Discipline and Good Ordering

‘It would be difficult to live at once despised and virtuous; we need support.’

Joseph Joubert, Pensées, translated by Katharine Lyttelton.


‘And it may be a great wonder, but a greater shame, to us Christian men, to understand, what a heathen writer, Isocrates, doth leave in memory of writing, concerning the care, that the noble city of Athens had, to bring up their youth in honest company and virtuous discipline, whose talk in Greek is to this effect in English:

“The city, was not more careful, to see their children well taught, than to see their young men well governed: which they brought to pass, not so much by common law, as by private discipline. For, they had more regard, that their youth, by good order should not offend, than how, by law, they might be punished: And if offence were committed, there was, neither way to hide it, neither hope of pardon for it. Good natures, were not so much openly praised as they were secretly marked, and watchfully regarded, lest they should lose the goodness they had. Therefore in schools of singing and dancing, and other honest exercises, governors were appointed, more diligent to oversee their good manners, than their masters were, to teach them any learning. It was some shame to a young man, to be seen in the open market: and if for business, he passed through it, he did it, with a marvellous modesty, and bashful fashion. To eat, or drink in a tavern, was not only a shame, but also punishable, in a young man. To contrary, or to stand in terms with an old man, was more heinous, than in some place, to rebuke and scold with his own father”: with many other more good orders, and faire disciplines, which I refer to their reading, that have lust to look upon the description of such a worthy commonwealth.
And to know, what worthy fruit, did spring of such worthy seed, I will tell you the most marvel of all, and yet such a truth, as no man shall deny it, except such as be ignorant in knowledge of the best stories.
Athens, by this discipline and good ordering of youth, did breed up, within the circuit of that one city, within the compass of one hundred yeare, within the memory of one man’s life, so many notable captains in war, for worthiness, wisdom and learning, as be scarce matchable not in the state of Rome, in the compass of those seven hundred years, when it flourished most.
And because, I will not only say it, but also prove it, the names of them be these. Miltiades, Themistocles, Xantippus, Pericles, Cymon, Alcybiades, Thrasybulus, Conon, Iphicrates, Xenophon, Timotheus, Theopompus,Demetrius, and divers other more: of which everyone, may justly be spoken that worthy praise, which was given to Scipio Africanus, who, Cicero douteth, whether he were, more noble captain in war, or more eloquent and wise councelor in peace. And if ye believe not me, read diligently, Aemilius Probus in Latin, and Plutarch in Greek, which two, had no cause either to flatter or lie upon any of those which I have recited.
And beside nobility in war, for excellent and matchless masters in all manner of learning, in that one city, in memory of one age, were more learned men, and that in a manner altogether, than all time doth remember, than all place doth afford, than all other tongues do contain.’

Roger Ascham, The Schoolmaster. http://www.luminarium.org/renascence-editions/ascham1.htm

One thought on “Discipline and Good Ordering

  1. The Elizabethan English is delicious; the argument fascinating; the core point beguiling (and almost compelling, but there must be some scope for solitary virtue, or the modern world is lost). Good to see rare and arcane texts yoked together so productively.

    Liked by 1 person

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