I’ve been reading Libanius’ autobiography recently and stumbled across an interesting remark he makes about his education. Note: Libanius was a pagan teacher of rhetoric living in the newly Christianized Roman Empire. In his autobiography, he says this:
I restrained my mind from composing, my tongue from speaking, and my hand from writing, and I concentrated upon one thing only – the memorization of the works of classical authors – and studied under a man of prodigious memory who was capable of instilling into his pupils an appreciation of the excellence of the classics. I attached myself to him so wholeheartedly that I would not leave even after class had been dismissed, but would trail after him, book in hand, even through the city square, and he had to give me some instruction, whether he liked it or not. At the time he was obviously annoyed at this importunity, but in later days he was full of praise for it. Libanius, Autobiography, 8 (LCL, p. 61).
When I read this quote, I think it underscores something that Birger Gerhardsson said many years ago, namely, Rabbi Akiba did not invent memorization as a pedagogical tool! Memory was simply part and parcel of ancient education.