It is unfortunate that little value is placed on achieving a robust education in Classics these days. For centuries, studying the classical foundations of Western civilization was not only a common practice for students at all levels of education, but often a requirement. Despite the relative lack of interest many have shown towards taking courses in Classics, there are are several benefits this time-tested field could offer to students who may want to add breadth to their academic focuses.
Classics departments at colleges and universities across the country typically offer courses that focus on the most important breakthroughs in the Humanities from 3000 BC (the Bronze Age) to about 600 AD (Late Antiquity). While the temporal scope of the Classics discipline is almost double that of most modern fields of study, keep in mind that advances in the sciences and liberal arts during this early time frame occurred at a much slower pace than in recent history. Moreover, the many discoveries made by geniuses and philosophers of classical Western civilization have gone on to directly influence most if not all of the fields and majors currently offered by colleges and universities throughout the world.
While an education in Classics is great for anyone seeking to expand their understanding of the roots of Western Civilization, as well as their own major in many cases, the field is not for everyone. Taking more than just a few lower-division courses in the field requires a genuine appreciation of history, philosophy and literature, as well as an interest in learning languages that are no longer spoken widely in modern times, such as Latin and Ancient Greek. For those of us with the wherewithal to take on a major, minor or even a robust course load in Classics, chances are you will not be disappointed.
Why Taking Courses in Classics Might be Good For You
Typically the ideal candidate for coursework in Classics will have a strong background or interest in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. Since a good number of courses in Classics require more than just a passing knowledge of classical philosophy and literature, having an interest in reading and understanding the works of great thinkers and writers such as Plato, Socrates, Cicero and Ovid is almost required in order to fully enjoy your studies in the field. Moreover, budding linguists with an interest in learning about the roots of modern languages in the Western world can benefit greatly from a focus in Classics.
A major component to an education in Classics is the in-depth study of classical philology. Philology is a combination of various aspects of linguistics, history and literature that focuses on the study of language by using original literary and historical records. As such, classical philology is a great focus for those of us with a creative imagination, great problem solving skills and a relatively high linguistic aptitude.
Reading many of these sources in the original Greek or Latin can often be like solving a puzzle that offers valuable insight into how people in classical Western civilization thought and communicated in their own language. Moreover, because these ancient languages often cannot be as specific and explanatory as the modern languages we are familiar with, reading and understanding them requires an above-average imagination, as well as an ability to research and find out about the many historical and mythological allusions that are used to convey higher-level meaning.
Even if one chooses not to major in Classics, there are several majors that a secondary focus in the field could complement very well. Students who have already begun majoring in areas such as Western or Comparative Literature could expand their knowledge in the field greatly by taking a few courses, or even minoring in Classics. In addition, most fields of study in the Arts and Sciences draw in some fashion—either linguistically, culturally, or empirically—from Classics.
Law and Classics is perhaps one of the most useful academic pairings when it comes to the practical relatability of two fields of study. Indeed, one is often inseparable from the other, as the legal foundation for nations throughout the world rely on the advances in political and legal philosophy made during the height of Western classical civilization. In addition to the many modern legal ideas that are shared with the great thinkers of Ancient Greece and Rome, most legal terminology in the United States and beyond is still written and referred to in Latin and Greek—the same holds true for the Medical profession.
While the decline in contemporary students’ interest in the study of Classics is rather unfortunate, much of this disinterest directly results from a lack of understanding about how studying the field could directly benefit them and their plans to graduate. By taking some time to research the Classics discipline, many students who are struggling with finding the right major, or even a secondary focus to complement their major, might be pleasantly surprised by what they find. Even if taking a few courses in Classics does not result in any immediate practical benefits, educating yourself on the foundational ideas and history of Western civilization offers students a level of educational breadth that will most certainly set them apart from the rest.