1902 Encyclopedia > Education > Education in Ancient Rome

(Part 3)

Education in Ancient Rome

TThe great work of Quintilian, although mainly a treatise on oratory, also contains incidentally a complete sketch of a theoretical education. His object is to show us how to form the man of practice. But what a high conception of practice is his. He wrote for a race of rulers. He inculcates much which has been attributed to the wisdom of a later age. He urges the importance of studying individual dispositions, and of tenderness in discipline and punishment. The Romans understood no systematic training except in oratory. In their eyes every citizen was a born commander, and they knew of no science of government and political economy. Cicero speaks slightingly even of jurisprudence. Any one, he says, can make himself a jurisconsult in a week, but an orator is the production of a lifetime. No statement can be less true than that a perfect orator is a perfect man. But wisdom and philanthropy broke even through that barrier, and the training which Quintilian ex-pounds to us as intended only for the public speaker would, in the language of Milton, fit a man to perform justly, wisely, and magnanimously all the offices, both public and private, of peace and war.

Such are the ideas which the old world has left us. On one side man beautiful, active, clever, receptive, emotional, quick to feel, to show his feeling, to argue, to refine; greedy of the pleasures of the world, perhaps a little neglectful of its duties, fearing restraint as an unjust stinting of the bounty of nature, inquiring eagerly into every secret, strongly attached to the things of this life, but elevated by an unabated striving after the highest ideal; setting no value but upon faultless abstractions, ard seeing reality only in heaven, on earth mere shadows, phantoms, and copies of the unseen. On the other side man practical, energetic, eloquent, tinged but not imbued with philosophy, trained to spare neither himself nor others, reading and thinking only with an apology; best engaged in defend-ing a political principle, in maintaining with gravity and solemnity the conservation of ancient freedom, in leading annies through unexplored deserts, establishing roads, fortresses, settlements, the results of conquest, or in ordering, and superintending the slow, certain, and utter annihila-tion of some enemy of Rome. Has the modem world ever surpassed their type? Can we in the present day produce anything by education except by combining, blend-ing, and modifying the self-culture of the Greek or the self-sacrifice of the Roman?

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