Learning the Trivium


In ancient times, the arts were divided into three main groups: the mechanical and industrial arts (also known as trades) that employed more of a physical or manual approach; the fine arts that involved taste, imagination, and more mental activity to create beautiful works of art such as paintings, architecture, sculptures, etc.; and the liberal arts, which were considered as the highest form of art and were only available for freemen to pursue. The seven liberal arts were: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.


In the medieval university, these seven liberal arts were taught methodically by categorizing them into two separate divisions. The Trivium was the name for the lower division of the liberal arts and covered the first three arts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. This three-fold discipline formed the foundation for the higher division of the liberal arts, or the Quadrivium, which covered arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.


The inspiration to learn these three interconnected subjects came from ancient Greek tradition, which had the very specific purpose of preparing students. Grammar teaches students how language works, as well as its mechanisms. The student learns to describe things perceived by the five physical senses. Logic is the study of how students should think and analyze in order to identify false statements and arguments, and produce knowledge based on facts and thus can be trusted. Rhetoric is the way language is applied in order to teach and persuade a listener, a reader or a new learner, and through which the knowledge acquired through grammar and logic can be verified and finally be expressed as wisdom.


Also, known as the elementary tree, these three disciplines were learned alongside each other and helped students create a system of thinking that is clear and consistent. Grammar answers the basic questions of who, what, where and when; logic answers to why; and rhetoric answers to how.


In western culture that follows the more modern and conventional education plans and schooling structure that many children in the world go through, it is very easy to lose sight of the importance of the liberal arts in a person’s development. If you, as a parent, would like to give your child the opportunity to learn about the Trivium, it is important for you to introduce these arts to them as early as the age 5 or 6, or before they enter the 12-grade program. This can be done in order to help your child become a young person who is aware of what happens around him, questioning the truth behind things and obtaining his own conclusions from what he knows; as opposed to simply following the workloads and repetitions that students of today commonly run into at school.


The Trivium is, in general, something we should all try to explore and understand. We have been walking around in a world where we easily take things for granted when we shouldn’t. Our mind possesses the faculties we need in order to question and understand things on a deeper level, and thus we should not miss the chance to do so and become better persons.