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.
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