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Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"                                                                DOI                                                 
Department of Classical Philology

received  10.09.2022; published 13.10.2022


core article


Abstract: The current paper traces the origins, meanings, and usages of the main words in Ancient Greek and Latin, which correspond approximately to our concepts of “culture” and “education”. It also takes into account the names of the various persons, who made education and intellectual activity their profession.

Keywords: culture, education, concepts, words, Latin language, Greek language, orator, philosopher, sophist


In Ancient Greek and Latin there are no words with the same scope and connotation as the Bulgarian “kultura” and “obrazovanie” and their equivalents in modern languages (English: culture, education, French: culture, formation, etc.).

The most used and comprehensive term in Greek is παιδεία. Παιδεία is a verbal noun from the verb παιδεύω „train, teach, educate“, which in turn is derived by the suffix -εύω, denoting position, work, or status (cf. βασιλεύω “reign”, δουλεύω „work“ and others) and the noun παῖς “child” (both of genders: boy and girl);”a person before reaching adulthood“. Παιδεία is identified with the notion of “civilization” (also a non-existent word in pre-modern times) in the Greco-Roman World and denotes the practice of educating the children and youth in general: namely their particular training, the education given to them, which shapes them finally and makes them complete personalities. The word can mean also the education process itself[1], as well as its result in the form of education, the cultural intelligence of the individual[2] along with the cultural tradition accumulated in the society as a whole[3]. In this way, the Greek word παιδεία appears to be the equivalent of both our words “education” and “culture –the latter in the aspect of both personal enculturation and a common civilizational domain.

          A partial Latin equivalent, as far as literary culture and literacy are concerned, is the notion of litterae, verbatim. “literacy, letters, reading and writing” and from which the word “literature” originates[4]. This word is often combined with studia, the plural of studium “lively interest in something, diligent occupation with something”. The plural form of the word, which can mean any pastime, hobby, or personal passion[5], even political prejudice, received early on a particular meaning and was used in denoting intellectual pursuits. Sometimes, as with the Greek παιδεία, the concept may also include the outcome of intellectual pursuits: scholarship, education, literary[6]. Due to the originally broad meaning of studium and studia, education and culture are often specified with the phrase studia litterarum[7]. In a similar sense, the phrase studium doctrinae or studia doctrinae[8] is used. Education and learning can also be designated with the word doctrina, the verbal noun of doceo “learn, teach”. In Christian and Late Antique Greek, however, the use of doctrina is used in naming and distinguishing the “doctrines” of pagans and Christians, heretics and orthodox[9].       

Thus the social class of the educated, constituting the elite of Greco-Roman society is defined as docti or more frequently as litterati in Latin[10] and πεπαιδευμένοι[11] in the Greek world. While those who not only received a higher education but also made education and culture their professional occupation, those whom today we would call “intellectuals”, are seen in different ways and bear different names.

In the Roman Empire, from the time of its greatest flourishing, which coincides with the reign of the Antonines (2nd century AD), itinerant public orators were active in the Greek-speaking East, sometimes also acting as rhetorical tutors, such as Dio Chrysostom and his pupil Polemon of Laodicea, Aelius Aristides, the writer Lucian of Samosata and others. Several generations later, Flavius Philostratus (floruit ca. 220-240 г.) described the lives and activities of many of these itinerant men of letters, comparing them to the earlier itinerant teachers of the classical-era Greece, 5th century BC, known as “sophists“ (σοφισταί). In his “Lives of the Sophists” (Βίοι σοφιστῶν) Philostratus compares the sophists of classical Greece with the intellectuals of the Antonine era and defines the former as “old”, while the latter as “new sophists”[12]. According to him in the name σοφιστής two occupations are combined: orators (ῥήτορες) and philosophers (φιλόσοφοι), who have been the representatives of the two main types of higher education in the Greek world since the time of Plato and Isocrates (4th c. BC)[13]. This includes various forms and degrees of syncretism between rhetoric and philosophy: philosophizing orators, philosophers inclined to flowery eloquence, and so on. Under the influence of Philostratus, the intellectual upsurge of the second century is still commonly referred to in scholarship as the “Second Sophistic”.

Following the crisis of the third century and the reign of Diocletian and Constantine, the fourth century witnessed another such massive development of intellectual and creative activity in the Greek-speaking world. It is significant that a new biographer, similar to Philostratus, emerged in this epoch, this is Eunapius of Sardis, who was active in the late fourth century and wrote the “Lives of Philosophers and Sophists” (Βίοι φιλοσόφων καὶ σοφιστῶν). Although, in his corpus of biographies, Eunapius formally distinguishes between philosophy and rhetoric and reserves the title “sophist” only for teachers of eloquence[14], he brings together twenty-three personalities belonging to the cultural life of his time with the aim “to compose a continuous and clear history of the lives of the best philosophers and rhetoricians”[15]. Among the representative figures of fourth-century philosophy and rhetoric selected for this purpose are the Neoplatonists Plotinus, Iamblichus, Porphyry, the emperor Julian, the rhetoricians Himerius, Proheresius, Libanius, and Oribasius, the latter gained fame as the personal physician of Julian. The work of Eunapius is the only complete conceptual view of fourth-century intellectuals centered around adherents of traditional religion and παιδεία. Eunapius’ survey has the clear purpose of conveying a sense of the living tradition of Hellenism (in the Late Antiquate meaning of Ἕλλην, denoting in Greek the person who is “pagan”) at the very end of the 4th century, when Christianity has been already the only official state religion and the Gothic tribes have been permanently settled in the Empire[16]. This intellectual current is often recognized in recent scholarship as the “Third Sophistic”, although it was not named as such by its contemporaries or by later generations of the same cultural tradition[17].

Thus, in the Greek language the terms “rhetorician”, “philosopher” and “sophist” are used, the latter of which may be synonymous with “rhetorician”, or may serve as a generic term somewhat corresponding to our notion of “intellectual” – one who is professionally engaged in scholarship and letters, being publicly visible by virtue of his profession. Latin-speaking authors in the Late Antiquity usually called their teachers and intellectuals rhetor[18] and philosophus[19]. Much less common is the term sophista, which was probably more clearly perceived as a loan word to the Latin speakers of that era and was marked with the connotations of the Eastern Greek tradition[20]. Among the original words for Latin teachers, the most used are magister[21] and praeceptor. Notable is the use of a praeceptor from Jerome of Stridon regarding Gregory of Nazianzus, whom the Latin translator of the Bible presents as his adviser on the interpretation of difficult passages of the New Testament[22].

The epigraphic monuments from the Bulgarian lands provide us with numerous data on the level of culture and education in the major urban centers such as Odessos, Philippopolis, Augusta Traiana, Serdica, etc. – mostly related to the orthography and style of the monuments and especially to the literary and metrical techniques applied in the inscriptions in verse. From the local epigraphic heritage, we also understand the relations between the classical παιδεία and the local Christian communities [23]. In addition to that, it is noteworthy that they hardly mention explicitly the intellectual professions. In one inscription from the theatre of Philippopolis, dating from the 3rd century, the noble Roman citizen of local origin Publius Viridius Julianus is called τὸν ῥή[τορα], with the second part of the word “rhetorician” lost, but that is the recovered meaning for sure. Honored with a statue in the theater, Viridius Julianus came from a family of honored citizens of Philippopolis, and along with his qualities as an orator (and perhaps a teacher of rhetoric) had a brilliant political career like other members of his family[24]. Another such inscription, dedicated to the “excellent sophist” (ἄριστον σοφιστήν) from Pautalia, was found near the demolished “Chukur Banya” in Kyustendil and was described by Yordan Ivanov. The name of the honoree with the dedication is lost, as is the monument itself, and we cannot determine even approximately its date. Some researchers have seen in the preserved letters of the facsimile traces of a Near Eastern (Syriac or Hebrew) name, but these unlikely conjectures have been rejected by the publisher of the inscription, Georgi Mikhailov [25].


[1] Lib. Or. LVIII.4.

[2] Eun. Vit.Soph. X.6.4.

[3] E.g., in many places in the Pseudo-Clementine homilies the phrase ἡ τῶν Ἑλλήνων παιδεία or παιδεία Ἑλληνική is used: Ps.-Clem. Hom. II.22, IV.12, XVI.3 and others.

[4] Macr. Somn. Ι.18.2.

[5] One of the positions in the imperial office, known at various periods as a studiis or magister studiorum (last attested somewhere in the early IV c.: CIL VI.1704) included, at certain times, the interpretation of religious rituals and omens or the supervision of the palace library.

[6] Aug. Confess. IV.14.23.

[7] Sidon. Apoll. Epist. III.2., Cassiod. Varia III.11.4.

[8] Hieronym., Prol. In Isaiam.

[9] Tert. De testim. 1: nihil nobis erit cum litteris et doctrina perversae felicitatis; Aug. Serm. VIII.1: apostolica doctrina; Aug. Civ. D. III.2: euangelica doctrina and others.

[10] See e.g. Ps.-Aug. Quaest. test. I.100.2.

[11] See e.g. Lib. Epist. 172.1.

[12] Philostr. Vitae soph. Ι.480-484.

[13] Ibid., 1.484.

[14] In the fourth century there were occasions when a philosopher such as Plutarch, scholarch of the Academy of Athens and a follower of Iamblichus, may also be named by the general term of σοφιστής (inscription IG II2 4224, comment from Watts 2006: 94; contra Cribiore 2007: 59, which does not share the identification of Plutarch with the Neoplatonic philosopher from the inscription).

[15] Eunap. Vitae II.2: εἰς ἀκρίβειαν ἱστορίαν τινὰ λαβεῖν τοῦ φιλοσόφου καὶ ῥητορικοῦ βίου τῶν ἀρίστων ἀνδρῶν.

[16] Civiletti 2007: 35-39.

[17] On the adequacy and usefulness of this term see. Pernot 2021.

[18] E.g., this is how Augustine of Hippo called his teacher of eloquence in Carthage (Aug. Confess. IV.16.28). 

[19] Cassiod. Variae IX.23.

[20]See, e.g., the letter of Sidonius Apollinaris to Senator Probus of Narbonne, in which the bishop refers to the intellectual influence of Probus on his contemporaries, naming mainly with Greek loan words their areas of intellectual activity influenced by his addressee: heroicus… comicus… lyricus… historicus… grammaticus… panegyrista… sophista… epigrammatista (Sid. Apoll. Epist. IV.1).

[21] Hieronym. Contra Ioh. 9.

[22] Hieronym. Epist. LII.

[23] See a fairly early example of a Christian epitaph from Plovdiv in the 3rd century, interspersed with poetic formulas: SGLI 207 (https://telamon.uni-sofia.bg/epi/view_ins/SIBulg_207 ). See also the marble plate in the early Christian monastery complex near Stara Zagora: Шаранков, Н. (2003), „Раннохристиянска епитафия с цитат от Омир“ – in: Герджикова, В., Е. Маринова (ed.), Cultura animi. Изследвания в чест на Анна Николова (София), 336-241.

[24] IGBulg. 5468, See also Шаранков, Н. (2006), „Virdii, Munatii, Antii. Знатните римски родове във Филипопол и провинция Тракия“ – in: Дончева, Ив., Ст. Йорданов, П. Цончева (ed.), Societas Classica (Велико Търново), 189 и 193.

[25] IGBulg 2054. On the facsimile by Y. Ivanov before the phrase “excellent sophist” we find the letters ΙΟΝΗΠΑ, but these can be easily recovered as Mikhailov does as …] ιον (a part of the name ending in -ιος) ἡ πα[τρίς  “motherland (dedicate)“.



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Cribiore 2007: Cribiore, R. (2007), The School of Libanius in Late Antique Antioch (Princeton)

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Watts 2006: Watts,E.J. (2006), City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria  (Berkeley).


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