A Roman Tutor in the Time of the Ostrogoths


Nikolaos and Argolicus

The tutor, Nikolaos, plays a main role in the Argolicus Mysteries. He sees the world from a different and more worldly perspective than Argolicus, often noticing things the cerebral Argolicus misses. 
His role is traditional and at the same time unusual for the period. Argolicus is a high-standing Roman citizen but he is not part or elite Roman society. He grew up in the country of southern Italy and was rich with land. Although his family was well off, they were isolated from the elite far away in Rome. Children in this situation received their education from tutors who had a favored status within the household.

Tutor Function

Tutors were usually slaves, often from Greece, who were able to instill a Classical education in Greek and Latin. Argolicus was fortunate because his teacher educated him in geography, philosophy, literature, mythology, and geometry as well. These subjects were considered at the time the basis, along with rhetoric, for training as an orator or Senator. 
Nikolaos is unique in that he teaches classical Greek athletics as well. Roman culture looked down on athletics as something only soldiers learned. This training gets Argolicus out of some scrapes that other Romans might not know. On the other hand, Argolicus is not armed, because under the rule of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric, Romans (Italians) were forbidden by law to carry arms in public.

Tutor Role After Childhood

Tutors were treated almost family members, even as slaves, and often stayed with their protege long after he reached adulthood. Most, like Nikolaos, served as secretary in the same way Cicero’s Tiro centuries before. Nikolaos takes copious notes at meetings and serves as a second pair of eyes observing what goes on while Argolicus is engaged in conversation.

History and Fiction

Although Argolicus was a real person mentioned several times in Cassiodorus’ Variae, the details of his personal life. are unknown. His tutor, Nikolaos, is a fictional character who has encouraged a love of literature and a rational mind in his pupil and lifelong friend.
Because, in the stories, Argolicus grew up with Cassiodorus I can easily imagine a scene like that in the illustration here of the two boys studying together with their tutors. 
​Zara Altair

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