When in Rome… Riviera Tutors’ tutor Peter Baxter mulls over the profound impact that private tuition had on the life of Emperor Claudius (no less).
‘In place of Cato I now had good old Athenodorus for my tutor. I learned more from him in six months than I had learned from Cato in six years’ I, Claudius – Robert Graves
The right tutor can make all the difference. This is something of which the Roman Emperor, Claudius, is certainly convinced, crediting his childhood tutor with his meteoric rise from outcast and laughing stock to renowned historian and most powerful man this side of the Euphrates. Perhaps you don’t have quite that future in mind for your child (it ends badly for Claudius, with nymphomaniac wives and poisoned mushrooms) but within the pages of Robert Graves’ enthralling account of the violent beginnings of the Roman Empire, I certainly found an affirmation of the possibilities that can be opened up by exceptional tutoring.
I took up a teaching job in Rome a few autumns ago and shortly after arriving, set about tackling an ambitious reading list. My first port of call was Graves. The temples and arches of ancient Rome were soon populated in my mind’s eye by a host of depraved Emperors, murderous wives and upright generals but the character for whom I felt the most affection was Claudius’ kindly tutor – the Stoic philosopher, Athenodorus.
Ridiculed for his lameness and a debilitating stammer, Claudius is despised by his family and dismissed as ‘Claudius the Idiot’. He’s deemed too much of an embarrassment to go to school with his brother and cousins and is instead educated at home. His first tutor is the dreadful Marcus Portius Cato. Cato is impatient and cruel. He punishes Claudius for inaccuracy and slowness and forces him to study an old manual of husbandry and household economy (hardly a riveting read) in order to improve his spelling. After two years of misery, retreating further into himself and away from public life, little Claudius experiences a rare stroke of luck. Cato is inexplicably promoted and our hero’s education entrusted to Athenodorus.
Athenodorus immediately sees potential in Claudius and tries to unlock it. He treats him with the greatest patience, gradually conquering his stammer by filling his mouth with pebbles (not something we encourage at Riviera Tutors). He refuses to allow his pupil’s disability to tether his intellectual development, encouraging him by pointing to the example of Demosthenes, who overcame a similar ailment to become a renowned orator and statesman. He structures Claudius’ education around the boy’s interests, asking him to write a composition describing the military parades on the Campus Martius.
When Claudius shows scant interest in philosophy, Athenodorus nudges him towards history and introduces his charge to Livy, the superstar historian of 1st century Rome. Claudius is invigorated and demonstrates a natural aptitude for the subject. He starts work on a biography of his father and goes on to become an acclaimed writer.
At Riviera Tutors we aim to follow Athenodorus’ example. We believe every student has the potential to succeed. All that is needed is a patient, encouraging and committed tutor: a role model to build a student’s confidence and instil a positive attitude towards studying.
Just like Athenodorus, we tailor a student’s education around their passions and experiences. Whether your child is obsessed with the military manoeuvres on the Campus Martius, the jets touching down at Nice airport or the latest Frank Cottrell Boyce novel, we set great store by our personalized approach to tutoring. It enables the process to become intrinsically interesting, rather than just a means to an end.
Though we can’t boast of philosophers and historians of the calibre of Athenodorus and Livy (not quite anyway) we employ only tutors of the highest quality, usually graduates direct from Oxbridge. Our tutors are capable of inspiring a young mind and every child, heir to an empire or not, deserves the chance to be inspired by a teacher.