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As for the actual quality of teaching in the Athenian university,
Libanius’ remarks to a friend (Letter 627) do not inspire confidence:
Fathers believe that their sons will bring back from Athens either
learning or, at least, the reputation for learning. Now, in that I
respect Acacius, I approve of his having sent his son thither; but as
I love the man, I should prefer that he had kept the boy at home. Of
the teachers there, some are old fogies, fit only to eat and sleep at
their ease, while others seem in need of teachers themselves, who
shall teach them this first of all: that cases are decided, not by arms,
but by arguments.
(For a more detailed account, see J.W.H. Walden, The Universities
of Ancient Greece [Scribner’s 1909]. The work is unsurpassed to
this day, and, best of all, it’s a free download from Google Books —
only pp. 292-3 are missing!)
IV
The rest of the jokes, like those about the scholastikos, are based
on stereotypes — the hothead, the glutton, the moron, etc. This
stereotyping had been the stock and trade of Greek character
analysis, and of Greek humor, since at least the time of Aristotle and
his protégé, Theophrastus. (The latter actually wrote a book, which
we still have, called Types.) On the stage, later Greek comedy, from
Menander on, had evolved into a sort of mime of stereotypes (the
miser, the pimp, the bawd, etc.); finally, poets like Theocritus and
Herondas actually wrote poetic monologues to be delivered by solo
actors portraying such types.
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