National Geographic : 1944 Mar
An Athenian School EXCEPT for the supervision of certain boards which were appointed by the state, education in Athens was left entirely to individual enterprise. After their sixth year the boys were put in charge of a paidagogos, who was usually an old slave. He had no responsibility for their education; his function was to accompany them to school and generally to keep watch over them. On a familiar Greek vase paint ing is a representation of one of these old men carrying the lyre of his master's son as the latter makes his way to school. The school buildings were simple and had little in the way of furniture save some benches and chairs, with possibly a platform on which performing students might stand. On the walls hung various implements: lyres, citharas (a sort of lyre with a larger sounding board), flutes, goatskin flute cases, and sometimes a drinking vessel or so. We also see scrolls of papyrus, which was the only paper the Greeks knew, and sometimes there are boxes in which such scrolls might be stored. Generally, however, papyrus was used sparingly, since it was expensive. Nearly all the work was done on waxed tablets, which corresponded to the slates generally used in American schools not long ago. Reading and writing were taught first. With them came some work in numbers, but the Greeks used letters of the alphabet for their numeral system, and most simple mathe matical calculations were performed on an abacus. Bythetimeaboywas12or13yearsoldhetookup music, not with the intention of becoming a professional per former, but because it was highly essential for an educated man to be able to accompany himself insinging ordeclaiming lyrics; hence singing alsoformed part ofthe curriculum. Flute playing was popular for atime inAthens, but later became less so; and fluteplayers tended tobemore ofa professional entertainer class. Languages, save nativeGreek, were not taught. The prin cipal textbook from earliest times was Homer, and allyoung Greeks knew their Iliad and Odyssey, many ofthem by heart. Such subjects as natural science, geography, and history formed part of a higherstage ofeducation and were gen erally taught in the philosophical surroundings ofthe academies. As early as the fifth century some geometry was added to the usual curriculum, although Socrates thought itshould be limited to what was strictly necessary. Inthe fourth cen tury, however, the philosophers recommended geometry as an excellent subject for developing the intellect. As stated elsewhere, gymnastic training was aprime re quirement in education and continued for much longer than the purely scholastic training. When the youth reached the ageof18hewas enrolled as a citizen of the state, received awarrior's shield and spear, and took the oath ofallegiance: "Never todis grace his holy arms, never toforsake his comrade inthe ranks, but to fight for the holy temples and the common welfare, alone or with others; toleave his country not ina worse, but in a better state than hefound it;toobey the magistrates and the laws,and defend them against attack; finally, to hold in honorthe religion ofhis country."