Doubtless Helvia, if she survived her sons and grandsons, must have bitterly rued the day when, with her husband and her young children, she left the quiet retreat of a life in Cordova. Each of the three boys grew up to a man of genius, and each of them grew up to stain his memory with deeds that had been better left undone, and to die violent deaths by their own hands or by a tyrant’s will. Mela died as we have seen; his son Lucan and his brother Seneca were driven to death by the cruel orders of Nero. Gallio, after stooping to panic-stricken supplications for his preservation, died ultimately by suicide. It was a shameful and miserable end for them all, but it was due partly to their own errors, partly to the hard necessity of the degraded times in which they lived.
THE EDUCATION OF SENECA.
For a reason which I have already indicated—I mean the habitual reticence of the ancient writers respecting the period of their boyhood—it is not easy to form a very vivid conception of the kind of education given to a Roman boy of good family up to the age of fifteen, when he laid aside the golden amulet and embroidered toga to assume a more independent mode of life.
A few facts, however, we can gather from the scattered allusions of the poets Horace, Juvenal, Martial, and Persius. From these we learn that the schoolmasters were for the most part underpaid and despised, while at the same time an erudition alike minute and useless was rigidly demanded of them. We learn also that they were exceedingly severe in the infliction of corporeal punishment; Orbilius, the schoolmaster of Horace, appears to have been a perfect Dr. Busby, and the poet Martial records with indignation the barbarities of chastisement which he daily witnessed.
[Footnote 5: For the miseries of the literary class, and especially of schoolmasters, see Juv, Sat. vii.]
The things taught were chiefly arithmetic, grammar—both Greek and Latin—reading, and repetition of the chief Latin poets. There was also a good deal of recitation and of theme-writing on all kinds of trite historical subjects. The arithmetic seems to have been mainly of a very simple and severely practical kind, especially the computation of interest and compound interest; and the philology generally, both grammar and criticism, was singularly narrow, uninteresting, and useless. Of what conceivable advantage can it have been to any human being to know the name of the mother of Hecuba, of the nurse of Anchises, of the stepmother of Anchemolus, the number of years Acestes lived, and how many casks of wine the Sicilians gave to the Phrygians? Yet these were the dispicable minutiae which every schoolmaster was then expected to have at his fingers’ ends, and every boy-scholar to learn at the point of the ferule—trash which was only fit to be unlearned the moment it was known.