‘Like the Wick of the Lamp, Like the Silkworm They Are’: Stupid Schoolteachers in Classical Arabic Literary Sources

Teaching - photo by Wolfgang Sauber / Wikipedia

That schoolteachers were incorrigibly fatuous was certainly a common perception, widespread in adab literature of the ʿAbbāsid period and in later sources too. Indeed, the question of their stupidity, or rather, the stereotype of ‘the stupid schoolteacher’ was a topos which several classical and post-classical writers were fond of using, along with others such as ‘the dull person’, ‘the smart sponger’ and ‘the ridiculous bedouin’.

Teaching Math in the Middle Ages

Teaching Math in the Middle Ages

Today I would like to talk about the places mathematics and mathematical pedagogy in particular appear in the Latin writing of the medieval world.

The Long History of Teachers Complaining about Students

Ms 2167 F.13V Maximilian Sforza Attending to His Lessons, Lombard, from 'Donatus Grammatica' ' (vellum), Italian School, (15th century) / Biblioteca Trivulziana, Milan, Italy

‘Scholarly effort is in decline everywhere as never before.’

The Life of Medieval Students as Illustrated by their Letters

Teaching at Paris, in a late 14th-century Grandes Chroniques de France

The intellectual life of the Middle Ages was not characterized by spontaneous or widely diffused power of literary expression.

Dear Dad, Send Money – Letters from Students in the Middle Ages

medieval writing - Jean Miélot at his desk 15th century

I ask of you greetings and money.

Medieval Back-to-School Shopping List

Students enter the „Natio Germanica Bononiae“, the german nation at the university of Bologna, image from the 15th century

In the Middle Ages, students entering university had to gather together materials, too, before they headed off to places sometimes very far from home like Oxford University, the University of Salerno, or the University of Paris. Here’s a list of five things that would be on a medieval back-to-school shopping list.

Questions and Answers with Alcuin


What are teeth? – The millstones of our biting.

Imprisonment, Execution and Escape: Medieval History and the National Curriculum

Yeoman Warder speaking to a group of school children at the Tower of London. Photo courtesy of Represent London, lotterygoodcauses.org.uk.

The final talk in Sesson #1041, Engaging the Public with the Medieval World, looked at what English children are being taught in school. How much medieval history is in the new programme that was released in September 2014? Megan Gooch, Curator at the Historic Royal Palaces breaks down the English system for us in her paper, ‘Imprisonment, Execution, and Escape: Medieval History and the National Curriculum’.

Making the Castle a Home: Creating an Immersive Medieval World Using Live Costumed Interpreters

To pardon or to punish? Children enjoying live stopped interpretation at the Tower of London. Photo courtesy of Past Pleasures.

How does the use of unscripted, adaptive, historical interpretation boost the tourist experience? Right on the heels of our look at the Tower of London’s visitor engagement, we heard a paper from Lauren Johnson, Research Manager for Past Pleasures, the oldest historical interpretation company in the UK who educate and entertain the public at historical sites, museums, on stage and and on TV.

Papers on Medieval Prosopography: Session #47 at KZOO 2015

Pieter Brueghel - Kermesse (The Feast of Saint George)

Three fantastic papers on Prosopography from #KZOO2015.

To See with the Eyes of the Soul: Memory and Visual Culture in Medieval Europe

The Triumph (or Wisdom) of St Thomas Aquinas, fresco in the Chapter Hall of the Dominican Convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, by Andrea di Bonaiuto from 1366/1367.

In this article I shall therefore take a closer look at how people thought about the subject of memory and why memory was considered so important in the Middle Ages.

The Importance of Being Good: Moral Philosophy in the Italian Universities, 1300–1600

medieval university teaching

This paper therefore explores how important moral philosophy was, during the Italian Renaissance, as an independent university subject, and whether its status had a direct relationship with that of rhetorical studies

Intellectual Cartographic Spaces: Alfonso X, the Wise and the Foundation of the Studium Generale of Seville

The University of Seville, est. 1505 - one of the legacies of Alfonso X's 1254 establishment of escuelas generales (general schools).

This dissertation, “Intellectual Cartographic Spaces: Alfonso X, the Wise and the Foundations of the Studium Generale of Seville,” I reevaluate Spain’s medieval history, specifically focusing on the role of Alfonso X and his court in the development of institutions of higher education in thirteenth-century Andalusia.

Scholars, Teachers and Students in Early Medieval Europe: Towards a Total Network

J Clare Woods

This talk, part of a larger project, is concerned with intellectuals (scholars, teachers and their students) active in the late eighth through ninth centuries, a period usually referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance.

Religious Education as the Basis of Medieval Literature

The figure of Grammatica, the first stage of medieval education, threatens an inattentive student with her birch - south portal, Chartres cathedral, c.1150. Photo courtesy University of Leicester

The medieval literature was written with a purpose to teach Christian dogmas to the masses. The prose and poetry of the time meant to show men the ugliness of sin and the beauty of goodness.

Narratives of resistance: arguments against the mendicants in the works of Matthew Paris and William of Saint-Amour

The Confirmation of the Franciscan Rule (Cappella Sassetti, Santa Trinità, Florence) - 15th century

The rise of the new mendicant orders, foremost the Franciscans and Dominicans, is one of the great success stories of thirteenth-century Europe. Combining apostolic poverty with sophisticated organization and university learning, they brought much needed improvements to pastoral care in the growing cities.

The influence of the Bible on Medieval Women’s Literacy

saint anne teaching mary to read

The image of Saint Anne, who teaches Virgin Mary to read, suggests the feminine culture of the medieval Christian tradition, in which mothers have the mission to educate their girls.

The Meek And Mighty Bride: Representations of Esther, Old Testament Queen of Persia, on Fifteenth-Century Italian Marriage Furniture

Florentine 15th c. wedding chest

Cassone and spalliere panels depicting the Old Testament Book of Esther were produced by a number of Florentine artists during the fifteenth century.

The Monochord in the Medieval and Modern Classrooms

medieval musician - Detail of a musician playing a viol, representing the second musical mode.  British Library

The monochord was a standard feature of musical pedagogy in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In the modern classroom, it allows our students to experience the pedagogical world of the medieval classroom, bringing a deeper reality to an otherwise abstract series of concepts.

We Don’t Need No Education

medieval university

Let’s have a five-minute look at medieval education.

Between Official and Private Dispute: The Case of Christian Spain and Provence in the Late Middle Ages

Christian and Jewish disputes

Literary and historical evidence of religious disputes that took place between Jews and Christians during the Middle Ages exists in a varietyof sources.

Mnemotechnics and the Reception of the Aeneid in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

Detail of a miniature of several episodes from book IV of Virgil's Aeneid: on the right, the hunt during which Dido and Aeneas meet; on the left, Dido and Aeneas ride into a cave together, and in the middle of the image, Dido is on her funeral pyre, committing suicide after the departure of Aeneas.

If Simonides was the inventor of the art of memory, and ‘Tulliua’ its teacher, Thomas Aquinas became something like its patron saint.

How much did medieval teachers beat their students?

A typically frenzied Renaissance depiction of a birching - Hans  Holbein's image of the 'tyranny of schoolmasters', from his illustrations for Erasmus' Praise of Folly, c.1515.  Photo courtesy University of Leicester

Medieval writing suggests classroom punishments such as beating, flogging and whipping were carefully regimented – and were only meant to be used to aid learning.

The Earliest Little Red Riding Hood Tale

Image from Journeys through Bookland: a new and original plan for reading applied to the world's best literature for children (1922)

Looking at an early 11th century version of tale of Little Red Riding Hood

Late Medieval Franciscan Statutes on Convent Libraries and Education


Although the higher education of the Franciscans has frequently been the object of research, their role in offering elementary instruction has often been ignored.

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