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The ideal child does not play: insights from Europe's oldest children's book

Dickey, E. ORCID: (2020) The ideal child does not play: insights from Europe's oldest children's book. Pallas, 114. pp. 85-94.

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Europe’s oldest children’s book was a bilingual easy reader designed to teach Greek to Roman schoolchildren. Composed perhaps in the first century BC, it described a typical day in the life of a Roman schoolboy: getting ready for school, lessons, interactions with other children, lunch, etc. Although we no longer have this text exactly in its original form, it survives in multiple versions rewritten in subsequent centuries during the Roman empire. Strikingly absent from almost all these versions is any mention of play: the only reference to play is a single line in one version, clearly a late addition to the text, in which a child is accused of playing when he should have been studying. The accusation is indignantly and convincingly refuted: the child was in fact doing something more worthwhile. This absence of play must be connected to the fact that the child depicted in this text is normally an idealized one, for other evidence for Roman attitudes towards children’s play suggests that it was often seen primarily as an obstacle to learning. In this book, therefore, play is depicted not as a typical characteristic of children, but rather as deviant behaviour, something that children should not do at all.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Classics
ID Code:93945

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