Disciplines Of Humanities And Sciences In Antiquity

In this essay I will argue that humanities and sciences in antiquity, rather than being regarded as separate disciplines; were viewed as codependent and as a result they overlapped. My evidence for this is from studying the structure of Greek education and analyzing the works of ancient scientists. Ancient education – especially in Greece- accentuated on the development of the whole human being into a complete, perfect and accomplished (teleios) man. The purpose for study was to form the students’ character and prepare them to deal with their colleagues smoothly. Consequently, a good student had to be equipped with the technical and analytic ability of a scientist in addition to being well versed in the humanities in order to cope effectively in different fields. Education was directed towards cultural training rather than technical and for this to be true, sciences and humanities needed to coexist. Students who were to be considered accomplished had to be well versed in all aspects of education.

First and foremost, subjects in schools were taught concurrently. Parents had the free choice of selecting what their children would be studying at school and this was not limited to the specifics of humanities or sciences rather to the parents’ wishes and affordability. If as student attended a school that only taught one specific field like music, students were allowed to take courses I other schools but the subsidiary school had to report to the parent school. “Thus a pupil might attend two or even three different schools … these schools too their names either from the principal teacher or from their location”. This shows that although different schools taught different disciplines, a student’s education was not limited to a specific category; if anything it cross disciplinary studies was encouraged.

In some academies - like Plato’s school in Athens - there were laws that established that for a student to have a deeper understanding of their subjects, he/she had to take numerous preliminary subjects. For example, he mentioned that a student preparing to study astronomy had to undertake arithmetic, geometry, stereometry, and harmonics. This was of great benefit to the student since a profound understanding of all these topics was critical as all subjects were linked. He is quoted saying: every diagram and system of number, every combination of harmonious sounds and the unified system of the revolution of stars, one thing that applies to all them – these must all be revealed to the person who learns in the right way, and they will be revealed to a person who learns in the correct way of focusing in unity. For there is in nature a single bond embracing all of these, which will be revealed to those who study in this way.

In addition, Cicero noted in his writings that that an orator – or any scholar for that matter - needed a broad education to avoid - as Cicero wrote - “a meaningless outpouring of words”. He added, “In my opinion, no one will be able to become an accomplished orator, praiseworthy in all respects, unless he has gained a mastery of all great fields of enquiry of knowledge. It is from proficiency in these fields that oratory should derive its vigour and flourish. ” Governments in antiquity encouraged total education. In Athens, the elementary curriculum was intended to offer a student a general education to prepare a learner for life in society. It was meant to produce citizens to take their place in the civic community. This was achieved by imparting universal knowledge in the students. We can see clearly that students were encouraged to get versed with various areas of study. This helped bring out the best in their specific courses of study and also imparted them with an ideal civic virtue. Rather than regarding humanities and sciences as distinct, they thought of them as complementing each other.

Next, most of the famous ancient scholars we know today were versed in various fields. Pythagoras studied astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, music and religion; Aristotle was a zoologist, poet, biologist, physicist and ethicist; Archimedes studied physics mathematics, astronomy and engineering just but to name a few. These adept intellectuals partook in various fields of study since to them education was interconnected and there was something to be learned from the different fields. They used their knowledge from various disciplines to work out problems in other subjects or even in daily day matters that were unrelated to academia. One such great example is Archimedes who used his newly discovered insight in physics pertaining density and weight to uncover a fraud in a gold crown commissioned by king Hiero. Hiero wanted to show his gratitude to the gods for his successes and fortunes by placing a crown of great value – and what more great value than gold – in a certain temples. He suspected that the goldsmith might have replaced some of the gold provided with an equal amount of silver. He delegated Archimedes with discovering the truth and solving this problem.

Archimedes knew that various objects had different densities and for the same amount weight, two distinct materials had distinct volumes. He had just discovered a way of showing this -while he was taking a bath- by immersing two distinct objects in water and measuring the volume of the water displayed. He knew that silver was less dense than gold and measured the volume of water displaced by the amount of gold commissioned by the king to the volume displaced by the crown. He found out that indeed the goldsmith had tricked the king since the crown - which contained both silver and gold – displaced more water than the same amount of pure gold. Here we can see Archimedes using his knowledge in physics to solve a problem in metal working- an art. This because education was intertwined and a humanities problem could be solved with the technical ability of science and similarly a science issue could be approached from a humanities perspective.

In conclusion, we can deduce that, although the humanities and sciences were two distinct disciplines, their overlap and interdependencies could not allow them to be viewed as separate. Other than the subjects of study, humanities and sciences intertwine and in fact, were treated as one. Both were essential in the development of a perfect and accomplished (teleios) man who was viewed as accomplished in society. Moreover, questions from both fields could be approached from either perceptive since all the subjects were connected. A broad education ensured the mastery of a vast amount of all the important fields of knowledge. This mastery came from regarding all the subjects as one unit since there was more to be gained than lost from acknowledging the overlap in humanities and sciences.

10 October 2020
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