Education in Athens

The goal of education in Athens, a democratic city-state, was to produce citizens trained in the arts of both peace and war.

In ancient Athens, the purpose of education was to produce citizens trained in the arts, to prepare citizens for both peace and war. Other than requiring two years of military training that began at age 18, the state left parents to educate their sons as they saw fit. The schools were private, but the tuition was low enough so that even the poorest citizens could afford to send their children for at least a few years. Until age 6 or 7, boys generally were taught at home by their mother.

 

 

Most Athenian girls had a primarily domestic education. The most highly educated women were the hetaerae, or courtesans, who attended special schools where they learned to be interesting companions for the men who could afford to maintain them.

Boys attended elementary school from the time they were about age 6 or 7 until they were 13 or 14. Part of their training was gymnastics. Younger boys learned to move gracefully, do calisthenics, and play ball and other games. The older boys learned running, jumping, boxing, wrestling, and discus and javelin throwing. The boys also learned to play the lyre and sing, to count, and to read and write. But it was literature that was at the heart of their schooling.

The national epic poems of the Greeks - Homer's Odyssey and Iliad - were a vital part of the life of the Athenian people. As soon as their pupils could write, the teachers dictated passages from Homer for them to take down, memorize, and later act out. Teachers and pupils also discussed the feats of the Greek heroes described by Homer.

The education of mind, body, and aesthetic sense was, according to Plato, so that the boys. From age 6 to 14, they went to a neighborhood primary school or to a private school. Books were very expensive and rare, so subjects were read out-loud, and the boys had to memorize everything. To help them learn, they used writing tablets and rulers.

At 13 or 14, the formal education of the poorer boys probably ended and was followed by apprenticeship at a trade. The wealthier boys continued their education under the tutelage of philosopher-teachers.

Until about 390 BC there were no permanent schools and no formal courses for such higher education. Socrates, for example, wandered around Athens, stopping here or there to hold discussions with the people about all sorts of things pertaining to the conduct of man's life. But gradually, as groups of students attached themselves to one teacher or another, permanent schools were established. It was in such schools that Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle taught.

The boys who attended these schools fell into more or less two groups.

 

In ancient Athens, the purpose of education was to produce citizens trained in the arts, to prepare citizens for both peace and war. Girls were not educated at school, but many learned to read and write at home, in the comfort of their courtyard. Until age 6 or 7, boys were taught at home by their mother or by a male slave. From age 6 to 14, they went to a neighborhood primary school or to a private school. Books were very expensive and rare, so subjects were read out-loud, and the boys had to memorize everything. To help them learn, they used writing tablets and rulers. 

In primary school, they had to learn two important things - the words of Homer, a famous Greek epic poet, and how to play the lyre, a musical instrument. Their teacher, who was always a man, could choose what additional subjects he wanted to teach. He might choose to teach drama, public speaking, government, art, reading, writing, math, and another favorite ancient Greek instrument - the flute.

Following that, boys attended a higher school for four more years. When they turned 18, they entered military school for two additional years. At age 20, they graduated.  

 
Project © 2007 Alison Ostergard - Greentree School & Golden Hills School Division