Chapter IX. The Schoolboys of Athens.
Learning to sing is probably the most important item, for every boy and man ought to be able to bear his part in the great chorals which are a notable element in most religious festivals; besides, a knowledge of singing is a great aid to appreciating lyric poetry, or the choruses in tragedy, and in learning to declaim. To learn to sing elaborate solo pieces is seldom necessary, - it is not quite genteel in grown-up persons, for it savors a little too much of the professional. So it is also with instrumental music. The Greeks lack the piano, the organ, the elaborate brass instruments of a later day. Their flutes and harps, although very sweet, might seem thin to a twentieth-century critic. But one can gain considerable volume by the great NUMBER of instruments, and nearly everybody in Athens can pick at the lyre after a fashion. The common type of harp is the lyre, and it has enough possibilities for the average boy. The more elaborate CITHERA is usually reserved for professionals.[*] An Athenian lad is expected to be able to accompany his song upon his own lyre and to play in concert with his fellows.
[*]For the details of these harp types of instruments see Dictionary of Antiquities.
The other instrument in common use is the FLUTE. At its simplest, this is a mere shepherd's pipe. Anybody can make one with a knife and some rushes. Then come elaborations; two pipes are fitted together into one wooden mouthpiece. Now, we really have an instrument with possibilities. But it is not in such favor in the schools as the lyre. You cannot blow day after day upon the flute and not distort your cheeks permanently. Again the gentleman's son will avoid "professionalism." There are amateur flute players moving in the best society, but the more fastidious frown upon the instrument, save for hired performers.
59. The Moral Character of Greek Music. - Whether it is singing, harp playing, or flute playing, a most careful watch is kept upon the CHARACTER of the music taught the lads. The master who lets his pupils learn many soft, dulcet, languishing airs will find his charges' parents extremely angry, even to depriving him of their patronage. Very soft music, in "Lydian modes," is counted effeminate, fit only for the women's quarters and likely to do boys no good. The riotous type also, of the "Ionic mode," is fit only for drinking songs and is even more under the ban.[*] What is especially in favor is the stern, strenuous Dorian mode. This will make boys hardy, manly, and brave. Very elaborate music with trills and quavers is in any case frowned upon. It simply delights the trained ear, and has no reaction upon the character; and of what value is a musical presentation unless it leaves the hearers and performer better, worthier men? Let the average Athenian possess the opportunity, and he will infallibly stamp with disapproval a great part of both the popular and the classical music of the later ages.[+]
[*]The "Phrygian mode" from which the "Ionic" was derived was still more demoralizing; it was counted "orgiastic," and proper only in certain excited religious rhapsodies.
[+]We have extremely few Greek melodies preserved to us and these few are not attractive to the modern ear. All that can fairly be said is that the Hellenes were obvious such esthetic, harmoniously minded people that it is impossible their music should have failed in nobility, beauty, and true melody.
60. The Teaching of Gymnastics. - The visits to the reading school and to the harp master have consumed a large part of the day; but towards afternoon the pedagogues will conduct their charges to the third of the schoolboys' tyrants: the gymnastic teacher. Nor do his parents count this the least important of the three. Must not their sons be as physically "beautiful" (to use the common phrase in Athens) as possible, and must they not some day, as good citizens, play their brave part in war? The palestras (literally "wrestling grounds") are near the outskirts of the city, where land is cheap and a good-sized open space can be secured. Here the lads are given careful instruction under the constant eye of an expert in running, wrestling, boxing, jumping, discus hurling, and javelin casting. They are not expected to become professional athletes, but their parents will be vexed if they do not develop a healthy tan all over their naked bodies,[*] and if they do not learn at least moderate proficiency in the sports and a certain amount of familiarity with elementary military maneuvers. Of course boys of marked physical ability will be encouraged to think of training for the various great "games" which culminate at Olympia, although enlightened opinion is against the promoting of professional athletics; and certain extreme philosophers question the wisdom of any extensive physical culture at all, "for (say they) is not the human mind the real thing worth developing?"[+]
[*]To have a pale, untanned skin was "womanish" and unworthy of a free Athenian citizen.
[+]The details of the boys' athletic games, being much of a kind with those followed by adults at the regular public gymnasia, are here omitted. See Chap. XVII.
Weary at length and ready for a hearty meal and sleep, the boys are conducted homeward by their pedagogues.
As they grow older the lads with ambitious parents will be given a more varied education. Some will be put under such teachers of the new rhetoric and oratory, now in vogue, as the famous socrates, and be taught to play the orator as an aid to inducing their fellow citizens to bestow political advancement. Certain will be allowed to become pupils of Plato, who has been teaching his philosophy out at the groves of the Academy, or to join some of his rivals in theoretical wisdom. Into these fields, however, we cannot follow them.