What Is Classical Studies?

The Department of Classical Studies provides an introduction to classical civilization through courses in Greek and Roman literature in translation, history, philosophy, religion, art, and archaeology. Through courses in classical studies, students engage with some of the most profound thinkers and writers of human history. Our students explore issues of enduring importance in ethics, politics, art, literature, and history.

The ancient Greeks and Romans created much of the political, social, and intellectual framework for Western civilization. For more than 2,000 years, classical civilization and tradition have influenced the political and religious institutions, languages, literature, and arts of many nations. The study of classics not only provides access to the thoughts, achievements, and ways of life of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but also treats material relevant to the study of many cultures across the ages.

It is also true that some elements of the Classical world are abhorrent, such as the institution of slavery, to take an obvious example. The study of Classics, then, does not entail mindless admiration for the “greats” of the past; on the contrary, it fosters critical investigation of that past in all of its glory and all of its problems. We also seek to acknowledge and confront the abuse of the classical tradition by those who have enlisted it to promote racism and elitism.  Through our courses, students will engage with some of the most profound thinkers and writers of human history, but they will also learn about the contributions of the “forgotten” voices from the past, of slaves, of women, of conquered foreigners, and of other marginalized peoples.


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