Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

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Dean
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Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

Post by Dean » Tue Jul 08, 2003 4:38 am

I have often wondered what the literacy rate was in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Has anyone ever seen any info or statistics on this? Also how well were the writers known to them? Some interesting questions for thought... :)
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Emma_85
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Re:Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

Post by Emma_85 » Wed Jul 09, 2003 9:59 am

'fraid i've never seen any statistics. but the literacy rate would have been appaling in Rome, but it might not have been so bad in Athens (at the time of sokrates and plato).
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Re:Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

Post by bingley » Wed Jul 09, 2003 3:04 pm

Define literacy. Literate enough to be able to spell out or write one's own name? Literate enough to read or write a letter? Literate enough to read Thucydides or Tacitus?<br /><br />I have heard that the gap between the Latin we love and the Latin people actually spoke was much larger than gap between "literary" and spoken English. What was the situation in Greece? How close was Thucydides' or Xenophon's prose to spoken Greek?

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Re:Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

Post by Emma_85 » Wed Jul 09, 2003 3:13 pm

there was probably a huge gap between spoken and written latin or greek. there is a huge gap in english, but just think of all the really complicated things you can do in written greek. no one would have talked like that.<br /><br />maybe most romans could spell their own name, but i don't think that the people living in the slums would have be able to do much more.
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Re:Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

Post by annis » Wed Jul 09, 2003 8:58 pm

[quote author=bingley link=board=6;threadid=225;start=0#1135 date=1057763077]<br />I have heard that the gap between the Latin we love and the Latin people actually spoke was much larger than gap between "literary" and spoken English. What was the situation in Greece? How close was Thucydides' or Xenophon's prose to spoken Greek?<br />[/quote]<br /><br />Quite remote, apparently.<br /><br />Some time read a transcription of how people talk - even very well educated people - and compare it to their writing. There's a world of difference. Add to that the carefully honed verbal skills that comes from rhetorical training, and you have a writing style quite distant from how people actually speak.<br /><br />Something like Attic Koine (in the New Testament, say) is probably much closer to how the language was actually used in non-literary, non-speech-giving situations, though of course the Koine adopted features of languages in came in contact with.<br /><br />This ignores the issue with Xenophon, namely that his Attic was "debased" (I love old grammars) by being away from Athens and hangin' out with Barbarians - and Spartans - for so long.<br />
William S. Annis — http://www.aoidoi.org/http://www.scholiastae.org/
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Re:Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

Post by benissimus » Thu Jul 10, 2003 1:24 am

I once read a Latin gravestone written by the child's father. The incription itself made perfect sense, but he had two spelling errors in which he put "B" instead of "V". This makes sense since "V" and "B" were very similar just as in Modern Spanish. I'm not sure how educated the man was, but he certainly was not wealthy yet he knew how to write arguably well.
flebile nescio quid queritur lyra, flebile lingua murmurat exanimis, respondent flebile ripae

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Re:Literacy in Ancient Greece and Rome

Post by vinobrien » Thu Jul 10, 2003 4:02 pm

Wouldn't the existence (and quality) of Latin graffiti tend to suggest that some book learnin' was had by the lower orders. The famous graffito "illa amo" is used as an example of how the terminal "m" was not pronounced in spoken Latin (as we all know from our scansion exercises), however it also suggests that it was written by someone who knew his letters but was not fully literate. Mind you, if I remember aright, the divine Augustus sacked one of his scribes for writing ipsi as ixi...
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