Returning to the Classroom after Leave: Some Ancient Reminders

Is teaching like riding a bicycle? Let’s see what the ancients say…


Pindar, Olympian 8.59-60

  “Teaching is easier for someone who knows; not learning first is stupid. “    

τὸ διδάξασθαι δέ τοι εἰδότι ῥᾴτερον• ἄγνωμον δὲ τὸ μὴ προμαθεῖν•  


Plato, Protagoras, 338e-339a


“I consider facility with poetry the greatest part of a man’s education, that he should be able to understand what the poets have said correctly or incorrectly and to know how to analyze them and provide an explanation when questioned.”

ἡγοῦμαι, ἔφη, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἐγὼ ἀνδρὶ παιδείας μέγιστον μέρος εἶναι περὶ ἐπῶν δεινὸν εἶναι: ἔστιν δὲ τοῦτο τὰ ὑπὸ τῶν ποιητῶν λεγόμενα οἷόν τ᾽ εἶναι συνιέναι ἅ τε ὀρθῶς πεποίηται καὶ ἃ μή, καὶ ἐπίστασθαι διελεῖν τε καὶ ἐρωτώμενον λόγον δοῦναι.


Petronius, Satyricon 1

“And therefore, I reckon that our young men are becoming total fools in our schools, because they neither hear nor see any of the things which we find useful, but rather pirates standing in shackles on the shore, and tyrants issuing decrees ordering that sons decapitate their fathers, and solutions to plagues which urge that three or even more virgins be burned, and those little honey-balls of words, and all things said or done as though sprinkled with poppy and sesame.”


Et ideo ego adulescentulos existimo in scholis stultissimos fieri, quia nihil ex his, quae in usu habemus, aut audiunt aut vident, sed piratas cum catenis in litore stantes, sed tyrannos edicta scribentes quibus imperent filiis ut patrum suorum capita praecidant, sed responsa in pestilentiam data, ut virgines tres aut plures immolentur, sed mellitos verborum globulos, et omnia dicta factaque quasi papavere et sesamo sparsa.


Aristotle, Poetics 1448b5-6

“Imitation is natural in men from childhood and they differ in this from the other animals because it is the most representative and our first education comes from imitation.”

τό τε γὰρ μιμεῖσθαι σύμφυτον τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἐκ παίδων ἐστὶ καὶ τούτῳ διαφέρουσι τῶν ἄλλων ζῴων ὅτι μιμητικώτατόν ἐστι καὶ τὰς μαθήσεις ποιεῖται διὰ μιμήσεως τὰς πρώτας…


Phocylides (Pseudo-Plutarch, On the Education of Children 5.3f)



“It is right to teach noble things to one who is still a child”


χρὴ παῖδ᾿ ἔτ᾿ ἐόντα / καλὰ διδάσκειν ἔργα


Horace, Ars Poetica 335

“Whatever you are teaching, be brief . . .” quidquid praecipies, esto brevis Quintus Horatius Flaccus  

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