Tag Archives: trivium

The mighty Alcuin

Alcuin with his students

Charlemagne was king of France at 20-something years old. He was remarkable simply for being able to make big, important decisions—a good general and executive. Charlemagne was also eager to learn new things.

Charlemagne’s dad and grand-dad had set up a school at the royal palace. It was meant to teach young princelings how to behave at court, how eventually to become a king. Charlemagne wanted to learn more than that. He wanted to know literature, art, math, science, music and to understand Christianity more deeply…so he gathered up scholars to teach him and his sons.

One scholar was Alcuin of York, in Northumbria, in the British Isles. The school at York was doing booming business—its students learned the liberal arts as well as Christian Ed, which was the new kind of curriculum Charlemagne was after. Alcuin had been an honor roll student and was encouraged by his mentor, the Venerable Bede, to stick around the York school to teach. Alcuin was headmaster by the time Charlemagne dragooned him to teach at his palace school. Alcuin not only taught at Charlemagne’s school, he ran it. He introduced the same curriculum that had been so successful at the York school. Alcuin used the classical framework of the trivium and quadrivium—“The trivium consists of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, while the quadrivium consists of arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry.” Alcuin taught the basics first: the rules of speaking & writing; how to think in an organized way; then how to persuade through speaking & writing. After that his students were ready for the more complicated subjects in the quadrivium.

I quoted from this article: https://www.hillsdale.edu/hillsdale-blog/academics/understanding-trivium-quadrivium/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.


Livius and students.

With all these scrolls and codex books there must’ve been a fair amount of people who could read and write back in the latter days of the Roman Empire. It’s hard to know exactly because they didn’t keep statistics like that. At least I can’t find any. Based on who could afford to send their kids to school, maybe a third of the population was literate? Boys, mostly, learned to read and write—but girls learned, too. You can find the occasional fresco or statue of a girl reading. There weren’t government schools like we have today. Up until the 3rd century bc kids were home-schooled by their dad, the paterfamilias. As I mentioned earlier, the Romans sure did love Greek arts and literature. Once they saw Greek education, they glommed onto that, too.

The Roman Republic, and then Empire, was all business. They were set up as an organized military that also farmed. No time for frivolities. At least at first, Rome didn’t have arts or literature of her own. She imported ‘em from other cultures—mostly Greece. One Roman dad bought himself a Greek slave, Livius Andronicus, to tutor his kids. Livius likely introduced a system of teaching that resembled the Trivium (3 parts): Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. At the Grammar stage students learn subjects that are memorized, like the rules of reading & writing. At the Logic stage they learn how to think and understand. At the Rhetoric stage they learn how to persuade other people using logic and speaking skills.

Livius was wildly successful at teaching and so won his freedom. He opened his own school after that and is known for translations of Greek works into Latin as well as his original plays. Livius is thought to be the first to write literature in Latin.

I enthusiastically recommend recorded lectures offered by The Great Courses, but goodness, they need a proofreader for their newsletter. It’s ‘Plato’ not ‘Pluto.’ https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/the-education-system-in-ancient-greece/
Here is a tiny chunk of what kids had to learn: 30 conjugations of the word ‘this’—

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.