Higher Learning in Antiquity

  • Christopher J. Lucas


From your childhood to your adult age you have been reposing in [school],” the teaching master reminds one of his older students. “Do you know the scribal art you have pursued?” The student retorts con-fidently, “What would I not know? Ask me, and I will supply you the answer.” The senior scholar is skeptical. He predicts—correctly, as it turns out—that his boastful protégé has an inflated estimation of his own scholarly attainments. A long and difficult examination ensues.


AMERICAN High Education Philosophical School Greek Culture Youth Resort Hellenistic Period 


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  1. 1.
    A translation and summary of the text, recovered originally from the library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh, appears in Benno Landsberger, “Scribal Concepts of Education,” in Carl H. Kraeling and Robert M. Adams, eds., City Invincible:A Symposium on Urbanization and Cultural Development in the Ancient Near East (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), pp. 99–101.Google Scholar
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    Note the discussion in Christopher J. Lucas, “The Scribal Tablet-House in Ancient Mesopotamia,” History of Education Quarterly 19 (Fall 1979): 305–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Student copy pieces, predictably, extolled the joys of scribal life, which, as noted, was touted as preferable to all others. Of scribes, it was said, “their names have become everlasting, even though they themselves are gone... If doors and buildings were constructed, they are crumbled;... mortuary service is done... tombstones are covered with dirt; and... graves are forgotten. But [the] names [of scribes] are still pronounced because of their books which they made... and the memory of them lasts to the limits of eternity. Be a scribe and put it in your heart that your name may fare similarly.” Quoted in Lionel Casson, Ancient Egypt (New York:Time-Life, 1965), p. 100. See also A. Erman (A. M. Blackman, trans.), The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians (London: Methuen, 1927), pp. 67Google Scholar
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    For an illuminating interpretation of curricula and courses of study in the Academy, consult Harold F. Cherniss, Aristotle’s Criticism of Plato and the Academy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1944)Google Scholar
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    See James Bowen, A History of Western Education, Vol. I (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972), pp. 133–134.Google Scholar
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    A dated but still useful source for Aristotle as educator is the treatment in T. Davidson, Aristotle and Ancient Educational Ideas (London: Heineman, 1904).Google Scholar
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  45. 31.
    Consult B. Farrington, The Faith of Epicurus (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967)Google Scholar
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    Note William Boyd, The History of Western Education (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1960), p. 44.Google Scholar
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    J. B. Bury, The Hellenistic Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1923), pp. 40–60.Google Scholar
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  53. Erich S. Gruen, The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome, vol. I (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 317–318.Google Scholar
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    Edward J. Power, A Legacy of Learning (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 62–66.Google Scholar
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    Relevant references include H. E. Butler, Quintilian (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1922)Google Scholar
  56. H. E. Butler, Quintilian as Educator (New York: Twayne, 1974)Google Scholar
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  59. 41.
    See Libanius, Autobiography [Oration I] Text, translation and notes by A. F. Norman, (London: University of Hull, 1965), pp. 83Google Scholar

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© Christopher J. Lucas 2006

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  • Christopher J. Lucas

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