The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







To the ancient Greeks, Paideia is "the process of educating man into his true form, the real and genuine human nature." (1) It also means culture. It is the ideals in which the Hellenes formed the world around them and their youth. Since self-government was important to the Greeks, Paideia combined with ethos (habits) made a man good and made him capable as a citizen or a king. (1a) This education was not about learning a trade, or an art which the Greeks called vanavsos (mechanical) unworthy of a citizen, but was about training for liberty (freedom) and nobility (The Beautiful). Paideia is the cultural heritage that is continued through the generations.


Origins and foundations

"Paideia" is found in the word "Encyclopaedia."

The Greeks considered Paideia to be formed by the aristocratic class, who were said to have intellectuallized their culture and their ideas. The culture and the youth are then 'moulded' to the ideal. The aristocratic ideal is the Kalos Kagathos; "The Beautiful and the Good." This idea is similar to medieval knights, their culture and the English word gentleman.

Greek Paideia is the idea of perfection, of excellence. The Greek mentality was "to always be pre-eminent." Homer records this charge of King Peleus to his son Achilles. This idea is called arete. "Arete was the central ideal of all Greek culture." (2) In the Iliad, Homer portrays the excellence of the physicality and courage of the Greeks and Trojans. In the Odyssey, Homer accentuates the excellence of the mind or wit also necessary for winning. Arete is a concommitant of what it meant to be a hero and a necessary component in warfare in order to succeed. It is this ability to "*make his hands keep his head* against enemies, monsters, and dangers of all kinds, and to come out victorious." (3)

This mentality can also be seen in that the Greeks only reproduced and copied the literature that was deemed the 'best.' The Olympic games were products of this mentality. Moreover, this carried over into literature itself with competitions in poetry, tragedy and comedy. 'Arete' was infused in everything the Greeks did.

The Greeks described themselves as "Lovers of Beauty." They were very much attuned to aestheticism. They saw this in nature, and a particular proportion, 1.6 and its reoccurrence in many things. Beauty was not in the superficialities of color, light or shade but in the essence of being which is structure, line and proportion. The Greeks sought this out in all aspects of human endeavor and experience. The Golden Mean is the cultural expression of this principle throughout the Greek paidea, architecture, art, politics and human psychology.

In modern discourse, the German-American classicist Werner Jaeger, in his influential magnum opus Paideia (3 vols. from 1934; see below), uses the concept of Paideia to trace the development of Greek thought and education from Homer to Demosthenes. The concept of Paideia was also used by Mortimer Adler in his criticism of contemporary Western educational systems.

Sayings & Proverbs that Defined Paideia

  • "'Know thyself' and 'Nothing in Excess', which were on everyone's lips." (4) Words inscribed on the temple at Delphi.
  • "Hard is the Good". (5)



  • Paideia:The Ideals of Greek Culture, Werner Jaeger, Trans. Gilbert Highet, Oxford University Press, NY, 1945. Three Vol.
  • The Greek Way, Edith Hamilton, W. W. Norton & Co., NY, 1993.
  • The Echo of Greece, Edith Hamilton, W. W. Norton & Co., NY, 1957.
  • The Roman Way, Edith Hamilton, W. W. Norton & Co., NY, 1993. (There she compares the Roman culture to Greek culture.)
  • The Greeks, H. D. F. Kitto, Penguin Books, Baltimore, MD, 1970.
  • Greek Civilization and Character, Arnold J. Toynbee, Mentor Books, NY, 1961.
  • The Greek Experience, C. M. Bowra, Mentor Books, NY, 1964.
  • Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, edited by M. C. Howatson, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, NY, 1989.
  • Harpers Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, edited by Harry Thurston Peck, Cooper Square Publishers, Inc., NY, 1962.
Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12