Classics_2009_Report by xiaopangnv



                       Teaching, Teachers & Students

                       Charles University, Prague, Classics Faculty

                                     November 6th-8th, 2009

The Nineth Europaeum Classics Colloquium was dedicated to “teaching, teachers and students” in
the ancient world. As we all know from extensive European debates on education, school systems
and university structures, discussions about teaching involves an endless number of related issues -
ranging from literacy rates to teaching modes, from pedagogic strategies to student fees. Not
surprisingly, then, we covered an extremely wide field to deal with these themes: there were papers
focusing on rhetoric plausibility, didactic poetry, comic teachers, fragments of Greek primers,
mnemonic techniques, tragic pedagogues, and even that dreaded question of paying tuition fees !

But even before the event started, the Classics department of Charles University welcomed us all to
a tasty buffet of typical Czech open sandwiches – chlebíčky - which we took as a clear and
promising sign that we would leave the conference not only wiser, but also happier, if not heavier !
Two days - and endless pieces of wonderful homemade cake later - this hypothesis was verified !

On the opening evening in one of the quite ancient seminar rooms in the famous old Carolinum
buildings, the heart of the medieval Charles University, participants from eight Europaeum
universities as well as from other Czech universities, were welcomed first by Dr Dagmar
Muchnová, vice-head of the Institute of Greek and Latin Studies, on behalf of the Prague
Classicists, and by Dr Paul Flather, Secretary-General from the Europaeum, our sponsoring
coordinators, who also gave us some smart education conundrums to chew on.

The conference was formally launched in brilliant fashion by Tobias Reinhardt, professor of Latin
at Oxford University, discussing rhetorical plausibility in Plato’s Phaedrus and Rhetoric for
Alexander. We learned that for Socrates, the plausibility of an argument involves both being based
on truth and taking into account the audience’s psychological constitution. In the discussions that
followed, led, as with all papers by nominated discussants, mostly young scholars from Charles
University, we all agreed that Professor Reinhardt’s paper was indeed very plausible, not only
because it was based on truth, but because we felt that we needed to, at the very least pretend, that
our souls were clearly dominated by the rational part.
We then jumped to late antiquity, to hear a talk by Magdalena Bláhová of Prague on Gregory of
Nyssa’s description of the creation of man (and his being an image of the Creator) and possibilities
of his restoration to the condition before his Fall. Thereafter, came a paper on Syriac culture in the
6th century, read by a Czech graduate on behalf of Emiliano Fiori from Bologna, who was unable to
attend due to flu, so sadly we could not discuss it afterwards.

After this first round of papers, our wonderful hosts took us to one of Prague’s most well known
restaurants nearby, U Supa, for dinner. Luckily, our group did not include any strict vegetarians,
and the part-time vegetarians among us were soon convinced that Prague was a good place to
excuse oneself from meat abstinence for a weekend. All other diets were equally suspended. We
were looked after splendidly by an excellent ‘catering team’ actually drawn from the Classics
department itself, who all seemed to have a double qualification in Classics and Cookery, and
Martina Vaníková also had useful connections to a Bohemian vineyard, whose produce we were
able to enjoy daily (though not before midday we should add ! ).

On Saturday morning, we began with two Oxford papers on Lucretius. First, Barnaby Taylor, in his
paper on Lucretius, taught us about the perception analogy from the Epicurean point of view – with
a typically evocative illustrative analogy of jaundice – as yellow and green particles darting out to
his our eyes. Then, Emma Park dealt attentively with the poet's famous solitude, and the way in
which he separates himself and his pupil Memmius, from the rest of the world, both papers
provoking many interesting remarks and contributions from around the table. In fact such
discussion – very much encouraged by the organisers - was a key feature of the event, and was
gratifying for the paper givers, as they sought to refine and develop their ideas.

After a short break, Damian Kalitan from Krakow gave an amusing presentation on the image of the
teacher in classical literature. Using sources ranging from Menander to Saint Augustine, he
distinguished three main types of teachers – the severe one, the cruel one, and the parasite – and
informed us that the ancients, sometimes at least, preferred death to going to school. Then, Juan
Muños Flóres from Madrid discussed the influence of Stoic teachers on Roman politics in the 2nd
century BC, notably on the Gracchi. Given the fact that both brothers died of unnatural causes, the
two papers left us with a rather worrying impression of the impact of philosophical thinking in

In the afternoon, Dolores Sanz from Madrid presented some fascinating fragments of a book which
instructors might have used as a manual for teaching basic Greek reading and writing skills in
Egypt. She told us, among other things, that we know close to nothing about the situation in Greece
in Classical times, how people learned to read and write, how many were literate, and the extent
such basic education depended on social status and gender. It is strange for us to consider how little
we Classicists, who work with texts from that period on a daily basis, know about how the authors
acquired the skills to produce them.

Georgia Kolovou from Paris discussed the teaching of classical texts as late as the twelfth century
AD, and, particularly, Eustathius of Byzantium’s commentary on Homer, while Ivan Prchlík from
Prague questioned Q. Aurelius Symmachus’ competence in Greek, raising the important question of
how far we can treat literary sources as truly historical.

After another well-catered coffee break, we heard a fascinatingly and gruesomely illustrated talk
from Dr Lucie Doležalová from Prague on the way in which images of human anatomy, architecture
and other symbols were used in mediaeval Central Europe to improve memory, based on classical
rhetorical techniques. Then an interesting paper on Seneca and Pseudo-Quintilian by Dr Lucia
Pasetti of Bologna, unfortunately, had to be read to us by a colleague as, in the end, she was unable
to be with us.

On Saturday evening, we visited another charming restaurant in the heart of the Old Town, where
even the Germans among us realized that one needs to visit Prague for some veritable South-
German cuisine and delicious strudel. What followed then was a picturesque night walk through
town, valiantly led by Martina and her colleagues, through the town centre up to the famous Castle
area, where we learned many amusing details of Prague’s most famous monuments.

Sunday morning was devoted to two professorial papers. First, J. A. Álvarez-Pedrosa Núñez of
Madrid shared with us some observations on education within the Persian Empire, as it appeared to
the Greeks. The Greek view was somewhat partial: both Plato and Xenophon were ready to modify
reality in order to harmonize it with their own pedagogical ideas, while the Persian court seemed
content to present a heavily propagandistic image for royal education. Then, Maria Paola Funaioli
of Bologna discussed the paidagogoi in tragedies, mainly those of Euripides, showing that although
they are in some way privileged, they usually fail to improve the situation, instead only hurrying the
plot forward to its fateful dénouement.

In the final panel, we were all very happy to welcome back Andrea Harbach from Geneva, who had
been somewhat indisposed earlier. She talked about Heracles at the crossroads, choosing between
Virtue and Badness; and argued convincingly that Xenophon substantially changed a story,
originally written by the sophist Prodicus, with an intention of making a parallel between Virtue
and Socrates on the one hand, and Badness and Aristippus, the founder of hedonism, on the other.
Then Anna Schriefl from Bonn gave a rather lively paper arguing that the Sophists considered the
concept of aretê to include being wealthy, and believed they could teach with that in mind, even
while it was critical to Plato’s portrayal of Socrates, that the latter’s teaching – and indeed perhaps
all such teaching - should be free of charge. This, as we all know, has many modern echoes, not
least for the ‘Cinderella’ field of ancient studies.

Overall, our event seemed so much longer than merely two days, while the amount of wisdom and
food we consumed during our stay could have lasted us for weeks. Our warmest thanks go to all of
the organizers who made the event so enjoyable for everyone participating – we really got to meet
many good colleagues from right across Europe.

In particular, we would like to extend our gratitude to Dr. Flather, for the generous support of the
Europaeum and for his participation; to Ms. Vaníková and her helpers, for her tireless effort and
impeccable hospitality; and also to Prague Classicists who all made us so welcome, chairing
sessions, leading off discussions in a very professional manner and looking after us so well.
Typically, our final buffet lunch went on long into the afternoon, as we swapped stories and
followed up discussions from the seminar before rushing for planes and trains. We wish next year’s
organizing group equal success at the Jagiellonian in Krakow !

Anna Schriefl, University of Bonn

Pavel Nývlt, Charles University, Prague,

Emma Park. University of Oxford

December 2009

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