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Zsuzsanna Hoffmann: Education and literacy in the Hellenistic era

The Hellenistic period was a revolutionary era in terms of the Greek ideal of education and literacy. Hellenic literacy, i.e. the acquisition of a specifically Greek way of thinking beyond the general studies of language, literature, philosophy and rhetoric, became the foundation of a certain kind of cosmopolitanism, a way to the realization of the pan-Hellenic ethos. Athens was playing an influential role in this process. As Isocrates, a respected school-founding rhetor of the age, summarized, „Our city has so far surpassed the rest of mankind in wisdom and its expression that her disciples have become the teachers of the world; the name of Greek no longer denotes a race but a kind of intellect, and men are called Greek rather because they share Athenian education than because of community of blood”. It is considered the outstanding achievement of Isocrates that he made rhetoric an integral part of education. The moment when instruction in higher level intellectual abilities gained importance beside physical education was clearly an essential change in the perception of paideia. In 338 B.C. ephebia was officially established (in fact, restored) and the gymnasion became the place of training for epheboi. These institutions as the places of higher education, along with newly founded libraries, obtained central roles in cultural city life. These schools were open to people outside Athens as well. Their main objectives were to prepare Hellenic youth for the defence and distribution of Greek literacy, which the Romans referred to as humanitas, in the spirit of paideia. With these actions Plato's vision, described in Laws, seemed to become reality: “... paideia will bring us victory as well”. In the Hellenistic period very significant scientific and cultural organizational work was done with the support of the cities and their rulers. This was the time of the cumulation of the enormous amount of knowledge that later (albeit with the help of Roman transmission) served as the foundation of humanistic education.

MAGYAR PEDAGÓGIA 108. Number 3. 271-282. (2008)

Levelezési cím / Address for correspondence: : Hoffmann Zsuzsanna, SZTE BTK Ókor¬tör¬té¬neti Tanszék, Néprajzi, Ókortudományi, Orientalisztikai és Régészeti Intézet, H–6722 Szeged, Egyetem u. 2.


Magyar Tudományos Akadémia