Ancient Athenian Education                                                                                              back to Greece

  1. Purpose:

    The Athenians wanted their sons to have a "rounded" education so that they would know something about a wide
range of subjects and be able to "appreciate" many things.

     Note: They were not concerned with specialization or preparation for any specific job.

  2. Schools:

  - most boys went to school roughly from age 7 to age 14 (girls stayed at home and learned the skills of
    housekeeping and motherhood, but some families hired private tutors to educate their daughters - there
    were some very well educated Athenian women)

  - all schools were private schools - parents had to pay to send their children to school but the fees were so
     low that even  poor citizens could usually afford to have their sons  educated  and most did so because they
     valued education

  - schools were mostly only one room  areas - often open to the streets on one side (perhaps with a draw-
     curtain to keep down distraction)

  - equipment was minimal: students sat on benches and held  their work in their laps - there were no
    chalkboards or other teacher aids - the teacher might have some books, but  students mostly did not

  - the academic part of the school day began at dawn and lasted until about noon

  - teachers were often retired military men - discipline was strict, beatings were given not only for
misbehaviour but also for careless mistakes

  - boys were mostly accompanied to and from school by an educated and trusted slave called a PEDAGOGUE,
    whose job it  was to protect the young man from undesirables, help him to choose good friends and oversee
    his behavior and his progress in class (the slaves sat at the back of the class and observed)

  3. What they studied:

     The three main subjects that they studied were: Grammar, music  and Gymnastics .

  a. Grammar:

  - purpose was to produce "literate" citizens

  - content of this course was not just a study of the rules of correct expression in a language as we understand
     the word today. It included most of the "basics" of elementary education in our society - the three R's,
     reading, writing  and arithmetic

  - boys learned to write and calculate by scratching their letters with a sharp stylus onto the surface of a
    board with wax. When they finished with a tablet they took it for grading and then dipped it into a tub of hot
    wax so that it was ready for new work.                         

  - in the higher levels they studied "good" literature so that they might improve their writing styles and
    appreciate fine literature

  - much memorization was done - some boys could recite by heart all of the Iliad or the Odyssey

  - the teacher would add to his course whatever else he might happen to know such as some science

    Most Athenian youths were finished school by about age 14.

  b. Music: (two purposes & two parts to the program)

  - boys were taught to sing, if possible, and accompany themselves on an instrument (the seven-stringed lyre)

  - this was meant to help the boys so that they would be able to entertain friends at social gatherings

  - boys were exposed to concerts of "good" music both to gain an appreciation for it and because the Greeks
    believed that fine music had a purifying effect on their souls and might help them to grow up to be fine men.

  c. Gymnastics:

  - the Greek word for "gymnastics" meant "exercise done naked" (thus it was any form of exercise)

  - in the afternoons, Athenian boys went to the PALESTRA, a large recreational complex on the outskirts of the
    city. It included changing and cleaning areas, playing fields, a swimming area, special exercise buildings, etc.

  - when the boys arrived they removed their clothes and rubbed  their bodies with olive oil, and under the
    guidance of trained specialists, participated in many games and exercises

  - they ran, learned to swim, threw javelin and discus, wrestled, played team games like early forms of field
    hockey and football

  - the aim here was not to produce professional athlete but to turn out young men who were fit, graceful,
    attractive, with developed strength and coordination. It also gave the young men the habits of fitness which
    they hoped would carry through their lives

  - from Athens we get the well known motto: "A sound mind in a sound body"

     After the young man finished his basic education, he might go for higher education to one of the schools of philosophers or the sophists.
     From age 18 to 20, all able-bodied Athenian youths were to take military training for the army or navy.
Athens was justifiably known as the
     "School of Hellas" (Greece) because of their high standard of knowledge and respect for education.