Greece – An Athenian Schoolboy

THE school boys and girls trudge by. A pedagogue does not lead them to-day, and they have to carry their own books; but they will be sure to meet the pedagogue when they get to school, for he bears the same name though his functions have changed. Even the son of the sausage-seller, who was strangely neglected by his parents in ancient times, may sit to-day with the son of a banker or a philosopher. Plato’s dream about public schools and public school teachers paid by the state did not come true in his day, but is true in ours. Unlike the ancient pedagogues, the teachers are not slaves, but they work as hard as if they were, and the pay is very small. But what a satisfaction it would have been for Plato, who was himself a teacher in the ” Academy,” to learn that there are three thousand primary and secondary schools in Greece, one hundred and forty thousand pupils, and thirty-seven hundred teachers, with a Greek university at the top ! The pay of the teachers ranges from twenty-five to thirty-five dollars a month. Even the head master receives but three hundred drachmas a month, which ought to mean fifty-four dollars, but which in gold may mean but thirty-five or forty. There are also private schools; be careful that you do not misread their signs. In a walk one day I noticed the sign. I naturally thought it was a school for idiots, as the word ” idioticon ” would liter-ally suggest in English; but I found that the Greeks still use the word in its original meaning of a private individual, and that therefore the sign simply meant a ” Private School ” ! This is a good example of the tenacity with which some words retain their early root flavor. Then there are schools which have been endowed by private enterprise but are under state inspection and control. The Arsakeion in Athens is a girls’ high and normal school named in honor of the founder. The Rev. Dr. Hill, an American missionary of the Episcopal Church, is held in grateful remembrance by the people of Athens for the stimulus he gave to education and for the two schools, one primary and the other an advanced school for girls, which he founded. Dr. Hill refused to regard the Greeks as heathen, and did not therefore attempt to convert them to his form of Christianity. “We shall always remember him with gratitude and love,” said Miss Sophia Trikoupes to me one day.

“A little child shall lead them.” In the old days the pedagogue led the child, but in these days the child often leads the pedagogue. It seemed to me that seeking to get into the spirit and life of the modern tongue I might find something in a school for children that I could not find in the university. It is not usual for a pupil to be in the university and in the primary school at the same time, but I found it very interesting to go to school in the morning for two hours, and then to hear lectures at the university in the afternoon. This primary school founded by Dr. Hillis still called the American School.” AEschines in his oration ” Against Timarchus ” says that an older person was not allowed to enter the school during school hours when children were there unless one happened to be a brother, a daughter, or a son of a teacher, and the penalty was death. As I did not know whether this ancient law had ever been re-pealed, and had no desire of risking my life merely for the sake of getting an education, I claimed relationship with the whole school as an American cousin, and was graciously received by Miss Muir, the principal, and her assistants. I was assigned to a class of girls from twelve to fifteen years of age under Miss Marigo Vlachou. With the modesty of aged infancy I took a back seat, and for two hours every day, when other engagements did not prevent, used to sit and listen to the recitations of the girls of my class. Sometimes it was the history of Greece, then geography, arithmetic, physiology, reading or grammar. The teacher would call Maria—there were three of them in the class—to the blackboard to write from dictation one of AEsop’s fables. The rest of the class would write it down in notebooks.

Then the teacher asked or would give the modern equivalents for ancient forms or obsolete words. It was often surprising to see what a slight paraphrase was needed to render the story intelligible. In the history class Sophia would read a paragraph, and then give an ” exegesis,” closing the book and relating it in her own words. Joanna then read the same passage and gave her version. Eustathia read an-other paragraph with more exegesis. When it came to grammar Anna rattled off the verbs, and Domna declined the nouns, and Angelike explained the accents.

With what alacrity the scholars took their books when Miss Vlachou said, ” Gerostathes ” ! This little volume, written by Leon Melas, has become a modern classic in Greek schools. ” Gerostathes ” is the supposed name of a grand old man who is mentor to all the boys in the village in which he lives. They love to gather round him and listen to stories about the old times and talks about how to get on in life. Without being priggish or prosaic, he weaves excel-lent counsel from his experience, and the biographies of Greek leaders and heroes and philosophers are drawn upon for pleasing illustrations. Benjamin Franklin is introduced as an American philosopher of practical wisdom. The virtues of order, courtesy, bodily exercise, reverence, temperance, self-control are skilfully used to color and tone the narrative. It is a kind of Greek ” Telemaque,” with something of the modernness of ” Francinet,” a popular book in French schools. I have asked a good many adult Greeks if they had read Gerostathes,” and never found one who did not recur to it with pleasure. In general, the textbooks in Greek schools are of good quality and modern methods are employed in teaching. Music was skilfully taught with European notes, and when Miss Muir wished to pay a compliment to the American visitor the school sang ” Hail, Columbia; ” but the hymn itself compares poorly with the ode of the Zante poet, Solomos, which, set to music by Mantzeros, another Ionian, has become the national hymn of Greece. It is one of the most inspiring of national airs, ranking almost with the Marseillaise.

At noon we had a romp in the school yard or a game of jackstones after lunch, or Alexander the Little would read or dictate to me during recess. I was guilty of but one breach of discipline during my school life, and that was when I pulled the long braid of Maria Katsiropoulou, who sat in the seat in front of me; and this was simply to break the ice of formality and to assure Maria and the rest of the class of my youthful sympathy.

The industrial work of the school was excellent, and when I recall the older girls embroidering an altar cloth, I think of the Athenian maids who wrought the peplos for Athene so many centuries ago.

Somehow these little children won my heart. They were generally known as my sheep. I never went to the blackboard but once, and that was when the girls were downstairs at recess.

As the girls filed in, it did not take more than the flash of an eye to read my message and to ratify it with joyous laughter. You may not understand it, my reader; it is not important that you should, but Sophia and Maria, Joanna, Soteine, Anna, and all the rest will understand it, as would Paul or Socrates for that matter, and it is the message I would send to my classmates today : ” I love my sheep and I hope that my sheep love me.”