- "Classical literature" redirects here. For literature in classical languages outside the Graeco-Roman sphere, see ancient literature.
Classics or Classical Studies is the branch of the Humanities dealing with the languages, literature, history, art, and other aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during the time known as classical antiquity, roughly spanning from the Ancient Greek Bronze Age in 1000 BC to the Dark Ages circa AD 500. The study of the Classics was the initial field of study in the humanities. The word "Classics" also refers to the literature of that period.
Traditionally, the focus of classics was tightly centered on ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient Egypt was thought to be beyond the discipline. Today, classicists study a subject more broadly defined as that pertaining to the Ancient Mediterranean World. Those scholars focusing upon the landward side of the eastern Mediterranean—the ancient Persian Empire and the kingdoms of ancient India—are termed Orientalists.
History of the western classics
The word "classics" is derived from the Latin adjective classicus
meaning "belonging to the highest class of citizens," and has further connotations of superiority, authority, and perfection
. Its first recorded application to a writer was by Aulus Gellius
, a second century Roman author who, in his miscellany Noctes Atticae
(19, 8, 15), refers to classicus scriptor, non proletarius
("a distinguished, not a commonplace writer").
This method was started when the Greeks were constantly ranking their cultural work. The word they used was canon; ancient Greek for a carpenter's rule. Moreover, early Christian Church Fathers used this term to classify authoritative texts of the New Testament. This rule further helped in the preservation of works since writing platforms of vellum and papyrus and methods of reproduction were not cheap. The title of canon placed on a work meant that it would be more easily preserved for future generations. In modern times, a Western canon was collated that defined the best of Western culture.
At the Alexandrian Library, the ancient scholars coined another term for canonized authors, hoi enkrithentes; "the admitted" or "the included."
Classical studies incorporate a certain type of methodology. The rule of the classical world and of Christian culture and society was Philo's rule:
The rule is: "μεταχάραττε τὸ θεῖον νόμισμα" ("metacharatte to theion nomisma"). It is the law of strict continuity. We preserve and do not throw away words or ideas. Words and ideas may grow in meaning but must stay within the limits of the original meaning and concept that the word has."
arete, hence a good citizen. It furnished students with intellectual and aesthetic appreciation for "the best which has been thought and said in the world." Edward Copleston, an Oxford classicist, said that classical education "communicates to the mind...a high sense of honour, a disdain of death in a good cause, (and) a passionate devotion to the welfare of one's country. Cicero commented, "All literature, all philosophical treatises, all the voices of antiquity are full of examples for imitation, which would all lie unseen in darkness without the light of literature."
Legacy of the Classical World
The Classical languages have been immensely influential on all western European languages, bestowing on them an international learned vocabulary. Until the 17th century, the Latin language itself was used as the international medium of communication in diplomatic, scientific, philosophical and religious matters.
Latin itself evolved into the Romance languages. Ancient Greek can be seen in Modern Greek and its dialects.
The Latin influence on English is most prominent in technical vocabulary; in a similar way, so is the Greek influence on English.
The Ecclesiastical Latin dialect of Latin is still used by the Catholic Church.
Sub-disciplines within the classics
One of the most notable characteristics of the modern study of classics is the diversity of the field. Although traditionally focused on ancient Greece and Rome, the study now encompasses the entire ancient Mediterranean world, thus expanding their studies to Northern Africa
and the Middle East
Forebears of the Classical World
The Classical civilization did not develop in isolation; the ancient Greeks were partially indebted to their geographical proximity to much older cultures. But their originality and achievements are undeniable.
Traditionally, classics was essentially the philology
of ancient texts. Although now less dominant, philology retains a central role. One definition of classical philology describes it as "the science which concerns itself with everything that has been transmitted from antiquity in the Greek
language. The object of this science is thus the Graeco-Roman, or Classical, world to the extent that it has left behind monuments in a linguistic form. Of course, classicists also concern themselves with other languages than Classical Greek and Latin including Linear A
, Linear B
, and many more. Before the invention of the printing press
, texts were reproduced by hand and distributed haphazardly. As a result, extant versions of the same text often differ from one another. Some classical philologists, known as textual critics, seek to synthesize these defective texts to find the most accurate version.
Thanks to popular culture, such as the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark
, classical archaeology
is often seen as very exciting.The truth is that archaeology is more lab and library work than adventure. Field work is performed in controlled, scientific manner and must be well documented. Philologists rely on archaeological excavation, so that they may study the literary and linguistic culture of the ancient world. Likewise, archaeologists may rely on the philological study of literature in order to contextualize the excavated remains of the classical civilizations of Mesopotamia
, Greece, and Rome. The artifacts they find are key to all the other sub-disciplines and help provide new evidence for the understanding of the ancient world.
Some art historians
focus their study of the development of art on the classical world. Indeed, the art and architecture of Ancient Rome and Greece is very well regarded and remains at the heart of much of our art today. For example, Ancient Greek architecture gave us the Classical Orders: Doric order
, Ionic order
, and Corinthian order
. The Parthenon
is still the architectural symbol of the classical world.
Greek sculpture is well known and we know the names of several Ancient Greek artists: for example, Phidias.
Civilization and history
Some classicists use the information gathered through philology, archaeology, and art history to seek an understanding of the history, culture, and civilization. They critically use the literary and physical artifacts to create and refine a narrative of the ancient world. Unfortunately, imbalances in the evidence available often leave a huge vacuum of information about certain classes of people. Thus, classicists are now working to fill in these gaps as much as possible to get an understanding of the lives of ancient women, slaves, and the lower classes. Other problems include the under-representation in the evidence of entire cultures. For example, Sparta
was one of the leading city-states
of Greece, but little evidence of it has survived for classicists to study. That which has survived has generally come from their key rival, Athens
. Likewise, the domination and the expansion of the Roman Empire
reduced much of the evidence of earlier civilizations like the Etruscans
The roots of Western philosophy
lie in the study of the classics. The very word philosophy
is Greek in origin—a term coined by Pythagoras to describe the "love of wisdom." It is not surprising, then, that many classicists study the wealth of philosophical works surviving from Roman and Greek philosophy
. Among the most formidable and lasting of these thinkers are Socrates
, and the Stoics
Throughout the history of the Western world, many classicists have gone on to gain acknowledgement outside the field.
- A.E. Housman, best known to the public as a poet and the author of A Shropshire Lad, was the most accomplished (and feared) textual critic of his generation and held the Kennedy Professorship of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1911 until his death in 1936.
- Anthony James Leggett, Nobel Prize winner in physics who studied Greats at Balliol College, Oxford before switching to physics.
- George Berkeley, philosopher, read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin, where he was also Junior Lecturer in Greek
- Karl Marx, philosopher and political thinker, studied Latin and Greek and received a Ph.D. for a dissertation on ancient Greek philosophy, entitled "The Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature." His classical background is reflected in his philosophies—indeed the term "proletariat" which he coined came from that Latin word referring to the lowest class of citizen.
- John Milton, author of Paradise Lost and English Civil War era political activist, studied, like most at the time, Latin and Greek texts. This classical background is quite obvious in Paradise Lost.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, famous philosopher, earned a Ph.D. and became Professor of Classics at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
- Toni Morrison, noted author and Nobel Prize winner, studied classics at Howard University.
- Enoch Powell, British Conservative Party Politician, who wrote and edited texts on Herodotus.
- Charles Geschke, founder of Adobe Systems, studied Classics at Xavier University and received a Bachelor of Arts in Classics.
- Ted Turner, media mogul, studied Classics before being expelled from Brown University.
- Jerry Brown, former governor of California and former mayor of Oakland, majored in Classics at the University of California.
- W.E.B. du Bois, Afro-American civil rights leader, historian and sociologist, was a professor of Greek and Latin at Wilberforce University, Ohio.
- Boris Johnson, Conservative MP, and newly-elected Mayor of London
- Jane Ellen Harrison, a famous woman classicist
- Peter Weller, an actor most famous for playing the titular role in Robocop, holds a Master's Degree in Roman Art and is a frequent lecturer at Syracuse University.
- William Gladstone, nineteenth century British Prime Minister, studied classics at Oxford University
- James Garfield, twentieth president of the United States, briefly taught Classics at what is now Hiram College
- P.G. Wodehouse, writer, playwright, lyricist and creator of Jeeves, studied Classics at Dulwich College
- Oscar Wilde, famous 19th Century playwright, studied Classics at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford
Modern Quotations About
- "Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument."
—Thomas Gaisford, Christmas sermon, Christ Church, Oxford.
- "I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat."
—Sir Winston Churchill, Roving Commission: My Early Life
- "He studied Latin like the violin, because he liked it."
—Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man
- "I enquire now as to the genesis of a philologist and assert the following: 1. A young man cannot possibly know what the Greeks and Romans are. 2. He does not know whether he is suited for finding out about them."
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen
- "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read."
—Mark Twain, The Disappearance of Literature.
- "I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried out without corporal punishment."
- "It's economically illiterate. A degree in Classics or Philosophy can be as valuable as anything else."
- Main list: List of basic topics in classical studies
- Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists by Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (editor). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994 (hardcover, ISBN 0-313-24560-6).
- Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities) by Ward W. Briggs and William M. Calder III (editors). New York: Taylor & Francis, 1990 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8240-8448-9).
- Dictionary of British classicists, 1500–1960 by Richard B. Todd (General editor). Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004 (ISBN 1-85506-997-0).
- An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology, edited by Nancy Thomson de Grummond. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996 (hardcover, ISBN 0-313-22066-2; ISBN 0-313-30204-9 (A–K); ISBN 0-313-30205-7 (L–Z)).
- Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, ed. by Harry Thurston Peck. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896; 2nd ed., 1897; New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1965.
- Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 (hardcover, ISBN 1-57392-826-7).
- The New Century Classical Handbook, ed. by Catherine B. Avery. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962.
- The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, revised 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003 (ISBN 0-19-860641-9).
- The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. by M.C. Howatson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.Miscellaneous
- Beard, Mary; Henderson, John. Classics: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995 (paperback, ISBN 0-19-285313-9); 2000 (new edition, paperback, ISBN 0-19-285385-6).
- Briggs, Ward W.; Calder, III, William M. Classical scholarship: A biographical encyclopedia (Garland reference library of the humanities). London: Taylor & Francis, 1990 (ISBN 0-8240-8448-9).
- Forum: Class and Classics:
- Krevans, Nita. "Class and Classics: A Historical Perspective," The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), p. 293.
- Moroney, Siobhan. "Latin, Greek and the American Schoolboy: Ancient Languages and Class Determinism in the Early Republic", The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), pp. 295–307.
- Harrington Becker, Trudy. "Broadening Access to a Classical Education: State Universities in Virginia in the Nineteenth Century", The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), pp. 309–322.
- Bryce, Jackson. "Teaching the Classics", The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), pp. 323–334.
- Knox, Bernard. The Oldest Dead White European Males, And Other Reflections on the Classics. New York; London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993.
- Macrone, Michael. Brush Up Your Classics. New York: Gramercy Books, 1991. (Guide to famous words, phrases and stories of Greek classics.)
- Nagy, Péter Tibor. "The meanings and functions of classical studies in Hungary in the 18th–20th century", in The social and political history of Hungarian education (ISBN 963-200-511-2).
- Wellek, René. "Classicism in Literature", in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, ed. by Philip P. Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968.
- Winterer, Caroline. The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750–1900. Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell University Press, 2007 (hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8014-4163-9).
- The Classical Association, the largest classical organization in the UK.
- The American Classical League, the largest classics organization in the US, mainly a Latin, Greek, and Humanities teacher resource center
- The National Junior Classical League, the largest youth-oriented Classics organization in the world, with US and international chapters, and membership for all middle- and high-school students of the Classics
- Classical Resources on Internet at the Department of Classical Philology, University of Tartu.
- De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors
- Electronic Resources for Classicists by the University of California, Irvine.
- Illustrated History of the Roman Empire
- The Online Medieval and Classical Library
- The Perseus Digital Library