Ancient Athens was the bright intellectual, educational and cultural centre of all Greece. The whole city was a large school, a large temple, a large workshop of art.
Under the blue Attic sky, teachers, philosophers, Poets, Scientists and Artists coming from all over the ancient world and youths from all over Greece visiting Athens to ease their inquiring minds, made up a society full of life, motion and beauty, where man lived in harmony with nature and learned from it.
The Athenian education aimed at the cultivation of the person´s mental, physical and moral qualities, leading the youth to become "strong and decent", useful to his city and fellow citizens. The balance between body and soul was the main target of the athenian education, the noblest the worlds has known.
The education of the little athenian began on the day of birth and lasted until the age of 20. First of all, the parents made sure that they raised a healthy and lively child. The first years of his life were completely dedicated to playing.
At the age of 7, the child would start going to school, although school was not compulsory, even the poorest athenian citizen tried to provide his children with – at least – a basic education. Schooling was private, usually taking place at the teachers house, girls were educated at home.
The education in ancient Athens consisted of 3 basic courses. The first course, "Grammata" (the letters), included reading, writing and arithmetics. The teacher was called "Grammatistes" (teacher of letters). When the children had a good command of the language, they were introduced to the great poets works like Homer´s Iliad and Odyssey.
The second course consisted of the subjects of Music: Singing, Playing of the lyre and the flute, Reciting and musical performance of poetry. The teacher was called "Kytharistes" (Guitarist). Through letters, music and poetry, the pupils were also taught History, Geography, Ethics and all the values of life. That way they cultivated their mind and soul.
The teachers talked to the pupils about the virtue, the bravery, the deeds and the glory of the past heroes, like Achilles, Ulysses and others. So the youths tried to pattern themselves upon them and follow their footsteps.
The third course was a physical education. The teacher was called "Paidotribes" (child-former). The lessons took place in the afternoon at the palaestra (sportsplace) and the stadium. The chidrem practiced wrestling, jumping, running and throwing of discus and javelin. That way built their body and became strong and courageous.
In the summer, the children, together with all the athenians, participated in the "Panathenea", participated in the "Panathenea", the greates religious festival of Athens, honouring Athena, thr protecting Goddess of the city. The small "Panathenea" was held yearly, only by athenians, while the great "panathenea" was celebrated every 4 years, by all greeks, who gathered in Athens.
The most important event of the "Panathenea" was great procession, accompanying the sacred veil – offered by the Athenians to the Goddess – to the Acropolis. Afterwards, athletic games and music compettions took place. The children competed in the pentathlon, which had been especially estabilished for them.
When the youths became 16, they completed their basic education. The ones who didn’t have to work, could be introduced to sciences and philosophy by the sophists, at first, and later by inspired Philosophers, like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle or rhetoric by the side of famous rhetoricians.
From the age of 18, the youths called Ephebes (adolescents), and were given their first arms by the city. The Ephebes took an oath (see the entire oath bellow) at the temple of Agravlos, that they will not disgrace the arms trusted to them and that they will use them to defend Athens and its laws.
After the oath, they started their military service, which lasted two years. Now, the city supported the ephebes. Apart from exercising with the "Paidotribes", special, trainers showed them how to use arms. Some pratciced horse riding while others practiced naval manoeuvres at sea.
Now the young men were erady to participate in the Olympic Games, the most famous games of the Greeks, which took place every 4 years in Olympia. During the games all battles stopped. The prize – a wreath of olive leaves – brought great honour and glory to the winners and their city. Every city took down part of its walls to let the champions pass throught at their triumphant return.
THE OATH OF THE EPHEBES
"I will not disgrace the sacred arms, nor will I desert my comrade in battle, wherever I may be stationed. And I will fight in defense of my holy and the sacred as it is in my own power and together with all my comrades. And I will hand on my fatherland not less, but greater and more glorious. I will always respect the decisions of the judges, I will obey to the established laws and to whatever laws may the people establish by commom decision in the future. And if anyone overthrows them, i will permit it as far as it is in my power and together with all the others, and I will honour my ancestral religion. let theses Gods be witnesses : AGRAVLOS, ENYO, ENYALIOS ARES AND ATHENA AREIA, ZEUS, THALLO (FLORISH), AUXO (INCREASE), HEGEMONE (LEADERSHIP), HERCULES, The Boundaries of my fatherland, the wheat, the barley, the vines, the olive trees, the fig trees."
Text : Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs of Hellenic Republic