Classical Education in Britain, 1500-1900

Classical Education in Britain, 1500-1900

Classical Education in Britain, 1500-1900

Classical Education in Britain, 1500-1900

Excerpt

The history of classical education in Britain may be said to begin in the year 78, when the Roman governor Agricola, after the spectacular military successes with which his governorship began, took measures to bind his subjects more closely to Rome. He encouraged the Britons to adopt the Roman way of life, and provided a liberal education for the sons of the local chieftains, 'so that those who had lately rejected the language of Rome now wished to acquire eloquence'. The words of Tacitus make it clear that the Britons were not only taught the Latin language; they were taught, as were the Romans themselves, to study literature in the school of the grammaticus and to practise the art of selfexpression in the school of rhetoric.

Britain produced no Ausonius to celebrate her teachers, and evidence for the further history of education in Roman Britain is all but non-existent. None the less it is fitting that we should turn to the ancient world by way of prelude to this study, for it is there that we must seek the origins of the type of education we know as classical. Under the Roman Empire the established system of education was one based on the study and imitation of the best models of literature, one moreover in which a foreign language and literature, that of Greece, was regarded as having a claim on the schoolboy no less strong than that of his own language and literature.

The main function of the ancient grammaticus was to expound the poets. He would explain allusions and difficult words, expound the metre and insist on correct reading aloud. The Greek grammaticus would begin with Homer and proceed to fine dramatists, Menander in particular; the Roman grammaticus, closely following the Greek example, concentrated on Virgil and on the Roman Menander, Terence. Sallust was read in the schools of the later Empire, but otherwise prose writers were generally ignored.

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