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A scholarch (Ancient Greek: σχολάρχης, scholarchēs) was the head of a school in ancient Greece. The term is especially remembered for its use to mean the heads of schools of philosophy, such as the Platonic Academy in ancient Athens. Its first scholarch was Plato himself, the founder and proprietor. He held the position for forty years, appointing his nephew Speussipus as his successor; later scholarchs were elected by members of the Academy.
The Greek word is a produced compound of scholē (σχολή), "school," and archē (ἀρχή), "ruler." The Romans did not choose to Latinize the word, perhaps because they had no archons. They used sholasticus instead, "savant," which always applied to headmasters.
English does not use either of those two words for the name of the ancient office, but prefers scholiarch, a word that is not generally listed in the dictionary, because it is considered an error. If it were a produced word; i.e., a meaning compounded from words of known meaning, then it ought to mean "master of the scholia," a specious etymology sometimes put forward. Scholiarch was not known in classical, vulgar, or mediaeval Latin. It does appear in the New Latin of Renaissance monastic schools in Europe with reference to the schoolmaster. The Thesaurus linguae Latinae of 1573 by Robertus Stephanus, a Parisian known to English authors as Robert Stephens, uses it to define scholasticus: vel Scholiarchus recte dicitur, qui in collegiis sacerdotum barbare vocatur, referring to the "colleges of priests." What he meant by barbare is not very clear, but if the reference is to the Jesuit schools (which educated priests) then he appears to have been under the impression that scholiarch was the original office. Stephens was a Protestant convert from Catholicism. As he was a printer, his use of scholiarch perpetuated the word in English scholarship. It is used almost exclusively in the 19th and 20th centuries CE.
Contemporaneously with the innovation of "scholiarch" in the secular literature was a reinstitution of the ancient term in New Latin to describe the headmasters of the cathedral schools. In Christian society of the Middle Ages the cathedrals were responsible for maintaining grammar schools in their vicinity. These institutions were the cultural descendents of the ancient grammar schools that prevailed during the Roman Empire.
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