Department of Classical Studies
What is "Classics", and why do we study it?
At Trinity, “Classics” is studied, first and foremost, because ancient Greece and Rome have long been regarded as giving birth to values, concepts, and institutions that collectively form the basis of “Western civilization.” Just by reading this, you too participate in the “classical tradition.” Even today, we see the expressions of our ongoing participation in this tradition all around us:
- in the English language and in Romance languages descended from Latin as the common language of the Roman Empire;
- in the technical terminology of professions such as law and medicine that draw on both Greek and Latin;
- in narratives that draw their plots and characters from Greek and Roman myth and history;
- in arguments about the common good that cite authors like Plato or Cicero to address conditions in our world today;
- in analyses of current events that draw upon ancient accounts of major historical events, such as the Persian Wars or the end of the Roman Republic, and modern interpretations of these events’ legacy;
- in the enduring appeal of the “classical” aesthetic in the visual art and architecture.
Whether through pursuit, embrace, subversion, or rejection, people who respond to the legacy of classical antiquity are participants in this tradition.
At the same time as we appreciate aspects of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds by exploring them in our research and courses, we also examine how the significance of these “timeless” cultural inheritances has changed over time, in the eyes of different audiences in different places. This dynamic relationship between “classical antiquity” and its various audiences has produced a variety of positions on how the legacy of classical antiquity should be valued, as the values of contemporary society change and access to ownership over that cultural legacy has grown.
By creating a critical distance from classical antiquity, in order to better study how its meaning has changed over time, we can also sharpen our understanding of the historical realities of the time period that the modern concept of “classical antiquity” contains (roughly 1000 BCE to 500 CE). As we peel back centuries of accumulated appreciation of “Greece” and “Rome,” we re-examine the underlying material with the best interpretive tools we now have. We also widen our perspective to encompass the study of cultures and societies in areas that are not central to the narrative of Western classical tradition, but are very much part of the shared Mediterranean world, such as the Silk Road, North Africa, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, and Israel. Every summer, our students have the opportunity to excavate with Professor Martha Risser at the Tel Akko field school in Israel.
Trinity’s Classical Studies Department – in collaboration with faculty from across the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and arts divisions – offers a wide spectrum of courses that explore the world of classical antiquity and its modern legacy through the study of languages, literature and film, philosophy, political theory, visual art, history, architecture, and archaeology. This stimulating exposure to the breadth of the liberal arts prepares our majors well for life after college. A survey of alumni from the last 10 years indicates that they are successfully engaged in law, medicine, publishing, and education at both the secondary school and college levels, religion, business, social work, and journalism. Employers know: a student who completes a degree in Classical Studies has the intellectual ability, discipline, and breadth of interest to excel at anything.