Consumerist Approaches to Education in the Ancient World

Some inspirational anecdotes in time for the new semester.

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.9.8-9

“After our friend Taurus said these things about Pythagoras, he added, “Today, these people who turn to philosophy on whim and without washed feet [i.e. without preparation for the study], for them it isn’t enough that they are “completely without logic, without education, and without mathematical training”; no, they give the orders about how they should learn philosophy. One says “teach me this first”; another says “I’d like to learn this, but not that.” One is burning to start with Plato’s Symposium because of the appearance of Alcibiades; a different one wants the Phaedrus because of Lysias’ oration. By Jupiter! One even asks to read Plato not for the sake of improving his life, but only to decorate his speech and oratory—not so that it may be more appropriate, but in order to make it fancier.”

Haec eadem super Pythagora noster Taurus cum dixisset: “nunc autem” inquit “isti, qui repente pedibus inlotis ad philosophos devertunt, non est hoc satis, quod sunt omnino ἀθεώτεροι, ἄμουσοι, ἀγεωμέτρητοι, sed legem etiam dant, qua philosophari discant. 9 Alius ait “hoc me primum doce”, item alius “hoc volo” inquit “discere, istud nolo”; hic a symposio Platonis incipere gestit propter Alcibiadae comisationem, ille a Phaedro propter Lysiae orationem. 10 Est etiam,” inquit “pro Iuppiter! qui Platonem legere postulet non vitae ornandae, sed linguae orationisque comendae gratia, nec ut modestior fiat, sed ut lepidior.”

 

Augustine, Confessions 5.12

“I then started to pursue the work for which I traveled there, to teach the art of Rhetoric at Rome. Soon, certain men gathered at my home among whom and through whom I became well known. But look: I learned that some things happened in Rome which I would not have endured in Africa. For, in truth, the destruction caused by wasted youths which I saw there would not have happened in Africa. They said to me: “Suddenly, in order not to pay their teacher, many young men will conspire and move on to another—they abandon their promises: because of their love of money, justice is cheap.” My heart hated those bastards, but not with a complete hatred: surely, I hated more what I would suffer because of them than the wrongs they committed against others.”

sedulo ergo agere coeperam, propter quod veneram, ut docerem Romae artem rhetoricam, et prius domi congregare aliquos quibus et per quos innotescere coeperam. et ecce cognosco alia Romae fieri, quae non patiebar in Africa. nam re vera illas eversiones a perditis adulescentibus ibi non fieri manifestatum est mihi: ‘sed subito,’ inquiunt, ‘ne mercedem magistro reddant, conspirant multi adulescentes et transferunt se ad alium, desertores fidei et quibus prae pecuniae caritate iustitia vilis est.’ oderat etiam istos cor meum, quamvis non perfecto odio. quod enim ab eis passurus eram magis oderam fortasse quam eo quod cuilibet inlicita faciebant.

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