D. M. Pritchard (2014) (In Press), “Athens,” in W. M. Bloomer (ed.), A Companion to Ancient Education, Chichester, Wiley-Blackwell.
Typically the later fifth-century comedy Clouds by Aristophanes is taken as evidence that the young of classical Athens had abandoned the palaistra (‘wrestling school’) and gumnasion (‘athletics field’) for the ‘new education’ of the sophists (961-1054). Certainly these intellectuals offered classes in disciplines which ranged from astronomy and cosmology to, for example, hoplomakhia or weapons training (e.g. Ar. Nub. 359-360; Pl. Phd. 108d-113c). The most popular of their classes were in public speaking (Joyal, McDougall and Yardley 2009: 59-87). However, a wide range of surviving literature, including a close reading of this comedy of Aristophanes, suggests otherwise: although the later fifth century witnessed a big expansion in what young Athenians could study, physical education manifestly remained a major discipline of the education of paides or boys (e.g. Aeschin. 1.10; Ar. Ran. 727-730; Pl. La. 184e). This branch of what Aristophanes calls the arkhaia paideia or old education (Nub. 961) was taught by the paidotribēs or athletics teacher (e.g. Ar. Nub. 973; Eq. 490-492, 1238-1239; Pl. La 184e). His lessons were not one-on-one but for groups of students (e.g. Isoc. 15.183-5; Pritchard 2013: 49-50). Athletics teachers are most frequently represented in classical texts or on red-figure pots giving lessons in the ‘heavy’ events of Greek athletics: wrestling, boxing and the pankration (e.g. Ar. Eq. 490-492, 1238-1239; Beck 1975). This comes as no surprise, as each of these events was technically demanding and many athletics teachers owned their own wrestling schools, while some, when they were young, had been famous Panhellenic victors in these events. But the so-called track and field events required athletes to be no less proficient in ‘the moves devised competition’ (Isoc. 15.183). Thus on pots and in literature we also find athletics teachers training groups in these non-contact sports. Gumnastikē or physical education was one of the three disciplines of traditional male education in classical Athens. The other widely agreed disciplines were mousikē or music and grammata or letters (e.g. Pl. Alc. I 118d; Prt. 312b, 325e, 326c), to which were occasionally added lessons in singing and dancing dithyrambs (e.g. Aeschin. 1.9-11; Ar. Ran. 727-730; Pl. Leg. 654a-654b, 672c; Pritchard 2004). The discipline of music was the preserve of a kitharistēs or kithara teacher, who taught students how to play the kithara, which was a bit like a lyre, and to sing poems (e.g. Ar. Nub. 962-72; Pl. Prt. 326a-b), while that of letters was overseen by a grammatistēs or letter teacher. He instructed students in literacy and probably also numeracy and made them memorise and recite passages of Homer and other epic poets (e.g. Pl. Prt. 325e-326a).