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Ancient / Classical History
Section § 51. The Schoolboys of Athens.
A Day in Old Athens, by William Stearns Davis (1910)
Professor of Ancient History at the University of Minnesota

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Chapter IX. The Schoolboys of Athens.

51. Athenians Generally Literate.--Education is not compulsory by law in Athens, but the father who fails to give his son at least a modicum of education falls under a public contempt, which involves no slight penalty. Practically all Athenians are at least literate. In Aristophanes's famous comedy, "The Knights," a boorish "sausage-seller" is introduced, who, for the purposes of the play, must be one of the very scum of society, and he is made to cry, "Only consider now my education! I can but barely read, just in a kind of way."[*] Evidently if illiterates are not very rare in Athens, the fellow should have been made out utterly ignorant. "He can neither swim[+] nor say his letters," is a common phrase for describing an absolute idiot. When a boy has reached the age of seven, the time for feminine rule is over; henceforth his floggings, and they will be many, are to come from firm male hands.

[*]Aristophanes, "Knights", II. 188-189.

[+]Swimming was an exceedingly common accomplishment among the Greeks, naturally enough, so much of their life being spent upon or near the sea.

Section 52 | Contents


This resource page is copyright © 2002 N.S. Gill.

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