Athens did not have a state education system as modern societies do today. Instead, it was the parents’ decision whether a child would go to school or not. One thing is for certain – young girls were never sent to school, as it was not seen as necessary to educate them. Rather, they had to stay at home and learn the skills they would require in adult life – spinning, weaving and how to manage a household. A boy would also learn a good deal from his father about how to be a good kyrios in adult life; if his father was a craftsman, then the son would probably also learn his father’s craft.
However, Athens did also offer a form of education for boys. There were no ‘schools’ as we would know them; rather, one teacher would hire out a room and teach the required subjects from there. He probably had boys of different ages and abilities in the same room. The first teacher a boy would go to would be the grammatistes. He would teach reading, writing and some basic arithmetic. Records suggest that the method of teaching was very repetitive, with boys having to copy down and learn by heart the works of famous poets, particularly Homer.
A few years later, a boy would start lessons with the kitharistes, the music teacher. Music was central to life in Athens, and it was believed that any man who could not play a musical instrument or sing was not properly educated. The kitharistes would teach boys to play the lyre and to sing the poems of Homer which they had already learnt with the grammatistes. The third part of a boy’s education was physical education. Athenians believed that physical fitness was very important, not least because it prepared men for war – every Athenian citizen was expected to serve in the army. Physical education was overseen by the paidotribes, a PE teacher, who usually taught in a special exercise centre, the palaistra. Boys might learn to run, wrestle, jump or even throw a discus.
A boy’s studies would be supervised by an educated family slave known as a paidagogos. He would accompany the boy to school, carrying his bags and sitting with him in lessons. At home, he might help with homework and would regularly update the boy’s father on his progress.
A day in the life of an ancient Athenian: what they did and how they lived. Made y EdTed.