Monday, June 9, 2014

The Introduction of Greek into English Schools

A recent article by Matthew Adams in Greece & Rome explores how Greek came to be taught in schools in England. Some notes:

  • Erasmus, 1500: "My Greek studies are almost too much for my courage, while I have not the means of purchasing books nor the help of a master" (quoted here, p. 11).
  • "The first Englishman who taught Greek at Oxford was William Grocyn or 'Grocyn the Grecian'. [...] he left Oxford in 1488 to travel and study in Italy, returning before the end of 1491. After his travels he publicly lectured in Greek at the university, and became the first English teacher of Greek at Oxford" (p. 103). There is contemporary testimony that Grocyn learned the rudiments of Greek in England and pursued advanced studies in Italy. 
  • Adams then discusses which secondary schools were engaged in the teaching of Greek. He finds that it is hard to identify the earliest, but three schools were teaching it at or near the beginning of the sixteenth century: Eton, St. Paul's, and Winchester.
  • "Printing came later to England than to almost any other European country; and even in Paris, laying one's hands on a copy of a Greek grammar at the turn of the [sixteenth] century was a ferociously difficult business for Erasmus. It must therefore have been a much more difficult task to acquire a Greek text printed in England, where the first two known books containing Greek characters were printed in Cambridge in 1521 and London in 1524" (p. 107). Adams goes on to describe briefly these two books (pp. 107-8). Both books were by Thomas Linacre, the first being his Latin translation of a work by Galen that contained seven poorly printed Greek words, the second Linacre's monograph on Latin grammar with far more Greek in much superior type than the earlier book, but still Linacre apologizes in the preface for the poor quality of the Greek type.
  • "after about 1530 [...] there was a fall in demand for Greek in all [secondary] schools throughout England" (p. 108). Adams links this decline in Greek to Erasmus' Greek NT and the reforming spirit in which it participated, perceived as dangerous to the church. "In the forty years following Erasmus' publication of the New Testament, until 1559, twenty-five academics and students from Cambridge (Erasmus' alma mater) were burnt at the stake for heresy, many were pursued by agents of Thomas More, many others went into exile. The absence of Greek studies in schools can be explained by the absence of texts; and texts were not being printed, because to be associated with Greek in the middle of the sixteenth century was a dangerous pursuit. Only in 1559 did the study of Greek become freer, when the religious settlement of that year 'formally established Protestantism as the religion of England'" (p. 112; quoting Goldhill, 32).
My interest in this whole subject has to do with the history of the English Bible, particularly how William Tyndale learned Greek. Apparently he could have learned it at Oxford, whither he matriculated in 1506 (at the age of 12!), earning his MA in 1515. I suppose going to Oxford so young meant that he might not have gone to a secondary school at all, but I haven't found anything that says what sort of education he had before Oxford. That is, Wikipedia doesn't say. :) Sometime I'll try to have a look in Daniell's biography

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