Education is not compulsory by law in Athens, but the
father who fails to give his son at least a modicum of education falls
under a public contempt, which involves no slight penalty. Practically
all Athenians are at least literate. In
Aristophanes's famous comedy,
"The Knights," a boorish "sausage-seller" is introduced, who, for the
purposes of the play, must be one of the very scum of society, and he is
made to cry, "Only consider now my education! I can but barely read,
just in a kind of way."
Evidently if illiterates are not very rare in Athens, the fellow should
have been made out utterly ignorant. "He can neither swim
nor say his letters," is a common phrase for describing an absolute
idiot. When a boy has reached the age of seven, the time for feminine
rule is over; henceforth his floggings, and they will be many, are to
come from firm male hands.