Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.03.48

Laurentino García y García, Alunni, maestri e scuole a Pompei. L'infanzia, la giovinezza e la cultura in epoca romana. Coordinamento e revisione di Maria Elisa García Barraco.   Roma:  Bardi Editore, 2004.  Pp. 173; figs. 97.  ISBN 88-88620-12-5.  €20.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Elisabetta Cova, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (
Word count: 1661 words

The past several years have witnessed the publication of an increasingly large number of books on Pompeii ranging from broad overviews to more focused studies on various aspects of Pompeian material culture and society. The book under review is the fourth on Pompeii in the series 'Collezione Archeologica' published by Bardi. Two titles in this series (C. Avvisati's Pompei: Mestieri e Botteghe 2000 anni fa and C. Giordano and I. Kahn's The Jews in Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae and in the Cities of Campania Felix) have been previously reviewed by D. Noy (BMCR 2004.03.51 and 2004.02.28). The author, Laurentino García y García (henceforth G.), is known to scholars of Pompeian archaeology, most notably for the publication of the two volume Nova Bibliotheca Pompeiana in 1998, in addition to contributions to the history of Pompeian studies.

According to the dust cover, the present monograph aims to present 'il mondo dell'infanzia, dell'insegnamento e della cultura all'epoca romana seguendo le tracce di quanto è stato ritrovato nella città di Pompei'. The book is written for the general public; more specifically, as G. explains in the preface, the intended audience is 'tutti quegli alunni e maestri che ogni anno, numerosissimi, visitano Pompei e che in essa scopriranno, oltre a tutte le altre bellezze artistiche e curiosità del vivere quotidiano, anche quegli aspetti che più li riguardano: l'insegnamento, la formazione e i mezzi per conseguirli'(p. 13). The non-scholarly approach of the book partially accounts for the sparseness of footnotes and references to previously published works. The book consists of nine unnumbered chapters preceded by a preface and introduction and followed by a short bibliography. The chapters include: 'L'educazione a Pompeii', 'Alunni', 'Maestri', 'Scuole', 'Instrumenta scriptoria', 'Iscrizioni e scribi', 'Biblioteche', 'La cultura', and 'La iuventus pompeiana'.

After the preface, which offers a brief overview of the history of Pompeii and outlines the subject and purpose of the book, an introduction discusses in general the upbringing and education of children in the Roman world. 'L'educazione a Pompeii' sets up the specific content of the book and introduces the two chapters that follow ('Alunni' and 'Maestri'), which focus on the evidence for students and teachers in Pompeii. Using excerpts from the Hermeneumata Pseudodositheana, the author presents the typical day of a Roman pupil, as well as the various learning stages and methods common to a typical Roman classroom. Regarding teachers, G. gathers epigraphic evidence from Pompeii to discuss the different types of teachers (litterator, grammaticus, and rhetor). The evidence here mainly takes the form of electoral inscriptions, where both teachers and students (indicated as both pueri and discentes) show their support for a certain candidate.

G. next discusses the presence of schools in Pompeii, which can be inferred from inscriptions mentioning teachers and pupils, but is not supported by the recovery of specific architectural structures. G. makes the point that the identification of schools in the archaeological record is difficult due to the inaccuracy of earlier excavations. Moreover, the author correctly notes that Roman schools did not necessarily require any specific architectural feature, since often teachers and pupils met under a portico or a velum (p. 58). By looking at inscriptions and wall paintings, G. identifies several possible schools of various levels:

1) two elementary schools (including one under the west portico of the forum, the presence of which may be supported by a scene with a pupil's punishment in the famous wall painting from the Praedia of Julia Felix),
2) a 'scuola a domicilio' in an exedra in the southern side of the peristyle of the House of the Silver Wedding (V.2.1); here graffiti on the walls referencing Virgil's Aeneid, as well as insulting lines addressed to the teacher, Julius Helenus, seem to confirm the identification,
3) a 'secondary school' in a taberna (IX.8.2), identified on the basis of both inscriptions found on the exterior wall next to the entrance (where pueri, discentes, and Potitus, probably the owner and teacher, are mentioned) and painted wall decoration (consisting of landscape scenes interpreted as 'views of Athens' and a frieze with philosophers), and
4) a structure in Region VII (VII.12.14) interpreted by Della Corte as both the work place and house of the teachers L. Cornelius Amandus and L. Cornelius Proculus. The only elements that support this interpretation are three 'technical drawings' on the walls of the hortulus. However, G. questions Della Corte's identification of the building as a 'technical' school, suggesting that it could have been a workshop where the owner used the drawings to teach the job to his apprentices.

Finally, G. also mentions the possibility of other schools in Pompeii, such as the school of Verna (CIL IV, 694) and the school of Valentinus (CIL IV, 698), based exclusively on the epigraphic evidence, but not supported by any material remains.

G. gives a general overview of writing tools (e.g., stylus, calamus, tabulae ceratae, and volumina) used in the Roman world in the chapter devoted to 'Instrumenta scriptoria'. Based on the material evidence of wall paintings and artifacts from Pompeii, G. provides a detailed description of the characteristics and usage of these tools. In particular, the author mentions the archive of Caecilius Jucundus and the famous painting of Terentius Neo and his wife, previously identified with Paquius Proculus.

In the brief chapter 'Iscrizioni e scribi', G. points out the diverse range of inscriptions found in Pompeii, from graffiti to painted and mosaic inscriptions, in order to illustrate the variety of the available evidence. Then G. describes the job of the scriptor mentioning the well-known Pompeian 'letterista' P. Aemilius Celer. He also suggests the presence of officinae scriptoriae in Pompeii, providing House (I.7.16) as an example.

G. reviews the evidence for private and public libraries in Pompeii in the chapter 'Biblioteche'. After revisiting the argument against the identification of the so-called 'Sanctuary of the Public Lares' as a public library (as first suggested by Cagnat and Richardson and later refuted by Dobbins and Zanker), G. discusses the identification of two libraries in Pompeian private houses: 1) the cubiculum diurnum in the southeastern corner of the peristyle of the House of the Menander (I.10.4) (suggested by Maiuri, but not accepted by Ling and others) and 2) a room of House (VI.17 [Ins.Occ. ]..41) (suggested by V. M. Strocka). G. also argues for a reexamination of other rooms with shelves (traditionally interpreted as armaria) as potential libraries (p.133).

The level of education of the citizens of Pompeii as evident from inscriptions and graffiti is the focus of the next chapter ('La cultura'). G. mentions previous works on this subject (Gigante, Sogliano) and looks at various aspects and characteristics of the inscriptions that provide indication of the level of the education of the people who wrote them. He considers spelling mistakes, the use of the Greek language, inscriptions in meter and references to literary works (by author such as Virgil, Ovid, Catullus and Propertius). Referencing the numerous wall paintings representing philosophers, dramatists and specific mythological scenes, but also men, women and children holding styli and tabulae or volumina, G. correctly comments that they should not be interpreted as direct evidence of the Pompeians' level of education, but rather as a reflection of the artistic taste of the time and an expression of prestige and status.

The last section of the book ('La juventus pompeiana') briefly touches on youth associations and physical education. G. mentions first the vereia of Oscan Pompeii and then the juventus of Augustan times and describes the places where they probably gathered and exercised: the Samnite Palaestra (VII.7.29) and the Large Palaestra (II.7) near the amphitheater.

Throughout the book secondary sources are fully referenced in the footnotes; however, they are limited in number and sometimes general statements are made in the text without any reference to primary and secondary sources. Moreover, there are some inconsistencies in the way the sources are cited (especially ancient texts where sometimes titles are abbreviated and other times they are not). Overall, the book would have benefited by a more comprehensive bibliography. In fact, the section 'Bibliografia' is limited and should be more aptly named 'Suggestions for Further Reading': the references are organized by topic, but they do not include all the publications cited in the footnotes. Moreover, the book has no index and no list of abbreviations, although the majority of them are well known.

One of the appealing aspects of this booklet is the large number of illustrations, which are mostly drawings from eighteenth and nineteenth-century publications on Pompeii; the relatively few photos are mainly black and white. Both drawings and photos are referred to in the text and are accompanied by captions with references to their provenance.

There are several editorial typos, most glaringly the misspelling of the author's name on the book spine ('Gargia' instead of 'García'), and numerous errors in the Latin and Greek words. Examples include: pueri conclusores for pueri collusores (p. 18); diliciae for deliciae (p. 18); ludermagister for ludimagister (p. 68); κεπος for κῆπος (p. 84); σιλλυβος for σίλλυβος (p. 101); strumenta for instrumenta (p. 103); uccidere for occidere (p. 155); Sapho for Sappho (p. 157).

While the style of the book is informal and approachable, the overall scope and tone do not come across clearly. On the one hand, the book serves its target audience; it provides a general introduction on Roman education based on the epigraphic and archaeological evidence of Pompeii. On the other hand, it presents some characteristics that would challenge the general reader. The extensive use of Latin citations and terms, many without translations (especially in the chapter 'La cultura'), and the lack of a glossary make the book less accessible for the average reader. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that readers without knowledge of Latin may be at a disadvantage. Still, the author's compilation of the current information on schools and education in Pompeii will be appreciated by specialists. On a final note, the book is now available in an English translation, published by Bardi in 2005.

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