The development of education for deaf people
Online Book, originally published as, Legacy of the Past, (1996)
Excerpt: According to O’Neill, Stoic ideas permeated Roman life; the soul ruled over the tongue and any other physical components of speech. (New Testament passages attest to the belief in the spiritual origin of speech. Luke 1 describes Zacharias’ temporary speechlessness because of his lack of faith that he and his wife would bear a child in their elderly years.) The soul was seen as the Creator’s supreme achievement, and speech was the supreme achievement of the soul, the external logos from the internal logos of reason. In the fourth century, Nemesius wrote about the Creator’s plan of an ascending ladder of communicative ability in the creation, from cows to parrots to people. According to O’Neill, there were, of course, physicians who continued exploring the physical causes of deafness and speechlessness, like the sixth-century Byzantine physician Aetius of Amida, who investigated paralysis of voice structures he thought possibly curable by therapy. Yet even he was not interested in the brain or nervous system as sources of speech.
The Justinian Code (529 A.D.) probably reveals very much of the life conditions for deaf people, not only the legal attitudes towards deaf people and those without speech. In this codification of Roman law, a speechless person was considered a legal impediment, and speech was necessary for citizenship. A speechless child, one writer said, had not intellect, which was the truly human factor. Children were thought to develop true speech by around the age of seven. A deaf person could not make a promise in a court of law, though later such courts distinguished between those who had been deaf from birth and those who had become deaf through accident, after their speech faculties had been developed. The latter type of unfortunate could make a written will, since it was assumed he understood the meaning of language. (An aside is that blind persons might have a valid will if it were witnessed, but deaf people had to write the will in their own handwriting.) A mute might not serve as custodian of a minor. Nor could a mute or deaf person administer his own properties; a curator was appointed. Thus, according to O’Neill, it seems clear that under Roman law the ability to reason and the ability to speak were indissolubly connected. Persons deaf and mute were associated with minors or those incurably diseased or insane as being incapable of handling their own affairs.