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Gymnastics of the Mind

Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt

Raffaella Cribiore
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Gymnastics of the Mind
    Book Description:

    This book is at once a thorough study of the educational system for the Greeks of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, and a window to the vast panorama of educational practices in the Greco-Roman world. It describes how people learned, taught, and practiced literate skills, how schools functioned, and what the curriculum comprised. Raffaella Cribiore draws on over 400 papyri, ostraca (sherds of pottery or slices of limestone), and tablets that feature everything from exercises involving letters of the alphabet through rhetorical compositions that represented the work of advanced students. The exceptional wealth of surviving source material renders Egypt an ideal space of reference. The book makes excursions beyond Egypt as well, particularly in the Greek East, by examining the letters of the Antiochene Libanius that are concerned with education.

    The first part explores the conditions for teaching and learning, and the roles of teachers, parents, and students in education; the second vividly describes the progression from elementary to advanced education. Cribiore examines not only school exercises but also books and commentaries employed in education--an uncharted area of research. This allows the most comprehensive evaluation thus far of the three main stages of a liberal education, from the elementary teacher to the grammarian to the rhetorician. Also addressed, in unprecedented detail, are female education and the role of families in education.Gymnastics of the Mindwill be an indispensable resource to students and scholars of the ancient world and of the history of education.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4441-8
    Subjects: History, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. A Note on References and Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    An image that captures the substance of an education in letters in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds is found in a dialogue of the second-century satirist Lucian. Education is represented as a steep hill that students have to climb: they start in a group and proceed, “some very little, some more,” but, when they get halfway and meet plenty of difficulties, many turn back “gasping for breath and dripping with sweat.” The few students who endure and arrive at the top enjoy a wonderful view: common human beings appear from there as ants or pygmies crawling on the earth’s surface...


    • CHAPTER ONE Models of Schooling
      (pp. 15-44)

      In this version of theHermeneumata, grammar occupies the rest of the pupil’s morning; he is asked to identify parts of speech, conjugate and decline words, and scan verses.¹

      TheHermeneumata(also calledColloquia), school handbooks in Greek and Latin that most likely derived from third-century Gaul, describe, among other things, a day in the life of a student in antiquity and were studied in schools, as the text quoted above says explicitly.² They are preserved in medieval manuscripts in eight different versions: the Eastern Greek teachers who composed them drew from a “deeply rooted school tradition, with which they...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Teachers and Their Burden
      (pp. 45-73)

      Hermotimos, in the dialogue of Lucian mentioned in the Introduction, is an advanced student struggling to climb the steep hill of education. By his own disconsolate admission, he is in need of help: he is still down in the foothills, because the road is hard and slippery. His friend Lycinos has the solution: he should not worry, because Hermotimos’s teacher can give him a hand, or, even better, “he can let down his own teaching from the top like Zeus’s golden rope in Homer, and can indeed pull and lift you up to himself and excellence. He made the climb...

    • CHAPTER THREE Women and Education
      (pp. 74-101)

      The ancients showed an active interest in women’s education well before the Hellenistic period. Plato wondered whether women should aspire to something more than wool-work and “weave” themselves a life more useful and less insignificant (Laws7.806a). He and Aristotle were both committed to quasi-universal, mandatory elementary education for all children. This was no extreme ideological position.¹ These theories were able to gain some acceptance outside philosophical circles only because they were to a certain degree symptomatic of changing attitudes and evolving expectations. Specific evidence for the education of girls in classical Greece is scanty, but the period under consideration...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Parents and Students
      (pp. 102-124)

      The first passage comes from a letter that Libanius wrote from Antioch to the father of one of his students, the second from a letter that someone, probably a father, wrote to his son in Egypt at about the same time. Libanius’s addressee, Akakios, an eminent lawyer, was the father of Titianos.² Before sending him to Libanius’s school, Akakios had tried to teach his son as best he could. Even afterward, he apparently never ceased to monitor his son’s studies, for during the summers, when Titianos came back for vacation to his native Cilicia in Asia Minor, it was his...


    • CHAPTER FIVE Tools of the Trade: Teachers’ Models, Books, and Writing Materials
      (pp. 127-159)

      The concept that physical exercise was necessary for a healthy body was deeply ingrained in Greek and Roman thought. Running and the sports of the gymnasium were part of a general system of training for improvement of body and soul upheld by moralists and philosophers, and even hardworking businessmen were exhorted not to overlook their exercise in the gymnasium. Exercise was also considered useful to women, but whereas Plato advocated thorough physical training for them (Resp. 5), others, such as Xenophon, thought it more appropriate for women to exercise indoors by walking in the house and doing housework (Oec. 10.10–...

    • CHAPTER SIX The First Circle
      (pp. 160-184)

      Thus, in theTelephusof the fifth-century b.c.e. tragic poet Agathon, an illiterate man tries to describe to the audience the spelling of the name Theseus (ΘHCEYC; fr. 4 TrGF). In doing so, Agathon imitated a similar speech in theTheseusof Euripides, in which an illiterate herdsman looking out at sea saw a shipcarrying these letters on its sails.¹ It is uncertain whether these passages presuppose the existence of a somewhat literate audience in which everybody was able to follow the spelling with anticipation.² Yet they certainly refer to the very first stepin the acquisition of literacy, when the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Teaching of the Grammarian: Content and Context
      (pp. 185-219)

      Thus wrote the grammarian Dionysius Thrax around 100 b.c.e. in the initial section of his grammatical treatise, the only part whose authenticity has never been disputed.¹ Though the discrepancies between this introduction and the whole treatise have caused some ancient and modern scholars to doubt that the rest of the work, as it is preserved, was composed at the same time and to prefer a date around the third century c.e. or even later, this definition ofgrammatikē—that is, “grammar” in a broad sense, which covered the full area of expertise of a grammarian—remained the basis of all...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Learning to Fly: Rhetoric and Imitation
      (pp. 220-244)

      The road leading up the hill of learning was long and steep and demanded commitment and effort. Education appropriated the metaphor used by Hesiod to describe the painful ascent toward virtue (Op. 287–92).² Keeping in sight the alluring promises of his goal, a male student could overcome fatigue and discouragement. But when he reached the top, his superiority over the rest of mankind was consecrated. The uneducated man was marked not only by his insignificance but also by his tenacious clinging to the earth and its material values, and by his inability to rise above and fly “aloft to...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 245-252)

    On arriving at Misenum, Apion, a young recruit in the Roman army, writes a proud letter to his father, who lived in the Egyptian town of Philadelphia. His main concern is to reassure his relatives of his wellbeing and to inquire about their health, but the letter contains much more than these conventional expressions. Apion had arrived safely in Italy after a long, dangerous journey, he was pleased to have received generous reimbursement for his travel expenses,² he had a new Roman name, and he had just sent a portrait of himself to his father as a keepsake. One is...

  10. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 253-264)
  11. Index
    (pp. 265-268)
  12. Index Locorum
    (pp. 269-272)