Why Study Classics
Coming Soon – There are SO MANY reasons!
This page is currently under construction, but in the meantime
Here's what the Princeton
Review (2012) has to say:
Who designed the water faucet? How did a Caesarean section get its name?
Was Homer really blind? Why should you beware of Greeks bearing gifts?
The answers to these and many other questions are yours for the knowing
if you major in Classics - the study of the languages, literatures, and
cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. A Classics major offers the opportunity
to explore the beliefs and achievements of antiquity, and to learn just
how profoundly they still affect contemporary civilization. If you major
in Classics, you'll learn Greek or Latin (or both). Be forewarned, though:
reading the Odyssey in the original Greek is a little on the demanding
side. You'll also read the great literary and philosophical works composed
in these languages. You'll study ancient art, architecture, and technology,
too, and you'll learn about Greek and Roman legal systems, social institutions,
religious practices, and class distinctions. We can't overestimate the
value of a Classics major. Check this out: according to Association of
American Medical Colleges, students who major or double-major in Classics
have a better success rate getting into medical school than do students
who concentrate solely in biology, microbiology, and other branches of
science. Crazy, huh? Furthermore, according to Harvard Magazine, Classics
majors (and math majors) have the highest success rates of any majors in
law school. Believe it or not: political science, economics, and pre-law
majors lag fairly far behind. Even furthermore, Classics majors consistently
have some of the highest scores on GREs of all undergraduates. Shocked?
Don't be. One reason Classics majors are so successful is that they completely
master grammar. Medical terminology, legal terminology, and all those ridiculously
worthless vocabulary words on the GRE (and the SAT) have their roots in
Greek and Latin. Ultimately, though, Classics majors get on well in life
because they develop intellectual rigor, communications skills, analytical
skills, the ability to handle complex information, and, above all, a breadth
of view which few other disciplines can provide.
Why Choose Latin or Greek for your Foreign Language Requirement?
Here's one person's argument (2009):
Who'd want to study Latin? A dead language, good only for Caesar attacking the ditch with arrows (an old Molesworth joke) or honking like a pig as you decline your pronouns (hic haec hoc; hunc hanc hoc). Well, here's a simple, utilitarian point: because Latin is a dead language, because it is taught to be read, not spoken, because it is taught entirely through its grammatical rules not through its demotic use, as you learn it you gain an understanding of the mechanics and structure of language streets ahead of any you will gain from the study of a modern tongue. Any other language - not just Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, but German, Russian, Arabic - becomes easier for a child with a grounding in Latin. A student can use Latin to grasp the bones and sinews of any language.
What else? Children learning it will quickly start to read the great classics of Latin literature. After a couple of years, Catullus and Martial. After three, Virgil, Pliny, Ovid, Cicero. Soon come Horace, Lucretius, Tacitus. This is tough, uncompromisingly difficult stuff - but also offers entry into an astonishing world, a lost world that paradoxically offers itself up vividly and excitingly through its literature. These great writers lie at the head of a western tradition in writing that enfolds Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Eliot, Heaney. To be a good reader of English and Irish literature alone, knowledge of the literature of the Romans offers an inestimable advantage.
The most frequent charge laid against the door of Latin - aside from the absurd accusation of elitism - is that it is useless. Why not learn Mandarin, people ask, or Russian or French? For me the pleasure of Latin is precisely because - aside from the points sketched above - it is "useless". Latin doesn't help to turn out factory-made mini-consumers fit for a globalised 21st-century society. It helps create curious, intellectually rigorous kids with a rich interior world, people who have the tools to see our world as it really is because they have encountered and imaginatively experienced another that is so like, and so very unlike, our own.
• Charlotte Higgins is the author of Latin Love Lessons and It's All Greek to Me (Short Books).