Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.09.18

Yun Lee Too, Niall Livingstone, Pedagogy and Power: Rhetorics of Classical Learning.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1998.  Pp. 319.  ISBN 0-521-59435-9.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Joy Connolly, University of Washington (
Word count: 3613 words

In 1859, a young man just beginning his famous search for an education arrived in Italy, and found that the ruins of Rome exerted a telescoping effect upon his imagination and his sense of history, transforming his understanding of himself and his place in western civilization. "To a young Bostonian, fresh from Germany," Henry Adams wrote in his memoirs nearly fifty years later, "Rome seemed a pure emotion, quite free from economic or actual values, and he could not in reason or common sense foresee that it was mechanically piling up conundrum after conundrum in his educational path, which seemed unconnected but which he had got to connect; that seemed insoluble but had got to be somehow solved."1 In The Education of Henry Adams, classical antiquity is a central part of the civilized experience, but classical pedagogy is burdened by the weight of pedantry and prejudice. Adams' views on his encounter with Rome resonate with several themes prominent in Pedagogy and Power: the constant presence of classical pedagogy in western education; its enduring capacity to exert perceptible change on the world of the present (whatever present that might be); and finally, its most deceptive faculty, its apparent freedom from historical constraints or "values," coexistent with its ability to implicate the most detached or suspicious student in the operations of social and political oppression that produced it in the first place.

Educators tend to be both insightful and revelatory about their visions of classical pedagogy and its multiple functions in their communities. For the majority of the contributions to this volume, then, it is a matter not simply of unveiling the hidden motions of power in pedagogical institutions and operations, but rather of exploring the ways in which power travels along unexpected paths, benefiting the marginalized or disenfranchised, opening new lines of communication across geographical and temporal divides, or, less optimistically, serving elite interests by putting intellectual labor at the indirect service of various forms of aristocratic or patriarchal tyranny. Working with this particular set of concerns, Pedagogy and Power makes a substantial contribution across a broad range of fields, not least because the essays are fueled by meticulous historical research and supplemented by lavish scholarly documentation.

Given the significant role of the classical tradition in structuring and maintaining relations of power in the West, the what, how, and especially the why of classical education have engendered passionate debate since its inception. The volume's introduction, by co-editor Yun Lee Too, and its first chapter, by Paul Cartledge, make a valiant attempt to tap into that passion, recounting the traditional modes of writing pedagogical history and setting forth the interdisciplinary and political rewards gained from a fresh approach to the subject. The purpose driving their efforts is a good one, and is generally well executed, though the two essays share a tendency to make overstatements that at times undercut the real force of their arguments. In an otherwise pointed and very useful introduction, for instance, Too takes false steps when she casually compares pedagogy to sex (5) and defends the editors' choice to run the chapters in reverse chronology on the grounds that this ordering "reject[s] the idea that what we might describe as education in antiquity is the cause or the paradigm for what subsequent communities might understand as 'classical' or as classisising education" (11). This statement, popular in current studies of the history of ideas, threatens to uproots our own account of classical education from the medieval and early modern tradition that contributed to it; also, it discounts the significance of a society's investment in constructing perceptions of historical continuity, however artificial those perceptions may later appear. As punk and pop culture historian Greil Marcus writes, "It's tempting to see the denial of [the celebration of] Columbus Day as a reverse image of the denial of the Berlin Wall by Germans happy to pretend it never existed. Here, history is no more than detritus to be shaped with transitory meanings according to the transitory power of one group or another... The idea that history is a force to be understood rather than a set of facts to be manipulated is missed."2 In fact, readers will find a startling consistency (accompanied by some surprises) in the definitions of classical education employed throughout the twenty-five-hundred-year-old tradition addressed in these essays.

As Too makes clear in the introduction, the word "pedagogy" was chosen for the volume's title because it usefully foregrounds an array of associations from Paolo Freire's influential Pedagogy of the Oppressed to the role of children and slaves in ancient schooling. These associations prepare the way for Paul Cartledge, who, without explicitly sanctioning or disputing the claims of Martin Bernal's Black Athena, uses the book as a starting point for his brief but astute summary of the shifting role of Classics in the culture wars of political correctness and the canon. He takes a constructive look at "Classics in crisis," interpreting contemporary pressures on the discipline as opportunities for change and growth. One could probe more thoroughly into several of his assertions: for example, whether theoretically oriented re-readings of classical texts really do "lead to a broadening of the scope (and therefore weakening of the authority) of the canon" (26). Broadening, yes; but re-readings of Great Books, however boosted by theory, rarely lead automatically to undermining them in any meaningful way; toppling that monolith is an altogether more difficult task.

In the end, Cartledge recommends beefing up the growing trend toward transforming Classics into "Classical Cultural Studies," focusing on the study of "the contested edges of cultures, nations and identities" (28): and he argues, rightly, against slapping the multicultural label on classical societies. Instead, he says, classicists may argue in defense of classical pedagogy in the postmodern university on the grounds that the new version of the classical canon, and recent developments in our critical understanding of antiquity, effectively complement our urbane, heterogeneous and politically fractured late twentieth century world. I would add that Greek and Roman beliefs about the world, representations of which have been institutionalized over time, have made incalculable, if problematic, contributions to the West's ongoing efforts to define itself. These contributions call for the construction of a very careful pedagogy, one that treads a fine line between empty exaltations of the glory of the western past and the unfruitful self-marginalizations that can be brought about through an exclusive focus on the dissident, decentered or contested edges of antiquity.

As it happens, Christopher Stray heads straight for the centerpiece of elite male experience in nineteenth century England in the second chapter, "Schoolboys and gentlemen: classical pedagogy and authority in the English public school." Stray's fascinating piece examines the pedagogical character and methods of Winchester classics master Edmund Morshead, known by his students in the 1880s and 1890s as "Mush." Addressing two texts privately published by Morshead's students, Stray explores the internal complexity of the Victorian and Edwardian school's elite environment, focusing on the ways in which the master's pedagogical authority existed in tension with his students' sense of superior social class. Like other teachers of the period, Morshead embraced eccentricity in the face of the increasing homogeneity of the industrial age, not only reifying himself as a political being (a Liberal among Tories) but helping to embed idiosyncrasy in the system itself, thereby encouraging his students to develop a sense of individuality in an otherwise stifling and conformist atmosphere. For a classicist, his techniques bear interesting comparison to those of teachers in the ancient world, encouraging exploration into the ways in which disparities in power were negotiated there.3

With the observation that "there is traditionally something masculine in the command of Latin or Greek," Sarah Colvin examines the gender ideology of German schooling from the Reformation to the early twentieth century in "'Die Zung is dieses Schwert': classical tongues and gendered curricula in German schooling to 1908." Luther, Rousseau, Protestant and Jesuit academies in Germany, and Prussian educational reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt are shown to share in a vision of the tongue as the "noblest appendage," but only when properly mastered by men, whose passions are controlled by the intellect (49ff.). From that bleak picture Colvin initiates a history of largely unknown heroes of women's pedagogy, featuring Mary Ward, who founded a Catholic teaching order successful in England but was thwarted in Germany (57ff.); the essay concludes with the reform of the German state school system. Two issues in this informative historical essay would bear closer investigation: the "powerful tongue," which was viewed in the early modern period as a potentially effeminizing organ even in the mouths of men (a phenomenon thoroughly examined by Renaissance scholar Patricia Parker); and the extent to which education was deployed to exclude not only "weak" women but also lower-class men (mentioned very briefly at 65).

One element of the classical tradition that successfully reached cross-class audiences in the 1780s and 1790s was the Platonic and Lucianic dialogue. Clare Brant, in "'What does that argue for us?': the politics of teaching and political education in late eighteenth-century dialogues" examines the ideological functions of these texts, which dealt with contemporary political issues such as human rights, the production and control of knowledge, and the proper place of religion. Dialogue writers exploited the genre's demotic and didactic aspects, she argues, in order to teach their readers the proper way to think. The dialogues served the interests of radical and conservative alike, as the works of Sir William Jones and Hannah More show (72ff.). One of Jones' dialogues, for example, in which a scholar teaches a peasant the basics of the British constitution, clearly critiques the political system in which citizens are kept ignorant of their own disenfranchisement (74). The essay includes a large amount of textual evidence and historical data, which, while indispensable to the reader unfamiliar with the period, makes it one of the less coherent pieces in the collection. At several stages, Brant's analysis jumps from point to point too quickly: see esp. 81, where she remarks that the pedagogic power of dialogues can be weakened rather than strengthened, as questioning is changed into "quietism." This is clearly a pivotal moment in the piece, but the reasoning behind it is unclear. For those interested in the coercive potential of dialogue, a matter of recent interest among readers of Plato, the lack of clarity arouses some frustration.4

Jane Stevenson's piece on "Women and classical education in the early modern period" argues forcefully that "it is modern scholarship, rather than early modern, which has caused the woman scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to vanish" (94). Contrary to the claims of Walter Ong and Robert Adams Day that women were deliberately excluded from the burgeoning academy of letters in this period, Stevenson points out that women fortunate enough to be educated through the influence of family or friends developed far-flung epistolary communities with the help of a few but important patrons, particularly in Elizabethan England, in Germany, the Low countries and Scandinavia. Classical studies were especially significant for women, since proficiency in Greek and Latin composition was generally treated as proof of a woman's intellectual strength. In the end, Stevenson says, any conclusions must take the form of "on the one hand ... on the other hand" (108). She convincingly argues, however, that the picture is brighter than we are accustomed to assume.

Warren Boutcher shifts Stevenson's focus on the relationships among the upper classes across the boundaries of early modern Europe to the intellectual networks criss-crossing the classes and counties of England in the same period. In "Pilgrimage to Parnassus: local intellectual traditions, humanist education and the cultural geography of sixteenth century England," Boutcher argues that Oxford and Cambridge functioned as avenues through which men from counties far from traditional centers of power could attain status and power, via employment as an adviser or classical scholar at the court or in a noble house. Calling into question the overly "Whiggish" interpretation of the growing impact of humanism on English culture as a virtually seamless union of intellectual discovery and nationalist ideology (112), Boutcher offers a nuanced picture of the social and economic give-and-take between the outlying counties and the urbane world represented by the universities and the court. For Oxbridge-educated men returning to what they had been schooled to define as "the country" (123), the university experience would fortify their commitment to their individual brands of cultural regionalism with a larger vision of the English intellectual world, ultimately reinforcing their loyalty to England as a nation.5

The next piece addresses the ways in which the ancient genre of panegyric was put to use in the political world of early modern Europe. David Rundle's essay on Erasmus and Renaissance laudation, "'Not so much praise as precept'," traces the medieval and early modern reception of Pliny's much-criticized but apparently popular Panegyricus and the later imperial Veteres Panegyrici. Reading panegyric as pedagogy, Rundle contends that Erasmus endowed his encomium of Philip the Handsome with strong didactic elements. Further, "Erasmus does not just teach his royal pupil, he also berates him" (163): his work was even "subversive," though later imitations show no sign that this Erasmian irony was ever appreciated (167). The earlier part of Rundle's essay does much to illuminate Renaissance attitudes toward the dubious (to them) practice of praise-making on demand, but his analysis of Erasmian technique is less successful than, say, Shadi Bartsch's chapter on Pliny in her Actors in the Audience.

The world of Byzantine scholarship is the subject of Panagiotis Agapitos' fascinating essay on "Teachers, pupils and imperial power in eleventh century Byzantium." Agapitos lucidly engages with the many-layered history of Byzantine readings of Plato and Aristotle, showing how the philosophical writings of the fourth-century theologians Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom were put to use in the eleventh century scene. When scholars such as Michael Psellos made innovations in theological pedagogy involving heavy reliance on classical Greek logics and hermeneutics, they faced intellectual and religious persecution. But teachers were not entirely without political influence, evidence of which is Psellos' mentor's successful appeal for mutual toleration between the new government and the intellectuals. Power and pedagogy clash, but, in this case, with mutually constructive results.

In a neat reversal, the next piece takes up a period in which pedagogy was not necessarily aligned with dominant imperial interests. "Reading power in Roman Greece: the paideia of Dio Chrysostom," by Tim Whitmarsh, discusses the political signification of Greek paideia under the Flavians and Antonines. After helpfully sketching out the issues central to recent work on the second sophistic, Whitmarsh argues persuasively against the popular interpretation of paideia as an instrument of Roman imperium intended to integrate Greek elites into Roman imperial hierarchies.6 He distinguishes carefully between speeches made in public at the direct command of the emperor, when a Greek philosopher like Dio might be compelled to realize Trajan's desire to represent himself as a philhellene and philosopher-king, and Dio's own variegated self-presentation elsewhere as a philosopher, sophist, critic and so forth. Philostratus' biography, Whitmarsh claims, is a rich source for Dio's "masks" (207ff.): "what is important is not to choose between these interpretations, but to allow Philostratus' scene its undecidability" (209). Paideia is the point where competing modes of power meet, and Whitmarsh's essay does an excellent job of negotiating the nuances of Dio's performance from the dual perspectives of Roman imperial propaganda and what I would call the colonized Greek sensibility.7

Catherine Atherton's essay, "Children, animals, slaves and grammar," provides an interesting contrast with Stray's discussion of English pedagogy. Like Stray, Atherton discusses the contribution of teachers and curricula to students' developing sense of mental and bodily self, though, unlike him, she finds the restrictions and disciplines placed on ancient students to be the essence of antiquity's definition of pedagogy. Why, Atherton asks, was training in pure and proper Latin or Greek a necessary requirement for public life? The answer is that the process of attaining grammatical and stylistic knowledge had significance in its own right. Education in grammar and rhetoric, intricate and tedious, compelled children to develop a habit of conformity within complex systems of rules that would shape their adult social experience in the Roman empire. Her argument is compelling, as are the accompanying analyses; especially notable is her juxtaposition of a thoughtful commentary on the potential for teachers to brutalize privileged students with a survey of the grammarians' efforts to establish themselves as their pupils' moral arbiters (230-2). Several of the most epistemologically provocative aspects of ancient grammar, notably the question of acceptable usage and the definitions of solecism and anomaly, receive careful attention (234-40). Some of the chronological and regional inflections of ancient grammar are obscured amid the multitude of sources, but this should serve mainly to encourage lively debate.

Teresa Morgan claims, near the beginning of her article,"A good man skilled in politics: Quintilian's political theory," that we should not expect a rhetorical handbook to discuss "what rhetoric is for, whether it is a good thing, or what its putative product is equipped to do with his life" (246). This is surprising, for most ancient rhetorical treatises (e.g., Aristotle's Rhetoric or Cicero's De Oratore) were concerned with just that. Otherwise, Morgan asks perceptive questions of a figure whose political sensibility has been generally neglected. In her view, Quintilian's work communicates a distinct political theory. But "the search for clear-cut, traditional political affiliations in the Institutio cannot do other than draw a blank" (256). Instead Quintilian implies that it is not the forms and structures of governmental power that matter but the individuals who exercise that power -- hence they require a good education. Morgan argues that Quintilian "brushes aside constitutional theory" in his curriculum, which presents the vir dicendi peritus as the man most fit to govern. Is this, as she says, "a rebuke to emperor and senate alike," or does the rhetorician's privatization of the political seek to evade the matter entirely? If the latter is true, then Quintilian was not simply "lucky enough to have a definition of the orator coined by the elder Cato, that paradigmatic Roman of the old school" (261). In this reading, Cato is apt to Quintilian's purposes because his traditionalist character is easily lifted from its Republican political context for use as social ballast in the rapidly changing world of early imperial autocracy. The debate will go on: interested readers are advised to study Morgan's piece in its entirety.

The two co-editors round out the collection with essays on Isocrates and Xenophon. Niall Livingstone's "The voice of Isocrates and the dissemination of cultural power" presents Isocrates as a superb educator, both in oratory and in the tangled politicking of fourth century Athens. In his balanced portrait of the kinds of pedagogies practiced in Isocrates' school, Livingstone focuses on the manner in which the master represents his relations with his students. Woven into the larger argument is an excellent study of Isocrates' own highly unified style, a study which, the author notes, resonates with the statements made by co-editor Too in her 1995 book Rhetoric of Identity. Livingstone contends that the reader of Isocrates' speeches is conscious of participating in a cultured discourse that maintains its uniformity as a wall against the "chaos of amoral, unrestrained, barbarous voices" outside the boundaries of Greece (272). This is Livingstone's opportunity to consider the larger political implications of Isocratean pedagogy, focusing on the analogous roles of teachers and soldiers: the one with book and pen, the other with sword, both extending the borders of Greece (275ff.).

In the final essay, "Xenophon's Cyropaedia: disfiguring the pedagogical state," Yun Lee Too dissents from the conventional interpretation of Cyrus the Great's Persian education as an ideal pedagogy. On the contrary, she argues, a strong critique of Cyrus' education runs through the entire work. Key moments in the narrative of the king's upbringing in Media, such as Cyrus' appreciation of make-up and Median clothing, underline the luxurious and effeminizing effect of life at his grandfather's court: Too traces the problematic emergence of those effects throughout Cyrus' reign. The essay has much to say on the important theme of appearance versus reality (293ff.), the distinction between which is a crucial aspect of pedagogy, though I was left eager to hear more of Too's thoughts on the complexity of Xenophon's response (which in my view is quite positive) to Cyrus' consciously theatrical manipulation of his military and economic power. But she clarifies much of the ideological and political tension in Xenophon's analysis of Persian education and persuasively accounts for the Cyropaedia's surprisingly pessimistic coda (286-88).

To conclude: contemporary teachers of classics are likely to be particularly intrigued by the interrogations in several chapters of the tension between the valorization of order and reason in many prominent strands of ancient experience (and especially characteristic of its pedagogies) and the diverting idiosyncrasies manifested in the personalities of those who spend their lives in the active transmission of classical knowledge. The almost inhumanly consistent style of Isocrates (Livingstone), Quintilian's dismissal of contemporary politics (Morgan), Dio Chrysostom's tireless habit of self-invention (Whitmarsh), Byzantine scholars' violent feuds over Plato and Aristotle (Agapitos), the quirky regionalisms of Tudor scholarship (Boutcher) and the unique language of an Victorian schoolmaster (Stray) are never written off as pure eccentricities, but given the proper historical contextualization and politically acute analysis that they deserve. The entire collection is an example of impressive interdisciplinary scholarship, deserving of study by scholars in History, English and other language studies as well as Classics. It should stand as proof against those who would put Classics to use in conservative efforts to retrench in the face of contemporary studies in pedagogy, gender, class and national identity.


1.   Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (New York 1918/1996), pp. 90-91.
2.   Greil Marcus, "History Lesson," in The Dustbin of History (London 1995), p. 27.
3.   Augustine provides evidence that teachers could fear their students, as well as the other way round: "But now I realized that there were difficulties in Rome with which I had not had to contend in Africa. True enough, I found that there was no rioting by young hooligans, but I was told that at any moment a number of students would plot together to avoid paying the master his fees, and would transfer in a body to another. They were quite unscrupulous ... there was hatred for them in my heart" (Conf. 5.12).
4.   See, for example, David Halperin, "Why is Diotima a Woman?" in Before Sexuality (Princeton 1990).
5.   Classicists should read this essay alongside recent studies of the spread of Roman culture via pedagogy in Robert A. Kaster, Guardians of Language (Berkeley 1988); W. Martin Bloomer, Latinity and Literary Society at Rome (Philadelphia 1997); and G. Woolf, "Becoming Roman, Staying Greek: Culture, Identity, and the Civilizing Process in the Roman East," PCPS 40 (1990): 116-143, 116-43.
6.   For an example of this approach, see Simon Swain, Hellenism and Empire (Oxford 1996), pp. 71-72.
7.   Here see also Thomas Schmitz, Bildung und Macht: Zur sozialen und politischen Funktion der zweiten Sophistik in der griechischen Welt der Kaiserzeit (Munich 1997).

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