Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Roman "home" schooling

To obtain a knowledge of the elements out of which we make and compose all discourses is not so very difficult if anyone entrusts himself, not to those who make rash promises, but to those who have some knowledge of these things.  Isocrates.  Against the Sophists.  Speech 13.  Section 16.

Prior to the 3rd century BCE. the Roman system of education was closely bound to the Roman social institution of patria potestas, in which the father acted as head of the household (paterfamilias), and had, according to law, absolute right of control over his children. It was the father's duty to educate his children and should he be unable to fulfill this duty, the task was assumed by other family members. It was not until 272 BCE with the capture of Tarentum, the annexation of Sicily in 241 BCE, and the period following the First Punic War that Romans were exposed to a strong influence of Greek thought and lifestyle and found leisure to study the arts.

In the 3rd century BCE, a Greek captive from Tarentum named Livius Andronicus was sold as a slave and employed as a tutor for his master's children. After obtaining his freedom, he continued to live in Rome and became the first schoolmaster (private tutor) to follow Greek methods of education and would translate Homer's Odyssey into Latin verse in Saturnian meter.

As Rome grew in size and in power, following the Punic Wars, the importance of the family as the central unit within Roman society began to deteriorate, and with this decline, the old Roman system of education carried out by the paterfamilias deteriorated as well. The new educational system began to center more on the one encountered by the Romans with the prominent Greek and Hellenistic centers of learning such as Alexandria.

In a system much like the one that predominates in the modern world, the Roman education system that developed arranged schools in tiers. The educator Quintilian recognized the importance of starting education as early as possible, noting that "memory ... not only exists even in small children, but is specially retentive at that age".  A Roman student would progress through schools just as a student today might go from primary school to secondary school and then to college. They were generally exempted from studies during the market days which formed a kind of weekend on every eighth day of the year. Progression depended more on ability than age with great emphasis being placed upon a student's ingenium or inborn "gift" for learning, and a more tacit emphasis on a student's ability to afford high-level education.

Image: Pedagogue and boy, Greek, 3rd-2nd century BCE, terracotta with traces of paint, that I photographed at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.


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