Western thought and society has developed in diverse directions over the past two millennia but the classical world of ancient Greece and Rome remains its central well-spring. This makes Classics an important and exciting area of study today. The surviving body of Greek and Roman literature and material evidence provides us with a portal through which we can investigate, experience and reflect on the challenges and innovations, the ideas and ambitions of these seminal civilisations, without which our world would not be as it is today.
There are a multitude of ways through which a study of Greece and Rome can be initiated. This ranges from the study of the classical languages of Ancient Greek and Latin, or the study of classical texts in translation, to the study of archaeological remains. All allow immersion in a diverse range of fields and disciplines, including mythology, literature, language, history, drama, philosophy, politics, society, art and architecture.
Through learning a classical language we can appreciate its effectiveness as a means of communication between people in a society long ago, a society that is surprisingly recognisable but also in many ways different from our own. We can explore the language as a system, comparing its structures, forms and modes of expression with our own, and identify the Greek or Latin roots of words in current usage. We can evaluate its beauty and significance as a medium for the creation and development of major literary genres and key areas of intellectual endeavour, such as epic, lyric and dramatic poetry, history, oratory, philosophy, religion and mathematics. Students on the classical language pathway will develop an appreciation of the unique role that language plays in transmitting a picture of a society and how language reveals people’s beliefs, values and expectations.
Studying classical sources in translation allows us explore the Greek and Roman worlds with a different emphasis. The classical studies pathway facilitates examination of a broad set of texts and enables a balanced evaluation of the contribution of different types of sources to our understanding of the ancient world, including art, architecture and archaeology. Students encounter some of the most striking, influential and engaging figures of Greek and Roman history and myth, and fine examples of classical art and architecture. They develop a picture of the classical world by studying epic, historical, dramatic and philosophical works in translation. They also engage with various aspects of ancient visual and material cultures, as they explore how the physical environment in which Greeks and Romans lived reveals their ideas, their ambitions and way of life.
Classics also stimulates learners to reflect on the ‘human condition’ and to question their own cultural heritage and capital, helping them become more informed and active local, national, and global citizens. Classical antiquity has bequeathed to us a great legacy of works that engage in striking, original and memorable ways with a wide range of abiding human dilemmas. The classical world as reflected in its poetry, literature, philosophy, art and architecture provides a manageable microcosm for the exploration of our own attitudes and ideologies. Being distant and yet close, because we owe so much to them, the ancient Greeks and Romans offer a compelling mirror to our own society.
Classics can bring joy and satisfaction in its study and there is an intrinsic pleasure in engaging with the topic. As a subject it nourishes and develops the imaginative and creative side in students, as well as stimulating empathy and self-reflection. Importantly, through engaging with the past, students develop an appreciation of the need to preserve and transmit it to future generations, in its own right and as a foundation for the present.