“The main object of education was the mastery of the art of oratory, and the chief practical use of that art was to enable a man to gain a reputation as an advocate in the criminal courts.” W. Warde Fowler, Social Life at Rome in the Age of Cicero (London: Macmillan, 1965), p.173
There is an analogy in the development of Greek and Roman education, in so far as changed political, social and economic conditions brought about a demand for oratorical skills. So long as the Greek city-states and Rome did not entertain any imperialistic designs on their neighbours, this need was not felt. Farming and strict home training characterised by the cultivation of plain traditional virtues: pietas (respect for the gods, one’s parents and fellow men), gravitas (dignity or serious-mindedness), officium (duty), constantia (firmness), virtus (training in right conduct), auctoritas (authority) and paterfamilias (the father having powers of life and death over his family (1), which resulted in “patria potestas”, one of the most potent forms of authority known to history) were what made up the education of children and youths in the old days of the Roman Republic.
The story of the Greco-Roman encounter is interesting per se. Roman resistance to the infiltration of Greek culture was very strong up to one or two centuries BC. Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) personified the diehards who were anxious lest the dissolute and effeminate values embodied in Greek civilization should undermine all that the old customs or mores maiorum stood for. However from the middle of the third century BC – in the wake of the Fall of Tarentium (274 BC) – Livius Andronicus, Crates of Mallos, Ennius and countless other grammatici had started a process which was to ultimately establish the superiority of Greek culture over its Roman counterpart. Gradually Greek literature and ideas permeated the Roman educational world. To the ludus (the elementary school) were added the school of the litterator (who taught the basic skills), that of the grammaticus (an even better scholar) and finally that of the rhetor. Secondary and higher education came to be patterned on the Greek model. What was at first mere curiosity for the Greek tongue developed into a genuine interest to penetrate its signal achievements in philosophy, science and political thought. Indeed “Captive Greece took captive its rude conqueror”. In that later phase Roman education was but one aspect of the cosmopolitan education of Greece, as argued by Monroe. (2)  
Already in the old days the Roman boy used to accompany his father when the latter attended the Senate. There he was expected to learn how to run the business of the State by watching him compete in eloquence with his fellow Senators. Now that Rome had an empire which stretched far and wide – since the Punic Wars (264-146 BC) and the conquest of Greece, Carthage, Numidia, Gaul and other places further east, south and north, there was greater scope for promising young men of illustrious families, as new professional posts had to be filled in the various provinces. These required adequate training in rhetoric on the part of prospective candidates. Both teachers and pupils received tremendous encouragement from the rulers to derive the largest benefit from the coping-stone of the Greek educational system. Vespasian (69-79), Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), Antoninus Pius (138-161), Marcus Aurelius (161-180), and their successors patronized learning on an unprecedented scale in Rome. Endowments (e.g. the appointment of Quintilian to the First Roman Chair of Rhetoric), exemptions from municipal dues and similar policies, everything concurred to this end. The Romans finally came to terms with Greek culture: the end-product was original in that it bore the characteristic mark of the practical Roman outlook.       
Cicero and Quintilian
Two figures dominated the Roman educational landscape: Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) and Quintilian in the first century AD (c.35-95).The first was a man of wide culture who left his imprint on his time, so much so that it came to be known as the Ciceronian age. He set a style in letters and thought that remained a model until the end of the Empire, six centuries later. While he was sensitive to the claims of the traditionalist party that philosophy and rhetoric were shallow, and the time-honoured ideals mentioned above were seriously jeopardised by such elements as the gymnasium and homosexuality, Cicero was no less aware that Rome was both spiritually and intellectually underdeveloped, and therefore could not afford to disdain Greek culture. He set himself the task of making a case for the teaching of rhetoric and philosophy. Bowen (3) argues, “In so doing, Cicero became the first and greatest Roman writer on education; as his legal and political productions gave form to Latin prose and established him as the supreme authority in its literature, so his defence of the studies of rhetoric and philosophy established him as a definitive authority on Roman education.” Of immediate relevance to the topic being addressed here, Cicero propounded in De oratore the educational principle – reminiscent of the Greeks earlier – that public life is the good life and to live it successfully requires competence and training through education. However, he was little concerned with elementary schooling. The bridge between the latter and the study of oratory was the ingenuae artes. Cicero saw the orator as the culmination of the educational process. He insisted that the student of rhetoric should be something of a philosopher and possess the ethical quality of humanitas, the equivalent of the Greek paidea. Plutarch in his Life of Cicero records that he often asked his friends to call him not an orator but a philosopher, since philosophy was his real vocation, oratory only a means to an end.   
Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria (The Education of an Orator) which was brought to light by Renaissance scholars is no less significant.9 out of its 12 parts deal directly with the skills of oratory. The bonus vir, dicendi peritus (ideal of the good man skilled in speaking) is to be produced through an enkyklios paideia (the final form of Hellenistic education), with training in oratory as the basic requirement. Both the Antidosis of the Greek rhetorician Isocrates and Cicero’s De oratore have been traced as its sources. Curtis and Boultwood (4) note: “In the system expounded by Quintilian the orator takes the place occupied by the philosopher in the Platonic dialogues. It is not that Quintilian despises philosophy. He thought that the good orator was equivalent to the good man and that the teacher of rhetoric should know the ancient philosophers so thoroughly that the whole of his instruction would be permeated by philosophic principles.”Indeed Quintilian wrote in his introduction to the Institutio: “It is the perfect orator that we are training and he cannot even exist unless he is a good man. We therefore demand in him not only exceptional powers of eloquence but also every mental excellence.” He denied that it is the business of the philosopher to discover and apply the principles which produce an upright and honourable life. In his eyes, the ideal citizen fitted to take his share in the management of public and private affairs, able to govern cities by his wise counsels, to establish them upon a sure foundation of good laws, and to improve them by the administration of impartial justice, is undoubtedly none other than the orator. This was the creed he shared with Cicero concerning the achievement of the summum bonum (supreme good).       
From the grammar school to the school of rhetoric
If the object of the grammar school was to provide a general education, that of the school of rhetoric was to give a more specialised training. In fact the latter in Quintilian’s days was a technical institution because it aimed at providing the skilled orator just as modern technical colleges of recent times had for their object the production of trained engineers or craftsmen. The situation probably applies to some extent to their successors, today’s technological/business schools.
Boyd (5) states that the real interest of the Institutio oratoria is not in the information it provides, valuable as that is, but in the fact that it is a description and discussion of the educational practice of Rome from within by the most successful teacher of his time. He adds that “considered in this way, the most striking feature of the book is the view it gives of the educational process as it concerns the pupil.” Indeed Quintilian was concerned – as Cicero was not – with the details of the teacher as mediating agent between learner and material to be learned, and with the psychology of learning itself. In modern vein he even suggested that basic literacy should be taught through play. Rusk (6) is of the view that although Quintilian did not have such immediate impact on Roman education since Cicero had preceded him with the basic ideas, the Institutio was regarded by the Renaissance educators as the standard and authoritative work on education, and through them, it assisted in fashioning educational training throughout Europe, up to quite modern times. Actually Quintilian’s The Education of an Orator was lost to the Western world during the ensuing ‘Dark Ages’ after the fall of the Roman Empire and rediscovered in the 15th century, when it became the basis of Erasmus’s great educational treatise.
The broader role of the orator
Rome shared oratory and rhetoric with Greece as an important feature in an educational process which enabled adults to take an active part in the running of the city’s public business, and the attendance of sons with their fathers at the Senate became a sort of practical ‘finishing school’ education. Yet public life in Rome – even more perhaps than in Greece – was verbal and face to face, practical and applied to a degree, so that even a book on educational theory never moved far from the practical. All this is warranted by French scholar J. – M. David (7) who looked closely at the part played by the orator with regard to legal protection in the last century of the Roman Republic.
I have translated into English an extract from his book, which was published in 1992 by the prestigious École Française de Rome. ‘The Roman audience was convinced that the orator was able to show, by his words and gestures, that he was worthy of the trust that had been placed in him, and he could therefore assume the ideal – and socially accepted – qualities of the person who could lead and protect the whole community. Eloquence, as such, was present in diverse practices and was related to other forms of demeanour: like them it was rooted in the system of civic norms. Consequently, it should be perceived as a sum of socially effective behaviour that can be divided up to determine what underlies the claims of X or Y to superiority in the management of public affairs, the rule of minds and decision-making.”
As he was himself a distinguished counsel, Cicero saw the broader educational possibilities of rhetoric. He drew on the concept of technical rhetorical schools introduced by the Greek Isocrates (426-338 BC), but went far beyond a mere concern with the techniques and technicalities of delivery for use in the court-room, or the rhetoric used in the public meeting-place.
(To be continued)