ARTICLE | ‘Athens’, in W. M. Bloomer (ed.), A Companion to Ancient Education

David M. Pritchard

A Companion to Ancient Education, First Edition. Edited by W. Martin Bloomer. © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. / Chapter 6 / pp 112-122

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1. Traditional Education

Typically, the later fifth‐century comedy Clouds by Aristophanes is taken as evidence that the young of classical Athens had abandoned the palaistra (“wrestling school”) and the gumnasion (“athletics field”) for the “new education” of the sophists (961–1054). Certainly these intellectuals offered classes in disciplines which ranged from astronomy and cosmology to, for example, hoplomakhia or weapons training (e.g., Ar. Nub. 359– 360; Pl. Phd. 108d–113c). The most popular of their classes were in public speaking (Joyal, McDougall, and Yardley 2009: 59–87). However, a wide range of surviving literature, including a close reading of this comedy of Aristophanes, suggests otherwise: although the later fifth century witnessed a big expansion in what young Athenians could study, physical education manifestly remained a major discipline of the education of paides or boys (e.g., Aeschin. 1.10; Ar. Ran. 727–730; Pl. La. 184e). This branch of what Aristophanes calls the arkhaia paideia or old education (Nub. 961) was taught by the paidotribes̄ or athletics teacher (e.g., Ar. Nub. 973; Eq. 490–492, 1238–1239; Pl. La.  184e). His lessons were not one on one but for groups of students (e.g., Isoc. 15.183–185; Pritchard 2013: 49–50). It is a historical irony that while the sophists argued for the superiority of what they taught over the arkhaia paideia, they were the first to describe this traditional education systematically (Pritchard 2013: 47, 108–109). Athletics teachers are most frequently represented in classical texts or on red‐figure pots giving lessons in the “heavy” events of Greek athletics: wrestling, boxing, and the pankration (e.g., Ar. Eq. 490–492, 1238–1239; Beck 1975). This comes as no surprise, as each of these events was technically demanding and many athletics teachers owned their own wrestling schools, while some, when they were young, had been famous Panhellenic victors in these events. But the so‐called track and field events required athletes to be no less proficient in “the moves devised competition” (Isoc. 15.183). Thus, on pots and in literature, we also find athletics teachers training groups in these non‐contact sports. In his Statesmen Plato, for example, outlines how there are in Athens “very many” supervised “training sessions for groups” where instructions and ponoi (“toils”) take place not just for wrestling but also “for the sake of competition in the foot race or some other event” (294d–294e). Red‐figure pots often show a paidotribes̄ supervising not only running and javelin throwing but also discus throwing and the long jump (Beck 1975; Nicholson 2005: 245 n. 25, 246 n. 38). These lessons of a paidotribes̄ were the only opportunity for Athenian boys and young men to learn and to practice the events of local and Panhellenic games (Pritchard 2013: 46–53).

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