldiers-in-waiting. To that end they were well-nourished and encouraged to exercise, participating in a range of sports activities. Spartan women were also allowed to inherit and own property.” |

Aristotle on Molding Good Citizens Through Education

Aristotle wrote in “The Politics,” Book III (c.340 B.C.): Like the sailor, the citizen is a member of a community. Now, sailors have different functions, for one of them is a rower, another a pilot, and a third a look-out man...Similarly, one citizen differs from another, but the salvation of the community is the common business of them all. This community is the constitution; the virtue of the citizen must therefore be relative to the constitution of which he is a member. A constitution is the arrangement of magistracies in a state, especially of the highest of all. The government is everywhere sovereign in the state, and the constitution is in fact the government. For example, in democracies the people are supreme, but in oligarchies, the few; and, therefore, we say that these two forms of government also are different: and so in other cases. [Source: Thatcher, ed., Vol. II: The Greek World, pp. 364-382; The Politics of Aristotle, translated by Benjamin Jowett, (New York: Colonial Press, 1900]

Aristotle wrote in “The Politics,” Book VII: “The citizen should be molded to suit the form of government under which he lives. And since the whole city has one end, it is manifest that education should be one and the same for all, and that it should be public, and not private. Neither must we suppose that any one of the citizens belongs to himself, for they all belong to the state, and are each of them a part of the state, and the care of each part is inseparable from the care of the whole.

“The customary branches of education are in number four; they are — (1) reading and writing, (2) gymnastic exercises, (3) music, to which is sometimes added (4) drawing. Of these, reading and writing and drawing are regarded as useful for the purposes of life in a variety of ways, and gymnastic exercises are thought to infuse courage. Concerning music a doubt may be raised. — in our own day most men cultivate it for the sake of pleasure, but originally it was included in education, because nature herself, as has been often said, requires that we should be able, not only to work well, but to use leisure well; for, what ought we to do when at leisure? Clearly we ought not to be amusing ourselves, for then amusement would be the end of life. But if this is inconceivable, we should introduce amusements only at suitable times, and they should be our medicines, for the emotion which they create in the soul is a relaxation, and from the pleasure we obtain rest.....

Alexander the Great Tutored by Aristotle

Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great
In 342 B.C., Philip II of Macedonia hired Aristotle to teach science and politics to his 13-year-old son Alexander the Great. Little is known about what transpired between the two. Neither Aristotle nor Alexander the Great had much to say about the other afterwards and neither seem to have much influence on the other.

Plutarch wrote in “Life of Alexander”: Philip “sent for Aristotle, the most celebrated and learned of all the philosophers; and the reward he gave him for forming his son Alexander was not only honorable, but remarkable for its propriety. He had formerly dismantled the city of Stagira, where that philosopher was born, and now he re-built it, and reestablished the inhabitants, who had either fled or been reduced to slavery... Aristotle was the man Alexander admired in his younger years, and, as he said himself, he had no less affection for him than for his own father.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. c.46–120), “Life of Alexander,” John Langhorne and William Langhorne, eds., “Plutarch's Lives,” Translated from the Original Greek. Cincinatti: Applegate, Pounsford and Co., 1874, pp. 434-439]

One of the few things that Aristotle was recorded as saying was: “the young man is not a proper audience for political science. He has no experience of life, and because he still follows his emotions, he will only listen to purpose, uselessly." Aristotle appears to have written some pamphlets especially for Alexander. They include On Kingship , In Praise of Colones and The Glory of Rices.

The reason Philip chose Aristotle to be Alexander's teacher is not clear. Aristotle was not a well known philosopher at that time. His father served as court physician for Philip's father (Alexander's grandfather) and perhaps Philips choice was a political move aimed at rebuilding Stagira. Aristotle spent three years with Alexander, until he was 16, when he was made a regent while his father Philip was in Asia Minor.

Aristotle was well paid. Philip also helped Aristotle in his studies of nature by assigning gamekeepers to tag wild animals for him. After Alexander became king of Macedonia he gave Aristotle a lot of money so he could set up a school. While he was in Macedonia, Aristotle made friends with the general Antipater, who ran Macedonia while Alexander was on his campaign of conquest. The friendship was close enough that Antipater was the executor of Aristotle's will. Aristotle no doubt received some financial assistance from him as well.

Alexander had a deep love for Greek literature. He reportedly loved to recite passages from the plays of Euripides from memory. Plutarch wrote: "He regarded the Iliad as a handbook of the art of war and took with him on his campaigns a text annotated by Aristotle, which he always kept under his pillow together with a dagger." In the end Alexander proved more open minded than Aristotle, who tended to view non-Greeks as barbarians.

Plutarch on Alexander the Great and Aristotle

Another interpretation of Alexander the Great and Aristotle

Plutarch wrote: “After this, considering him to be of a temper easy to be led to his duty by reason, but by no means to be compelled, he always endeavoured to persuade rather than to command or force him to anything; and now looking upon the instruction and tuition of his youth to be of greater difficulty and importance than to be wholly trusted to the ordinary masters in music and poetry, and the common school subjects, and to require, as Sophocles says-

"The bridle and the rudder too," he sent for Aristotle, the most learned and most celebrated philosopher of his time, and rewarded him with a munificence proportionable to and becoming the care he took to instruct his son. For he repeopled his native city Stagira, which he had caused to be demolished a little before, and restored all the citizens, who were in exile or slavery, to their habitations. As a place for the pursuit of their studies and exercise, he assigned the temple of the Nymphs, near Mieza, where, to this very day, they show you Aristotle's stone seats, and the shady walks which he was wont to frequent. It would appear that Alexander received from him not only his doctrines of Morals and of Politics, but also something of those more abstruse and profound theories which these philosophers, by the very names they gave them, professed to reserve for oral communication to the initiated, and did not allow many to become acquainted with. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“For when he was in Asia, and heard Aristotle had published some treatises of that kind, he wrote to him, using very plain language to him in behalf of philosophy, the following letter. "Alexander to Aristotle, greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell." And Aristotle, soothing this passion for pre-eminence, speaks, in his excuse for himself, of these doctrines as in fact both published and not published: as indeed, to say the truth, his books on metaphysics are written in a style which makes them useless for ordinary teaching, and instructive only, in the way of memoranda, for those who have been already conversant in that sort of learning.

“Doubtless also it was to Aristotle that he owed the inclination he had, not to the theory only, but likewise to the practice of the art of medicine. For when any of his friends were sick, he would often prescribe them their course of diet, and medicines proper to their disease, as we may find in his epistles. He was naturally a great lover of all kinds of learning and reading; and Onesicritus informs us that he constantly laid Homer's Iliads, according to the copy corrected by Aristotle, called the casket copy, with his dagger under his pillow, declaring that he esteemed it a perfect portable treasure of all military virtue and knowledge. When he was in the upper Asia, being destitute of other books, he ordered Harpalus to send him some; who furnished him with Philistus's History, a great many of the plays of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, and some dithyrambic odes, composed by Telestes and Philoxenus. For a while he loved and cherished Aristotle no less, as he was wont to say himself, than if he had been his father, giving this reason for it, that as he had received life from the one, so the other had taught him to live well. But afterwards, upon some mistrust of him, yet not so great as to make him do him any hurt, his familiarity and friendly kindness to him abated so much of its former force and affectionateness, as to make it evident he was alienated from him. However, his violent thirst after and passion for learning, which were once implanted, still grew up with him, and never decayed; as appears by his veneration of Anaxarchus, by the present of fifty talents which he sent to Xenocrates, and his particular care and esteem of Dandamis and Calanus.”

Nasty Punishment for a Naughty Ancient Greek Student

Romans flogging a saint

Herondas (aka Herodas) (c.300-250 B.C.) wrote in “A Mother and Her Truant Son,” from “The Third Mime: A mother named Metrotimé, brings her truant son Cottalos to his schoolmaster Lampriscos to receive a flogging. “Metrotimé. Flog him Lampriscos, across the shoulders, till his wicked soul is all but out of him. He's spent my all in playing odd and even; knuckle bones are nothing to him. Why, he hardly knows the door of the Letter School. And yet the thirtieth comes round and I must pay — tears no excuse. [Source: William Stearns Davis, “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols., (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. I: Greece and the East, pp. 255-257.

“His writing tablet which I take the trouble to wax anew each month, lies unregarded in the corner. If by chance he deigns to touch it he scowls like Hades, then puts nothing right but smears it out and out. He doesn't know a letter, till you scream it twenty times. The other day his father made him spell "Maron"; the rascal made it "Simon": dolt I thought myself to send him to a school! Ass-tending is his trade! — Another time we set him to recite some childish piece; he sifts it out like water through a crack, "Apollo" — pause, — then "hunter!"

“[The poor mother goes on to say that it is useless to scold the boy; for, if she does, he promptly runs away from home, to sponge upon his grandmother, or sits upon the roof out of the way like an ape, breaking the tiles, which is expensive for his parents.] Yet he knows the seventh and the twentieth of the month, whole holidays, as if he reads the stars, he lies awake o'nights dreaming of them. But, so may yonder Muses prosper you, give him in stripes no less than —

“Lampriscos [briskly]. Right you are, here, Euthias, Coccalos, and Phillos hoist him upon your backs. I like your goings on, my boy! I'll teach you manners! Where's my strap, with the stinging cow's tail?
“Cottalos [in terror]. By the Muses, sir, — not with the stinger?
“Lampriscos. Then you shouldn't be so naughty.
“Cottalos. O, how many will you give me!
“Lampriscos. Your mother fixes that.
“Cottalos. How many, mother?
“Metrotimé. As many as your wicked hide can bear.
“[They proceed with the flogging]
“Cottalos. Stop! — That's enough! — Stop! Lampriscos. You should stop your ways.
“Cottalos. I'll never do it more, I promise you.

“Lampriscos. Don't talk so much, or else I'll bring a gag.
“Cottalos. I won't talk, — only do not kill me, — please!
“Lampriscos [Source: length relenting]. Let him down, boys.
“Metrotimé. No — leather him till sunset.
“Lampriscos. Why, he's as mottled as a water snake.
“Metrotimé. Well, when he's done his reading, good or bad, give him a trifle more, say twenty strokes.
“Cottalos [in agony]. Yah!
“Metrotimé. [turning away]. I'll go home and get a pair of fetters. Our Lady Muses, whom he scorned, shall see their scorner hobble here with shackled feet.

Plutarch: The Training of Children

Oliver J. Thatcher wrote: “Plutarch was born of a wealthy family in Boeotia at Chaeronea about 50 A.D. Part of his life seems to have been spent at Rome, but he seems to have returned to Greece and died there about 120 A.D. But little further is know of his life. He was one of the greatest biographers the world has ever known, while his moral essays show wide learning and considerable depth of contemplation. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

the gymnasium at Olympia

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “1. The course that ought to be taken for the training of freeborn children, and the means whereby their manners may be rendered virtuous, will, with the reader's leave, be the subject of our present disquisition. 2. In the management of which, perhaps it may be expedient to take our rise from their very procreation. I would therefore, in the first place, advise those who desire to become the parents of famous and eminent children, that they keep not company with all women that they light on; I mean such as harlots, or concubines. For such children as are blemished in their birth, either by the father's or the mother's side, are liable to be pursued, as long as they live, with the indelible infamy of their base extraction, as that which offers a ready occasion to all that desire to take hold of it of reproaching and disgracing them therewith. “Misfortune on that family's entailed,/ Whose reputation in its founder failed.”

“Wherefore, since to be well-born gives men a good stock of confidence, the consideration thereof ought to be of no small value to such as desire to leave behind them a lawful issue. For the spirits of men who are alloyed and counterfeit in their birth are naturally enfeebled and debased; as rightly said the poet again — “A bold and daring spirit is oft daunted,/ When with the guilt of parents' crimes 'tis haunted.

“So, on the contrary, a certain loftiness and natural gallantry of spirit is wont to fill the breasts of those who are born of illustrious parents. Of which Diaphantus, the young son of Themistocles, is a notable instance; for he is reported to have made his boast often and in many companies, that whatsoever pleased him pleased also all Athens; for whatever he liked, his mother liked; and whatever his mother liked, Themistocles liked; and whatever Themistocles liked, all the Athenians liked. Wherefore it was gallantly done of the Lacedaemonian states, when they laid a round fine on their king Archidamus for marrying a little woman, giving this reason for their so doing: that he meant to beget for them not kings, but kinglings.

“3. The advice which I am, in the next place, about to give, is, indeed, no other than what has been given by those who have undertaken this argument before me. You will ask me what is that? It is this: that no man keep company with his wife for issue's sake but when he is sober, having drunk either no wine, or at least not such a quantity as to distemper him; for they usually prove wine-bibbers and drunkards, whose parents begot them when they were drunk. Wherefore Diogenes said to a stripling somewhat crack-brained and half-witted: Surely, young man, your father begot you when he was drunk. Let this suffice to be spoken concerning the procreation of children; and let us pass thence to their education.

Plutarch on Teaching Virtue and Morality

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “4. And here, to speak summarily, what we are wont to say of arts and sciences may be said also concerning virtue: that there is a concurrence of three things requisite to the completing them in practice — which are nature, reason and use. Now by reason here I would be understood to mean learning; and by use, exercise. Now the principles come from instruction, the practice comes from exercise, and perfection from all three combined. And accordingly as either of the three is deficient, virtue must needs be defective. For if virtue is not improved by instruction, it is blind; if instruction is not assisted by nature, it is maimed; and if exercise fail of the assistance of both, it is imperfect as to the attainment of its end. And as in husbandry it is first requisite that the soil be fertile, next that the husbandman be skillful, and lastly that the seed he sows be good; so here nature resembles the soil, the instructor of youth the husbandman, and the rational principles and precepts which are taught, the seed. And I would peremptorily affirm that all these met and jointly conspired to the completing of the souls of those universally celebrated men, Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, together with all others whose eminent worth has begotten them immortal glory. And happy is that man certainly, and well-beloved of the Gods, on whom by the bounty of any of them all these are conferred. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“And yet if any one thinks that those in whom Nature has not thoroughly done her part may not in some measure make up her defects, if they be so happy as to light upon good teaching, and withal apply their own industry towards the attainment of virtue, he is to know that he is very much, nay, altogether, mistaken. For as a good natural capacity may be impaired by slothfulness, so dull and heavy natural parts may be improved by instruction; and whereas negligent students arrive not at the capacity of understanding the most easy things, those who are industrious conquer the greatest difficulties. ...A man's ground is of itself good; yet, if it be not manured, it will contract barrenness; and the better it was naturally, so much the more is it ruined by carelessness, if it be ill-husbanded. On the other side, let a man's ground be more than ordinarily rough and rugged; yet experience tells us that, if it be well manured, it will be quickly made capable of bearing excellent fruit. Yes, what sort of tree is there which will not, if neglected, grow crooked and unfruitful; and what but will, if rightly ordered, prove faithful and bring its fruit to maturity? What strength of body is there which will not lose its vigor and fall to decay by laziness, nice usage, and debauchery? And, on the contrary, where is the man of never so crazy a natural constitution, who can not render himself far more robust, if he will only give himself to exercise activity and strength? What horse well-managed from a colt proves not easily governable by the rider? And where is there one to be found which, if not broken betimes, proves not stiff-necked and unmanageable? Yes, why need we wonder at anything else when we see the wildest beasts made tame and brought to hand by industry? And lastly, as to men themselves, that Thessalian answered not amiss, who, being asked which of his countrymen were the meekest, replied: Those that have received their discharge from the wars.

“But what need of multiplying more words in this matter, when even the notion of the word athos in the Greek language imports continuance, and he that should call moral virtues customary virtues would seem to speak not incongruously? I shall conclude this part of my discourse, therefore, with the addition of one only instance. Lycurgus, the Lacedaemonian (Mesopotamia) lawgiver, once took two whelps of the same litter, and ordered them to be bred in quite a different manner; whereby one became dainty and ravenous, and the other of a good scent and skilled in hunting; which done, a while after he took occasion thence in an assembly of the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) to discourse in this manner: Of great weight in the attainment of virtue, fellow-citizens, are habits, instruction, precepts, and indeed the whole manner of life---as I will presently let you see by example. And, withal, he ordered the producing those two whelps into the midst of the hall, where also there were set down before them a plate and a live hare. Whereupon, as they had been bred, the one presently flies upon the hare, and the other as greedily runs to the plate. And while the people were musing, not perfectly apprehending what he meant by producing those whelps thus, he added: These whelps were both of one litter, but differently bred; the one, you see, has turned out a greedy cur, and the other a good hound. And this shall suffice to be spoken concerning custom and different ways of living.

Plutarch’s Advice to Parents on Getting a Good Teacher


Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “7. Next, when a child is arrived at such an age as to be put under the care of pedagogues, great care is to be used that we be not deceived in them, and so commit our children to slaves or barbarians or cheating fellows. For it is a course never enough to be laughed at which many men nowadays take in this affair; for if any of their servants be better than the rest, they dispose some of them to follow husbandry, some to navigation, some to merchandise, some to be stewards in their houses, and some, lastly, to put out their money to use for them. But if they find any slave that is a drunkard or a glutton, and unfit for any other business, to him they assign the government of their children; whereas, a good pedagogue ought to be such a one in his disposition as Phoenix, tutor to Achilles, was. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“And now I come to speak of that which is a greater matter, and of more concern than any that I have said. We are to look after such masters for our children as are blameless in their lives, not justly reprovable for their manners, and of the best experience in teaching. For the very spring and root of honesty and virtue lies in the felicity of lighting on good education. And as husbandmen are wont to set forks to prop up feeble plants, so do honest schoolmasters prop up youth by careful instructions and admonitions, that they may duly bring forth the buds of good manners. But there are certain fathers nowadays who deserve that men should spit on them in contempt, who, before making any proof of those to whom they design to commit the teaching of their children, either through unacquaintance, or, as it sometimes falls out, through unskillfulness, intrust them to men of no good reputation, or, it may be, such as are branded with infamy.

“Although they are not altogether so ridiculous, if they offend herein through unskillfulness; but it is a thing most extremely absurd, when, as oftentimes it happens, though they know they are told beforehand, by those who understand better than themselves, both of the inability and rascality of certain schoolmasters, they nevertheless commit the charge of their children to them, sometimes overcome by their fair and flattering speeches, and sometimes prevailed on to gratify friends who entreat them. This is an error of like nature with that of the sick man, who, to please his friends, forbears to send for the physician that might save his life by his skill, and employs a mountebank that quickly dispatches him out of the world; or of his who refuses a skillful shipmaster, and then, at his friend's entreaty, commits the care of his vessel to one that is therein much his inferior. In the name of Jupiter and all the gods, tell me how can that man deserve the name of a father, who is more concerned to gratify others in their requests, than to have his children well educated? Or, is it not rather fitly applicable to this case, which Socrates, that ancient philosopher, was wont to say---that, if he could get up to the highest place in the city, he would lift up his voice and make this proclamation thence: What mean you, fellow-citizens, that you thus turn every stone to scrape wealth together, and take so little care of your children, to whom, one day, you must relinquish it all?"---to which I would add this, that such parents do like him that is solicitous about his shoe, but neglects the foot that is to wear it.

Plato and Aristotle

“And yet many fathers there are, who so love their money and hate their children, that, lest it should cost them more than they are willing to spare to hire a good schoolmaster for them, they rather choose such persons to instruct their children as they are worth; thereby beating down the market, that they may purchase ignorance cheap. It was, therefore, a witty and handsome jeer which Aristippus bestowed on a sottish father, who asked him what he would take to teach his child. He answered, A thousand drachmas. When the other cried out: Oh, Hercules, what a price you ask! for I can buy a slave at that rate. Do so, then, said the philosopher, and you shall have two slaves instead of one---your son for one, and him you buy for another. Lastly, how absurd it is, when you accustom your children to take their food with their right hands, and chide them if they receive it with their left, yet you take no care at all that the principles that are infused into them be right and regular.

“And now I will tell you what ordinarily is like to befall such prodigious parents, when they have their sons ill-nursed and worse-taught. For when such sons are arrived at man's estate, and, through contempt of a sound and orderly way of living, precipitate themselves into all manner of disorderly and servile pleasures, then will those parents dearly repent of their own neglect of their children's education, when it is too late to amend; and vex themselves, even to distraction, at their vicious courses. For then do some of those children acquaint themselves with flatterers and parasites, a sort of infamous and execrable persons, the very pests that corrupt and ruin young men; others waste their substance; others, again, come to shipwreck on gaming and reveling. And some venture on still more audacious crimes, committing adultery and joining in the orgies of Bacchus, being ready to purchase one bout of debauched pleasure at the price of their lives. If now they had but conversed with some philosopher, they would never have enslaved themselves to such courses as these; though possibly they might have learned at least to put in practice the precepts of Diogenes, delivered by him indeed in rude language, but yet containing, as to the scope of it, a great truth, when he advised a young man to go to the public stews, that he might then inform himself, by experience, how things of great value and things of no value at all were there of equal worth.

Plutarch on What Should Be Taught

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “8. In brief therefore I say (and what I say may justly challenge the repute of an oracle rather than of advice), that the one chief thing in that matter---which comprises the beginning, middle and end of all---is good education and regular instruction; and that these two afford great help and assistance toward the attainment of virtue and felicity. For all other good things are but human and of small value, such as will hardly recompense the industry required to the getting of them. It is, indeed, a desirable thing to be well-descended; but the glory belongs to our ancestors. Riches are valuable; but they are the goods of Fortune, who frequently takes them from those that have them, and carries them to those that never so much as hoped for them. Yes, the greater they are, the fairer mark they are for those to aim at who design to make our bags their prize; I mean evil servants and accusers. But the weightiest consideration of all is, that riches may be enjoyed by the worst as well as the best of men. Glory is a thing deserving respect, but unstable; beauty is a prize that men fight to obtain, but, when obtained, it is of little continuance; health is a precious enjoyment, but easily impaired; strength is a thing desirable, but apt to be the prey of disease and old age. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

from a gymnasium librabry

“And, in general, let any man who values himself upon strength of body know that he makes a great mistake; for what indeed is any proportion of human strength, if compared to that of other animals, such as elephants and bulls and lions? But learning alone, of all things in our possession, is immortal and divine. And two things there are that are most peculiar to human nature, reason and speech; of which two, reason is the master of speech, and speech is the servant of reason, impregnable against all assaults of fortune, not to be taken away by false accusation, nor impaired by sickness, nor enfeebled by old age.

For reason alone grows youthful by age; and time, which decays all other things before it carries them away with it, leaves learning alone behind. Whence the answer seems to me very remarkable, which Stilpo, a philosopher of Megara, gave to Demetrius, who, when he leveled that city to the ground and made the citizens slaves, asked Stilpo whether he had lost anything. Nothing, he said, for war cannot plunder virtue. To this saying that of Socrates also is very agreeable; who, when Gorgias (as I take it) asked him what his opinion was of the king of Persia, and whether he judged him happy, returned answer, that he could not tell what to think of him, because he knew not how he was furnished with virtue and learning---as judging human felicity to consist in those endowments, and not in those which are subject to fortune.”

“10. Wherefore, though we ought not to permit an ingenious child entirely to neglect any of the common sorts of learning, so far as they may be gotten by lectures or from public shows; yet I would have him to salute these only as in his passage, taking a bare taste of each of them (seeing no man can possibly attain to perfection in all), and to give philosophy the pre-eminence of them all. I can illustrate my meaning by an example. It is a fine thing to sail around and visit many cities, but it is profitable to fix our dwelling in the best. Witty also was the saying of Bias, the philosopher, that, as the wooers of Penelope, when they could not have their desire of the mistress, contented themselves to have to do with her maids, so commonly those students who are not capable of understanding philosophy waste themselves in the study of those sciences that are of no value. Whence it follows, that we ought to make philosophy the chief of all our learning. For though, in order to the welfare of the body, the industry of men has found out two arts---medicine, which assists to the recovery of lost health, and gymnastics, which help us to attain a sound constitution---yet there is but one remedy for the distempers and diseases of the mind, and that is philosophy. For by the advice and assistance thereof it is that we come to understand what is honest, and what dishonest; what is just, and what unjust; in a word, what we are to seek, and what to avoid.

Roman tablet used for math

“We learn by it how we are to demean ourselves towards the gods, towards our parents, our elders, the laws, strangers, governors, friends, wives, children, and servants. That is, we are to worship the gods, to honor our parents, to reverence our elders, to be subject to the laws, to obey our governors, to love our friends, to use sobriety towards our wives, to be affectionate to our children, and not to treat our servants insolently; and (which is the chief lesson of all) not to be overjoyed in prosperity nor too much dejected in adversity; not to be dissolute in our pleasures, nor in our anger to be transported with brutish rage and fury. These things I account the principal advantages which we gain by philosophy. For to use prosperity generously is the part of a man: to manage it so as to decline envy, of a well-governed man; to master our pleasures by reason is the property of wise men; and to moderate anger is the attainment only of extraordinary men. But those of all men I count most complete, who know how to mix and temper the management of civil affairs with philosophy; seeing they are thereby masters of two of the greatest good things that are---a life of public usefulness as statesmen, and a life of calm tranquility as students of philosophy. For, whereas there are three sorts of lives---the life of action, the life of contemplation, and the life of pleasure---the man who is utterly abandoned and a slave to pleasure is brutish and mean-spirited; he that spends his time in contemplation without action is an unprofitable man; and he that lives in action and is destitute of philosophy is a rustical man, and commits many absurdities. Wherefore we are to apply our utmost endeavor to enable ourselves for both; that is, to manage public employments, and withal, at convenient seasons, to give ourselves to philosophical studies. Such statesmen were Pericles and Archytas the Tarentine; such were Dion the Syracusan and Epaminondas the Theban, both of whom were of Plato's familiar acquaintance.

Rhetoric and Oratory

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: The Roman "Schools of Rhetoric were formed on Greek lines and conducted by Greek teachers. They were not a part of the regular system of education, but corresponded more nearly to our colleges, since they were frequented by persons beyond the age of boyhood and, usually, of the higher classes only. In these schools the study of prose authors was begun, and philosophy might be studied, but the main work was the practice of composition. This was begun in its simplest form, the narrative (narratio), and continued step by step until the end in view was reached, the practice of public speaking (declamatio). One of the intermediate forms was the suasoria, in which a student assumed the character of some famous historical personage at the point of making a decision, and discussed the possible courses of action. A favorite exercise also was the writing of a speech to be put in the mouth of some person famous in legend or history. How effective these could be made is seen in the speeches inserted in their histories by Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|]

Pericles giving a speech

Oliver Thatcher wrote: “ To understand the position of oratory and of an instructor in it at Athens or Rome the reader must consider how little there was to learn then as compared with today. The ordinary education of a boy was supposed to include music, gymnastics, and geometry. Under music was included Greek and Latin literature, under geometry what little was known in science. The subjects for education above what might be called the grammar school were oratory and the philosophers. A Roman's fields for action were politics and war. He learned to command in the field, and usually won the right to command through politics. The open highway through politics was oratory, and hence oratory was considered practically the only subject worthy to be the end of a youth's education.” [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

The famous Roman-era orator and teacher Quintilian wrote in “The Institutes,” Book 1: 1-26 (c. 90 A.D.): “We are giving small instructions, while professing to educate an orator; but even studies have their infancy; and as the rearing of the very strongest bodies commenced with milk and the cradle, so he, who was to be the most eloquent of men, once uttered cries, tried to speak at first with a stuttering voice, and hesitated at the shapes of the letters. Nor, if it is impossible to learn a thing completely, is it therefore unnecessary to learn it at all. [Source: Quintilian (b.30/35-A.D. c.100), The Ideal Education, “The Institutes,” Book 1: 1-26 (c. 90 A.D.), Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“If no one blames a father, who thinks that these matters are not to be neglected in regard to his son, why should he be blamed who communicates to the public what he would practice to advantage in his own house? And this is so much the more the case, as younger minds more easily take in small things; and as bodies cannot be formed to certain flexures of the limbs unless while they are tender, so even strength itself makes our minds likewise more unyielding to most things.”

Plutarch on the Importance of Being a Good Speaker

Pindar hailing Olympic heros

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “Still, before a person arrives at complete manhood, I would not permit him to speak upon any sudden incident occasion; though, after he has attained a radicated faculty of speaking, he may allow himself a greater liberty, as opportunity is offered. For as they who have been a long time in chains, when they are at last set at liberty, are unable to walk, on account of their former continual restraint, and are very apt to trip, so they who have been used to a fettered way of speaking a great while, if upon any occasion they be enforced to speak on a sudden, will hardly be able to express themselves without some tokens of their former confinement. But to permit those that are yet children to speak extemporally is to give them occasion for extremely idle talk. A wretched painter, they say, showing Apelles a picture, told him withal that he had taken a very little time to paint it. If you had not told me so, said Apelles, I see cause enough to believe it was a hasty draft; but I wonder that in that space of time you have not painted many more such pictures. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“I advise therefore (for I return now to the subject that I have digressed from) the shunning and avoiding, not merely of a starched, theatrical, and over-tragedial form of speaking, but also of that which is too low and mean. For that which is too swelling is not fit for the management of public affairs; and that, on the other side, which is too thin is very inapt to work any notable impression upon the hearers. For as it is not only requisite that a man's body be healthy, but also that it be of a firm constitution, so ought a discourse to be not only sound, but nervous also. For though such as is composed cautiously may be commended, yet that is all it can arrive at; whereas that which has some adventurous passages in it is admired also. And my opinion is the same concerning the affections of the speaker's mind. For he must be neither of a too confident nor of a too mean and dejected spirit; for the one is apt to lead to impudence, the other to servility; and much of the orator's art, as well as great circumspection, is required to direct his course skillfully betwixt the two.

“And now (whilst I am handling this point concerning the instruction of children) I will also give you my judgment concerning the frame of a discourse; which is this, that to compose it in all parts uniformly not only is a great argument of a defect in learning, but also is apt, I think, to nauseate the auditory when it is practiced; and in no case can it give lasting pleasure. For to sing the same tune, as the saying is, is in everything cloying and offensive; but men are generally pleased with variety, as in speeches and pageants, so in all other entertainments.

Plutarch on Specialized Training Versus General Education for All

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “11. In the next place, the exercise of the body must not be neglected; but children must be sent to schools of gymnastics, where they may have sufficient employment that way also. This will conduce partly to a more handsome carriage, and partly to the improvement of their strength. For the foundation of a vigorous old age is a good constitution of the body in childhood. Wherefore, as it is expedient to provide those things in fair weather which may be useful to the mariners in a storm, so is it to keep good order and govern ourselves by rules of temperance in youth, as the best provision we can lay in for age. Yet must they husband their strength, so as not to become dried up (as it were) and destitute of strength to follow their studies. For, according to Plato, sleep and weariness are enemies to the arts. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

hard-working satyrs

“But why do I stand so long on these things? I hasten to speak of that which is of the greatest importance, even beyond all that has been spoken of; namely, I would have boys trained for the contests of wars by practice in the throwing of darts, shooting of arrows, and hunting of wild beasts. For we must remember in war the goods of the conquered are proposed as rewards to the conquerors. But war does not agree with a delicate habit of body, used only to the shade; for even one lean soldier that has been used to military exercises shall overthrow whole troops of mere wrestlers who know nothing of war.

But, somebody may say, while you profess to give precepts for the education of all free-born children, why do you carry the matter so as to seem only to accommodate those precepts to the rich, and neglect to suit them also to the children of poor men and plebeians? To which objection it is no difficult thing to reply. For it is my desire that all children whatsoever may partake of the benefit of education alike; but if yet any persons, by reason of the narrowness of their estates, cannot make use of my precepts, let them not blame me that give them for Fortune, which disabled them from making the advantage by them they otherwise might. Though even poor men must use their utmost endeavor to give their children the best education; or, if they cannot, they must bestow upon them the best that their abilities will reach. Thus much I thought fit here to insert in the body of my discourse, that I might the better be enabled to annex what I have yet to add concerning the right training of children.

Plutarch on Motivating Children and Getting Them to Remember

Plutarch wrote in “The Training of Children” (c. A.D. 110): “12. I say now, that children are to be won to follow liberal studies by exhortations and rational motives, and on no account to be forced thereto by whipping or any other contumelious punishments. I will not argue that such usage seems to be more agreeable to slaves than to ingenuous children; and even slaves, when thus handled, are dulled and discouraged from the performance of their tasks, partly by reason of the smart of their stripes, and partly because of the disgrace thereby inflicted. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 370-391]

“But praise and reproof are more effectual upon free-born children than any such disgraceful handling; the former to incite them to what is good, and the latter to restrain them from that which is evil. But we must use reprehensions and commendations alternately, and of various kinds according to the occasion; so that when they grow petulant, they may be shamed by reprehension, and again, when they better deserve it, they may be encouraged by commendations. Wherein we ought to imitate nurses, who, when they have made their infants cry, stop their mouths with the nipple to quiet them again. It is also useful not to give them such large commendations as to puff them up with pride; for this is the ready way to fill them with a vain conceit of themselves, and to enfeeble their minds.

“But we must most of all exercise and keep in constant employment the memory of children; for that is, as it were, the storehouse of all learning. Wherefore the mythologists have made Mnemosyne, or Memory, the mother of the Muses, plainly intimating thereby that nothing does so beget or nourish learning as memory. Wherefore we must employ it to both those purposes, whether the children be naturally apt or backward to remember. For so shall we both strengthen it in those to whom Nature in this respect has been bountiful, and supply that to others wherein she has been deficient. And as the former sort of boys will thereby come to excel others, so will the latter sort excel themselves. For that of Hesiod was well said: ‘Oft little add to little, and the account/ Will swell: heapt atoms thus produce a mount.’

“Neither, therefore, let the parents be ignorant of this, that the exercising of memory in the schools does not only give the greatest assistance towards the attainment of learning, but also to all the actions of life. For the remembrance of things past affords us examples in our consults about things to come.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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