Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Ancient Lives | Measure

Ancient Lives | Measure

Papyrus and Education in Antiquity. 

Dear Ancient Lives Users,

First off, apologies for the lateness of this post. It’s been a tough month as we’ve all transitioned from the business of finishing up the spring semester to the business of starting up our various summer projects. (Most excitingly, for one of us this transition involved heading off to Greece to spend the summer on an archaeological dig.)
The existence of the papyri that we have and love presupposes an obvious fact: that people knew how to write. This is an easy fact to take for granted when many of us live in countries where education is compulsory and literacy rates are high. But taking this fact for granted precludes some interesting questions about the world in which the papyri were written: for example, how and when did people learn to write?
Ancient literary sources do tell us a fair amount about the nature of ancient education. For example, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a first-century BCE Greek historian and rhetorician tells in his On the Composition of Words how students were first taught the shape, sound, and name of the letters of the alphabet, then how to put those letters together into syllables, syllables into words, words into sentences, sentences into connected passages, and so on till they were accomplished readers. And once they were comfortable reading syllables at least, students began to learn to write via a similar curriculum.


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