Classic lessons for today
By Sonia B. Glover
There are two main reasons why Dr. Nigel Kennell of Memorial's Classics
Department is conducting research on Greek citizen training. The first is his passion for his research. The second is that he believes it is important for the public know as much history as possible.
"I think that it is very important to know history because history
at all levels
- ancient, medieval or modern history - is forever used today to justify political stances. We just have to know our history... we can't rely upon our leaders to tell us the truth because they don't know it. That is the job of people in universities."
Dr. Kennell said his research will expand horizons and introduce people to a culture that although foreign to us, still lies beneath much of what we do and who we are.
"My research is a study of how Greek city-states from the fourth century BC to the fourth century AD trained their elite young men to become citizens. Each city had a combination of national service and compulsory university education for all male citizens and then later on just the elite who could afford it," Dr. Kennell said. "They were trained in military tactics, physical education and increasingly as the years went by, in moral and philosophical education too. This is especially true for the city of Athens where we know a lot about the development of citizen training."
Dr. Kennell said Greek citizen training was the way in which Greeks passed on their culture, morals and standards from one generation to the next, and added that studying this type of training can be beneficial to modern culture.
"Studying how one civilization, as a particularly long civilization, passed on its culture and how it changed over the centuries can give us some insights into how modern cultures do it.… I think one can use comparative material and certainly gain some insights into what's happened in various cultures today."
Greek citizen training developed out of religious rituals in which
were formed together in bands and required to race as a way of marking a transition from childhood to adulthood, said Dr. Kennell.
"There seems to be a connection in ancient Greek culture between racing and fertility. So when these young men became of marriageable age they would race, and then as centuries went by it became secularized and very gradually evolved into a system of military training. We first see it in its full-blown form in the city of Athens, but there is evidence of earlier systems in the city of Sparta."
Dr. Kennell said his SSHRC-funded research is an example of looking at something that, in many ways, is completely different from our culture and our way of doing things, but similar in other ways.
"I think if you look at other cultures you always learn more about
because you stop and look at it more objectively."
Dr. Kennell's interest in Greek citizen training sparked from his interest in studying Greek inscriptions.
"The Greeks loved to leave records of their deeds, their lives, and their acts; every Greek city state set up inscriptions carrying laws and decrees. I became really interested in the city of Sparta.
"Sparta was extremely well known for its education system."
In 1995, Dr. Kennell published a book on the Spartan education system. It was the first of its kind, showing how the Spartan system evolved through the sixth century BC to the third century AD.
When his present research project wraps up next year, Dr. Kennell hopes to publish another book - this time on the role of citizen training systems in Greek culture and how they evolved.
"I hope to have a good foundation for shaping the evidence I now have into a book in which I can go into more specific questions, and bring questions over from my Sparta book as to the role of citizen training in the construction of civic identity and the Greek identity as a whole - how they defined themselves, what they thought of themselves and how they passed that down to their youth.