[For a response to this review by Roger S. Fisher, please see BMCR 2010.03.04 ]
The authors of Greek and Roman Education: A Sourcebook welcome criticism that is based on a close and thorough reading of the book and is supported by evidence. Roger Fisher’s review, however, misrepresents the contents of our book or presupposes a different purpose than the one normally intended for a sourcebook. Since readers of BMCR will gain a distorted impression from Fisher’s review, it is necessary that we respond to it (I do so here with the agreement of my co-authors).
Fisher complains that in our brief (six-page) Introduction we “fail to take the opportunity to discuss the relevance of the genre of a source to the problem of interpretation of the source as historical evidence.” Consider, however, the following sentences, drawn exempli gratia from the first two pages of the Introduction: “In view of the imaginative and allusive nature of [Greek] poetry, the use of these sources requires careful interpretation, especially when we are dealing with mythological subject-matter (e.g. 1.10-11). Latin poetry … is subject to similar interpretive limitations as Greek poetry (e.g. 8.25)”; “Readers must keep in mind, however, that Athenian comedy frequently indulges in fantasy and that it aims above all to be funny. Realistic depiction is not necessarily the playwright’s primary aim”; “… it is important to remember that, in order to win favour, speech-writers frequently frame their arguments to conform to their audience’s opinions and prejudices. They are also prone to exaggerate their own virtues or those of the person they are extolling, and to magnify their opponents’ faults. These are habits which can easily lead to the misrepresentation of facts.”
Fisher thinks that the Introduction is “too vague to be of use to students” (even in spite of the section “Advice on the Use of this Book”), but the authors’ more than one-hundred combined years of teaching undergraduates in Classics suggest otherwise, as does the prior testing of this Introduction in a course on ancient education. Readers who are wondering about the book’s usefulness and appeal to a wide, non-specialist audience may be interested to know that it was recently recognized as a Choice“Outstanding Academic Title” for 2009.
Different readers will have different understandings of what “education” meant to a Greek or Roman, or what it should mean (as opposed to what it actually means) to a modern reader. Those whose concept is very broad may have expected a wider coverage of source-material than we have provided. That is fair criticism and worthy of debate. It is certainly an issue that we wrestled with. But the claim that our book “neglects education in the wider sense of the word” will surely mislead readers of BMCR. Included among our selections are ( inter alia) passages about trades (2-3); traditional wisdom (3-4, 148, 247-248); learning by association (4-7, 10-12, 20, 26, 28-29, 34-35, 43-45, 81-83); initiation rites (10-12; cf. 2 for those involving girls); a chapter on Sparta, which by necessity embraces much of Spartan society and many of its institutions (15-30); civic education (16-17, 32-34); pederasty (7, 28-29, 34-35, 82-83); the poet as teacher (40-42); upbringing and training for the least wealthy Athenian citizens (52-53, 55-56); the ephebeia (56-58, 134-135, 143-149, 253-255); the training of slaves (189-191); the role of parents (3, 45, 53-54, 55-56, 156-158, 178, 180-185, 226-228 — yet Fisher asserts that “the role of parents and parenting is neglected”). When Fisher acknowledges that our book contains “numerous examples of ‘educational pederasty'” but nevertheless complains that it does not include, “for example, the fifth-century Attic red-figure hydria depicting a father taking his shy son to a prostitute for the first time,” he is confusing (here as elsewhere) the essential with the merely desirable, and also disregarding our Preface, where we explain the constraints of space under which we worked.
Against his criticism that “[t]he materials of education such as textbooks are also neglected,” we can only point to the inclusion of the following and let readers decide for themselves: the famous Hellenistic teacher’s papyrus notebook from the third century B.C. (124-127); a selection from the bilingual (Greek-Latin) Hermeneumata (169-170); elementary exercises on papyri, ostraka and wax (173-175, 199, 213); exercises on wooden tablets from Egypt (195-197); and a famous (Christian) student’s papyrus notebook from the fourth century (233-234). More could have been added, of course, but it made better sense to refer readers to other works for further examples, as we have done.
Also misdirected is Fisher’s comment in regard to the second-century B.C. papyrus fragment of the Iliad (Tebtunis Papyrus 4), reproduced and discussed on 132-133: “it is a stretch to suggest that this fragment, or the numerous papyrus fragments of Homer’s poems, are direct evidence of their use as textbooks rather than evidence of Alexandrine scholarship on the texts” (he cites Raffaella Cribiore’s chapter in Y.L. Too, ed., Education in Greek and Roman Antiquity [Leiden 2001] 242, but what Cribiore says there [and 243] is not at all what he seems to think; see further her Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt [Princeton 2001] 194-197). Yet we make no such suggestion; the fact that our discussion of the papyrus is located between sources on the Alexandrian Library and Museum on one side and Ptolemy VIII’s persecution of their scholars on the other should have been enough to satisfy Fisher on this point, and so, above all, should our discussion about the fragment itself.
Fisher thinks that, in order to provide evidence of the Iliad‘s use as a school text, we should have included the Plutarchan passage which records that Alexander carried a copy of the poem on his campaign. It was pointless to do so: a glance at our index s.v. “Homer: accepted as an authority” and “central role in Greek education” shows fifteen entries covering nearly twenty selections which, taken together, make Fisher’s point much better than his Plutarchan passage could do (and the purpose and meaning of the story itself, of course, has little to do with education). We are surprised that he has overlooked these selections (it is just this kind of oversight that leads Fisher to some of his other misplaced criticisms).
There is no basis for the claim that “the emphasis on the role of teachers does not get taken to a logical next step, which would be to mention famous teachers and their students.” On the contrary: a chapter is devoted partly to individual sophists (60-74) and partly to Socrates (74-87), in which many of the selections contain reference to or discussion about their students or “associates”; some of Isocrates’ students are identified (88); students in the Academy are listed (111-112 — including Aristotle, though not in the anecdotal source which Fisher would like to see); epitaphs or inscriptions honouring teachers are translated (139, 144, 149-150, 195); Cicero’s famous teachers and those of his son are cited in various selections (162-163, 176-177, 180, 224-226); Horace’s Orbilius receives mention (176); and Ausonius, Libanius, Prohaeresius, Plotinus, Hypatia and their teachers and/or students are sourced (245-246, 255-258, 260-261, 263-264).
Fisher finds the General Index to be “the least satisfactory part of the sourcebook.” It is always possible to think of items that could have been included in an index but were not, and Fisher is right to criticize us for omitting an entry for grammatodidaskalos. No doubt it could be improved in other ways too. Its length of “only” four pages, however, is less important than the fact it contains over 100 entries and nearly 175 sub-entries (there is also a three-page index of passages translated). Certainly it is hard to take seriously Fisher’s preference for Monroe’s (1901) “more inclusive” index over ours on the grounds that Monroe’s contains entries such as “child education,” “education,” “knowledge” and “youth” (each with sub-entries).
Comparison between Monroe’s index and ours on the basis of the entry “oratory” (included in Monroe’s but not in ours, as Fisher notes) is instructive and typical: Monroe’s entry has a few sub-entries (and he has the entry “rhetoric,” also with a few sub-entries), whereas our index has “rhetoric and rhetorical teaching” (with seven sub-entries); “rhetor”; “Aristotle: on rhetoric”; “declamation”; “criticism: of declamation”; “Greek influence on Roman education: rhetoric”; “Isocrates: and rhetoric”; “Plato: and rhetoric”; “sophists: and rhetoric” and “as teachers of rhetoric in later antiquity.” No fewer than 65 separate page-references (many of them multi-page) are contained in these entries. Again, our index lacks “mathematics” (as Fisher observes) but includes “arithmetic and numbers” (with four sub-entries) and “Academy, Plato’s: mathematical study in”; and if readers consult this latter passage and its introduction, they will be referred to another passage in which mathematics plays a role. Many other examples would make the same points and are therefore superfluous. Fisher may prefer that every item of related material be found under a single heading, but we make no apologies for compiling a more discrete index and do not think it is unreasonable to expect readers to do a little work themselves to find everything they want. Moreover, we are confident that, given the choice, nobody would seriously want to use Monroe’s book instead of ours, either for its index or for any other reason.
We simply do not understand Fisher’s complaint that “[s]ome Greek terms … are defined in the index, but many others are not.” Thirty Greek terms are defined in our index; apart from chreia (an admitted oversight), the only ones not defined are a few that are themselves the theme of the referenced selection, or even of a chapter (e.g. agogé, ephebeia, enkuklios paideia, progymnasmata). In the present context we must also emphasize, since Fisher ignored this important feature, that our sourcebook contains hundreds of cross-references to the book’s own numbered sources, all made prominent by bold typeface and all designed to increase the usefulness of the book and its coherence, as well as its ease of reference.
Finally, Fisher writes that our bibliography “includes many general works on Greek and Roman civilization, but omits many relevant, more specific works.” Readers will not be able to guess from this comment that the bibliography is sixteen pages long and includes about 450 titles. True, it does not have everything — it is, after all, a list of works cited — and any reader with a specialist knowledge of ancient education will note the omission of certain articles or books. But it was not our intention (or our publisher’s) to be exhaustive, in this or in any other feature of the book (see Preface); nor can the writer of any sourcebook have such a goal in mind. Perhaps Fisher’s characterization of our 300-page book as “short” indicates that this is what he was looking for. That may explain a few of his remarks, but it does not account for his numerous comments that are demonstrably false.