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8.12.03

Childhood in Greek Art

Boy with Seated Paidagogos, Tanagra figurine, about 375-350 B.C.E., The Metropolitan Museum of ArtAfter many years of admiring ancient Greek art and literature, I have finally been learning Greek for the past year and a half and loving every minute of it. So, even though I am a bit late, I want to draw attention to a recent exhibit of Greek art, which sadly we don't have many opportunities to see in Washington. An old article (How do you say 'family' in Greek?, November 14) by Gregory M. Lamb in the Christian Science Monitor led me to find the Web site for the exhibit Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, which will be at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College until December 14. (From there it will travel to the Onassis Cultural Center in New York, from January 19 to April 15; the Cincinnati Art Museum, from May 21 to August 1; and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles from September 14 to December 5.)

Of the roughly 120 objects on display, dating from 1,500 B.C. to 100 A.D., you can see a brief selection on the Web site (a list is here). Mr. Lamb's article begins with the observation that one of the Greek words for "child" (paiV) can also mean "slave," but it is also the root for "education" (paideia), which can also mean "childhood," and the word for "tutor" (literally, "child-leader") (paidagwgoV), the basis for "pedagogue" in English. (A boy is shown learning various things from his tutor in the paintings on the bowl shown at left, in the exhibit.) This means that the Greek view of childhood is, typically, probably going to be complex. The exhibit's Web site also makes available several pages of quotations from Greek literature relating to children and childhood, put together by two Dartmouth students, Alison Schmauch and Amanda Herring. This has added immensely to the experience of looking at the images of art and makes me want to see the show in New York or Cincinnati even more. Dartmouth is one of the colleges in the United States with a great Classics Department, which is something that we need to put back into American education. When I was in high school, my senior-year English teacher happened to have us read a translation of The Oresteia, and I realized that there was a huge gap in my knowledge. I had been taking classes in the honors curriculum at one of the best high schools in Michigan, and I knew nothing about Latin or Greek and next to nothing about ancient history and literature. That is pathetic.

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