What children are for

Tim Whitmarsh

  • The School of Rome: Latin Studies and the Origins of Liberal Education by Martin Bloomer
    California, 281 pp, £34.95, April 2012, ISBN 978 0 520 25576 0

The ninth of the Crowns of the Martyrs by Prudentius, the great Christian poet of the fifth century, tells of his visit to the tomb in Rome of Cassian of Imola. Above the tomb hung a grisly portrait of a man surrounded by schoolchildren and perforated with scars. The tomb attendant explained that Cassian was an exacting schoolmaster whose demands on his students were not appreciated, for ‘a teacher always leaves a bitter taste in a young man and no discipline is sweet to the young.’ When Cassian was outed as a Christian, he was sentenced to death at the hands of his students, who were all too keen to turn on him the instruments with which he had tortured them: the styli they used to etch their letters into wax tablets. ‘Why do you groan?’ Prudentius imagines one of the boys saying. ‘It was you yourself who, as a teacher, gave us this weapon, who armed our hands. See, we are giving back to you as many marks as we received from you, standing and weeping. You cannot be angry at us for writing.’

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