JE Sandys – The Classical History of Scholarship – Prologue – What constitutes a scholar

Table of Concerned Area of Study

Greek Latin
c.840-300BC c.300-1BC
c.300-1 BC 1-300 AD
1-300 AD 300-600 AD
300-600 AD 600-1000 AD
600-1000 AD 1000-1200 AD
1000-1453 AD 1200-1400 AD


“Quid est aetas hominus, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?” – Cicero, Orator §120


  • Athenian Age (600-300 BC)
  • Alexandrian Age (300-1 BC)
  • Roman Age – Latin
  • Roman Age – Greek
  • Byzantine Age
  • Middle Ages in the West


What constitutes a scholar? This is the opening question of JE Sandys’ opus on Classical Scholarship. For before we proceed to understand the works of European scholars that helped this continent to become the home for pensive thought and probing quandaries that aided it toward reaching the status of the greatest civilisation known to man? One aspect which must constitute a great civilisation is that it facilitates and nurtures not only the greatest thinkers of the day, but also recognises that greatness not only in the individual work of individual genius, but as part of a continuum of such thought that has propagated down the centuries, leading to our great thinker’s frame of thought.

Thus, is this series conjoined thematically with much of the other content I intend to create and dispense upon this page – namely:

  1. Why did Europe attain its great civilizational status in the centuries proceeding and peaking in the 19th century?
  2. How did it attain it?
  3. How did it keep it?
  4. How did it lose it?

Now, I readily admit that I do not hold all the answers to the powerful questions posed above, but it seems to me that avoidance of engaging with the questions is tantamount to finding the questions invalid. Bar argument on the validity of the 4th question, one in which European man is beginning to come to terms with at the beginning of the 21st century, to find the first 3 invalid is tantamount to rejecting the notion that Europe attained great civilizational status during these centuries. I consider having this opinion dangerous, for, as we will see throughout the series, rejecting the work of past men, the work of scholars being but one subset of such works, runs counter to civilizational creation structure.

      I leave it to you to conclude why running counter to this structure is dangerous.

So now back to the question – What is a scholar? JE Sandys, writing in the first decade of the twentieth century, believed it to be akin to a religious devotion to maintenance. Maintenance of Civilization. Indeed, the difficulty of removing religion from the scholar, and the scholar from religion, is a difficult affair.

Thus, Sandys quotes the 17th Century priest George Herbert’s poem, “The Church Porch”:

“If studious, copy fair what Time hath blurr’d”


Another aspect important to the scholar is that Latin Proverb “Docendo discimus” – “by teaching we learn”. It was first thought to be of Senecan origin and finds itself the motto of many an institution of learning today.

A variant of it is found in Chaucer’s clerk “Discendo, docebis, docendo disces”. – Gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.


Bearing this in mind, the first call of Sandys is to differentiate between the terms Philology and scholarly. Now philology is the study of language in oral and written historical studies, and it comes from the Greek (philologos) – The corresponding adjective of philologia is a term which has varied throughout history, though Sandys finds its meaning close to ‘a lover of discourse’, as opposed to a hater of discourse. It is Athens, a city ‘fond of conversation’ against Sparta, a city known for its brevity of speech.

It is first found in Plato’s ‘Theaetetus’, written c.369 BC. Here it means ‘love of dialectic’ or ‘of scientific argument’, so whereas we find philosophos a ‘lover of reason’, philologos is focused on the argumentation of that reason. Sandys finds it comparable to Logos, in that is a term of such varied speech, discourse, conversation, argument, reason.

We find it also in Aristotle’s Rhetoric when dealing with the Spartans: ikista philologoi – ‘the least literary of all people’.

Plutarch uses the term to describe ‘those, who reading poetry are attracted to its beauty of expression’ in his ‘De Audiendis Poetis.

An important contrast which emerged through Seneca’s letters is that between philologus and grammatic. He split the meaning thus –

  1. Philologus – points of antiquarian interest
  2. Grammaticus – matters of expression

So, we find philologus must incorporate the historical frame.

Grammaticus had first emerged from grammata, or ‘letters of the alphabet’, from which we get the adjective ‘grammatikos’ or ‘those familiar with its number and nature’

The phrase techni grammatiki meaning ‘one who has learned to read’


This rather basic term matured over the years until we find it with a more flourishing definition in Dionysius Thrax’s (fl. 166 BC) who used it as ‘practical knowledge of the usage of writers of poetry & prose’. He divided it into 6 parts:

  1. Accurate Reading
  2. Explanation of Poetic figures of speech
  3. Exposition of rare words & of subject matter
  4. Etymology
  5. Statement of Regular Grammatical Forms
  6. Criticism of Poetry

Following from these steps, one can see how the humanities in our modern age suffer from a ‘rush to the finish’. One cannot tunnel one’s way from step 1 to 6.


Suetonius and Cicero deemed it synonymous with literary work (or litteratus).

Later we see Seneca view Cicero’s De republica from 3 different perspectives:

  1. Philosophus wonders that so much can be argued on the side contrary to that of Justice
  2. Philologus notices thatof two kings of Rome, the father of one (Ancus), and the mother of the other (Numa) were unknown.
  3. Yet the Grammaticus is concerned with the verbal expressions, and changes in the meaning of words.

It is in the early centuries of Common era that the term litteratura is seen to supercede that of philologus and Grammaticus. Indeed, litteratura is seen as Latin’s equivalent to Grammatika, Quintilian describing it as:

  1. The science of correct language
  2. The interpretation of poetry

This is akin to the idea of grammatikos that emerged following the Alexandrian Age – i.e. an aptitude in study & interpretation of poetry.


We also, at this stage, see another term broadening its definition, kritikos. According to P. Girard’s l’Education Athenienne (1889) it was a process of education that a Greek boy would pass from grammatikai to kritikoi.

Criticism as a term and application are thought to begin with Aristotle in the Lyceum, with later key figures being Aristarchus at Alexandira, and Crates at Pergamon.

The distinction between the two though, was not clear. Galen wrote a treatise on whether one could be regarded as both kritikos and grammatikos, though this does at least imply there was a distinction between the two, even if it were not clear.


The first modern to describe himself as ‘studious philologiae’ was Friedrich August Wolf on the 8th April 1777, who described himself as such in the matriculation book of the University of Gottingen. This term has thus become known as ‘The Birthday of Philology’. Wolf’s philology could be sub-divided into 24 separate divisions. Wolf, a character who will be encountered at a later stage, became dissatisfied with the Alexandiran definition and sought to include art, indeed his preferred term became ‘Alterthumswissenschaft’.


This can be seen as meaning: ‘ancient life in all its phases, as handed down to us in literature’. And this is closer to the meaning of the scholar as understood by Sandys, and as such what is meant by the history of classical scholarship. Knowledge of a general course of this historical process is essential in understanding the discourse of the day, as well as the discourse of the future. Our stress will be threefold as we go through Sandys’ work:

  1. What was the argument being discussed?
  2. What institutions facilitated these discussions?
  3. What was the process of building these arguments and institutions on those that preceeded it at the time of the arguments?

What caused the foundations of the educational systems of the foremost nations of the modern world? Or at least foremost at the time of Sandys’ writing.


Before we begin, Sandys’ subdivision of history into 12 phases must be outlined these subdivisions of history are:

  1. The Athenian Age (600-300 BC)
  2. Alexandrian Age (300 BC- 1BC)
  3. Roman Age – Latin (168 BC – 530 AD)
  4. Roman Age – Greek (1 AD – 530 AD)
  5. Byzantine Age (530-1350)
  6. Middle Ages in the West
  7. Revival of Learning – Italy
  8. Revival of Learning – France
  9. Revival of Learning – Holland
  10. Revival of Learning – England
  11. Revival of Learning – Germany
  12. Revival of Learning – Rest of Europe & USA


If nothing else is achieved by venturing through the History of Classical Scholarship, let us at least take solace in the re-emergence of this historical narrative – for refusal to do so will lead to nothing short of a vague understanding of the greatest works of man, and confusion over which path one should take in building upon such work. This clarity of purpose is a mode of mind that must be re-inserted into the civilizational sphere. So we beat on.