Mark Joyal / Iain McDougall / J.C. Yardley (eds.): Greek and Roman Education. A Sourcebook (= Routledge Sourcebooks for the Ancient World), London / New York: Routledge 2008, xx + 292 S., ISBN 978-0-415-33806-6, GBP 70,00
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There has long been a need for a sourcebook on Greek and Roman education. This volume is to be warmly welcomed, for doing the job and doing it so well. In ten chapters it covers the ancient world from our earliest Greek sources to late antiquity, with a nod to mediaeval Europe at the end. The chapters are divided first chronologically, then geographically (Sparta, Athens, Rome), and finally thematically (three chapters on Athens, for instance, are divided into 'Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries', 'The sophists, Socrates and the fifth-century enlightenment', and 'Fourth century theory and practice'). This arrangement makes obvious sense given that this is a sourcebook in translation, a teaching tool for students in school and undergraduates: it follows the way many school and university curricula divide up the subject for elementary teaching purposes. It does not do full justice to the material - underplaying, for example, the extent to which early Rome is part of the Greek world, and the vigorous evolving educational tradition in Greek cities under Roman rule. A sourcebook which did justice to the full range of material and recent scholarship, however, would have had to be a much larger production.
As it is, the volume presents nearly 300 texts in translation. An introductory chapter describes the range of sources used. The other chapters are divided into sections, each section introducing a group of related texts. Each chapter begins with its own concise but substantial introduction, which puts the texts in context in place and time, and discusses the nature and difficulties of the sources. Introductions to each section put the texts in a more specific context, with, if necessary, some commentary. (Excerpts from Plato, for instance, are introduced with an outline of the argument from which the passage is taken.) Cumulatively, the introductions manage not only to relate the texts to each other, but also to create something of a larger narrative framework, sketching the place of education in Greco-Roman politics and society as they evolve. Few sourcebooks achieve this, and it is extremely helpful. Every section also gives a number of suggestions for further reading. Overall, the layout is extremely clear and easy to use, and cross-referencing is made easier by thematic and textual indices. (Finding references is not quite as easy as it might be: in a random check it proved difficult, for instance, to discover the role of the state in education, or even what women learned.) There is a good basic bibliography at the end.
One of the great strengths of the book is the range of activities it includes as educational. Recent scholarly writing, for instance, has tended not to be very interested in athletics, despite the fact that sport and military training were obviously central to the upbringing of the young throughout the ancient world. This volume does them full justice. Our evidence for the training of scribes, accountants etc, whether slave or free, is poor, but this volume includes a good selection of what we have, reminding us that education was not only for the rich and aristocratic. Our evidence for the education of women is also relatively thin, but what we have is reasonably represented here. There is a handful of very well-known texts which discuss the relationship between Greek and Roman education and culture, and Christianity; this volume presents not only those, but some of the less well known material too. There are still some obvious gaps. Beyond the debate between Christianity and paideia, there is very little indeed on late antiquity, for which the evidence is very rich. Nor is there anything on the teaching of mathematics. This is understandable, as there is relatively little literary evidence, the abundant documentary evidence is very scattered, and there is little published scholarship on it; still, it is a pity.
Chronologically, the collection is biased in ways which, again, doubtless reflect school and undergraduate courses, but do not entirely do justice to the sources. There are three chapters on classical Athens but only one on the whole of the Hellenistic period, almost nothing on Rome before the late Republic, two chapters on the late Republic and early empire but, as noted above, almost nothing on the later empire. More surprisingly, perhaps, there is plenty on the higher levels of literary and rhetorical training, but rather little on the lower levels of enkyklios paideia, which have been the focus of much research in recent years and which constituted, with athletics, the kind of education most widespread across the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. The result is rather more emphasis on the elite than is perhaps necessary (or fashionable). There is one map for general orientation at the beginning of the book, and nine illustrations. Given that there are illustrations at all, it would have been both helpful and pleasing to have a lot more.
But these are secondary issues. My main reaction, as one who has been invited in the past to produce such a sourcebook and has not done so, is delight and admiration, not unmingled with relief. This is a first-class sourcebook and an excellent introduction to ancient education. Wide-ranging, stimulating, and backed by the profound scholarship of its editors, it gives students a firm grip on the subject and an ideal starting point for further study. Sourcebooks can make their subject look difficult, bitty, or uninspiring; the best sourcebooks make their subject look rich, fascinating, and significant. This volume exemplifies the latter type.