Why Study Classics?

Why Classics?

"The classics major is one of the most superb instruments in the liberal arts panoply, both as a means towards general human cultivation and as a path to many academic careers... a classics major is so quintessential an experience of the liberal arts because it includes a) extremely rigorous technical training, b) immersion in superb literature and art, c) sophisticated historical, philosophical and theological study. The field of classics, perhaps the oldest of academic fields, is also from a modern point of view the most experimental and novel in that it has always been an essentially interdisciplinary field..."

-- Jackson Bryce, Marjorie Crabb Garbisch Professor of Classical Languages and the Liberal Arts, Carleton College

Classics students have among the highest scores on GREs of all undergraduate majors. Classics majors also have a very high success rate in applications to graduate schools, law schools, and medical schools. This is perhaps because the skills and knowledge acquired through the study of Classics are highly transferable to other areas: students emerge with the ability to deal with precise details, the habit of being consistently prepared to perform, and the sense of perspective that comes from the study of such a long and broad sweep of history and culture.

 "Classics majors dip in to a river of human events that is several thousand years old -- things just don't phase us. In a way, we've seen it all, all 2000 years of it, before."

-- Ian Crawford, Classical Languages '98

 "There are more plums, and more different plums, in this pudding than any other."

-- John Landels, "Why Classics?" from Routledge's Classics Resource Centre

Why Latin or Greek?

The study of either of these ancient classical languages forms an excellent foundation for a liberal arts education. Enrolling in either Latin or Greek will give you both knowledge and skills which you will find helpful in your college career and beyond.

Our courses will move you rapidly to a reading knowledge of the languages that will allow you to encounter a rich and fascinating literature in the original language within your first year of study. Greek students read Plato, and Latin students the extraordinarily influential love poetry of Catullus and Ovid, in their third term. At the beginning of the second year Greek students will be reading a Greek tragedy, and Latin students the prose works of Cicero.

"We receive from our study of the Classics a timeless gift. While syntax ebbs into the recesses of our memory, verse -- like fragments of a haunting dream -- remains."

-- Hon. William F. Weld, Former Governor of Massachusetts

In addition, their complex structure makes Latin and Greek intellectually challenging. Studying an inflected language like Latin or Greek is one of the very best ways to learn English grammar. The sophisticated understanding of linguistic structure and syntax you will gain from a study of Greek or Latin will make you a better writer and speaker of your own language. Studying Latin also helps you build your vocabulary, since 70% of English vocabulary is from Latin. Greek will let you learn rhetoric from the first rhetoricians and persuasion from the politicians of the first democracy, as well as the lawyers of the earliest lawcourts.

"It took Latin to thrust me into bona fide alliance with words in their true meaning."

-- Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings

Because the literature that remains from the Greeks and Romans was at the basis of humanist education for most of its history, it has been deeply influential in many fields; knowledge of Greek and Latin is an invaluable resource for the study of philosophy, religion, history, English literature and the literatures of the Romance languages, and linguistics. But more fundamentally, your study of the languages gives you special access to Greek and Roman culture and civilization, which were viewed for centuries as foundational to the cultures of Western Europe and America.

"We study Latin because without it we cannot know our history and our heritage. And without that knowledge we cannot know ourselves."

-- A. Bartlett Giamatti, late Commissioner of Baseball and President of Yale University

And never forget: the best reason to take Latin or Greek is that philology is phun!

What do you do with a Classics Major?

Many of our alumni go on to do graduate work in Classics or related academic fields. Alums have attended or are attending graduate programs at the University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, Brown University, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and others. Many of these go on to teach at secondary or college level.

Classics majors have also gone on to other types of graduate programs: law school, medical school, and seminary are the most frequent choices. Classics is a fine preparation for any of these fields of study.

Many of our alums end up in highly diverse settings, though: from actors and architects to Peace Corps/Vista volunteers, from librarians to TV broadcasters. Contact the Career Center for names and addresses of alumni who can tell you how Classics has served them in the wider world. Or take a look at what alumni have to say in our Department Newsletter.