Majors & Programs


Classics & Ancient Studies

What is Classics and Ancient Studies?

An Investigation of a Rich Cultural Heritage

The area of learning called Classics and Ancient Studies considers in depth various aspects of the rich cultural heritage handed down by the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Through courses and research you will learn how we are still influenced by these ancient civilizations.

For example:

  • For over a millennium and a half, from the beginnings of literacy in Greece until the rise of Islam, the intellectual life of Europe and the eastern Mediterranean was dominated by Greek thinkers.
  • Among the Greeks we find the earliest recoverable ideas about the universe and the forces that rule it, about politics and society, and about what it is to be human.
  • The masterpieces of Greek art and architecture set forth ideals of beauty and art that continue to influence the art of many cultures today.
  • The conquests of Alexander the Great spread Greek language and “hellenistic” culture throughout the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.
  • The Romans created an empire that incorporated the cultures and traditions of peoples from the Atlantic to the Euphrates and continued the “hellenization” of the Mediterranean world.
  • Roman law, preserved through the “Corpus of Civil Law” compiled under the emperor Justinian, enabled the Roman Empire to be ruled and administered effectively, and influenced the legal systems of most of western Europe today.

A Linguistic Window to the Past

The principal tools providing access to these riches are the Greek and Latin languages themselves. As repositories of the greatest share of the formative works of the European tradition, they are our primary windows into the history and cultures of Europe and the Mediterranean until the late Middle Ages.

Why Explore Classics and Ancient Studies?

Understand Artistic Inspiration

In literature, the visual arts, and architecture, archaic and classical Greece represent an explosion of imaginative and creative energy whose products have provided models and inspiration for hundreds of generations of writers and artists.

Enrich Your Other Academic Pursuits

If you are strongly attracted to the aesthetic and intellectual vitality and significance of Classical culture, you may want to consider this program as an adjunct to your other studies. No matter what direction you take in the future, understanding the Greek and Roman influence on our modern lives can add richness and depth to your pursuits.

How to Use a Major in Classics

Some of our classics majors are attracted to a career of research and teaching in the ancient languages and literatures, and customarily go on to study in prominent graduate schools across the country. Most classics majors, however, do not plan on a career in academia. Pre-medical and pre-law students often major in classics, as do students with a wide range of career goals. Here are just a few of the careers classics majors have chosen:

  • Actor/Director
  • Anthropologist
  • Archaeologist
  • Architect
  • Artist
  • Author/Editor
  • Diplomat
  • Lawyer
  • Librarian
  • Literary Agent
  • Museum Curator
  • Physician
  • Publisher
  • Researcher
  • Teacher
  • Translator

Classics and Ancient Studies at Washington University

Grow in a Stimulating Environment

The Department of Classics at Washington University is a remarkable and dynamic environment—one you will find both rewarding and stimulating.

Share a Common Thread of Interest

Whatever the future careers of our students, all of them have one characteristic in common—they are strongly attracted to the aesthetic and intellectual vitality and significance of Classical culture in its varied representations in prose and poetry, in history and philosophy, and in art and archaeology.

Receive Helpful Advice

One of our faculty members will serve as your advisor and mentor, guiding you toward fulfilling your personal academic goals—in classics, ancient studies, and in other areas.

Enjoy a Flexible Curriculum

You will have great flexibility in designing your program. The department feels strongly that the study of Greek and Roman civilizations encompasses more than literature alone. Such study does not end with antiquity; instead, various aspects of antiquity shed light on one’s own time as much as the contemporary world illuminates the past. We’ll help you to follow your interests.

Take Part in Fascinating Research

The Greek and Latin languages and the formative cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans are vital areas of instruction and research here. New light is constantly being thrown on the Greco-Roman world, and our students, both undergraduate and graduate, enjoy the opportunity to become part of that important work.

Access Unique Resources

You’ll have access at Washington University to unique and significant research collections of ancient art and papyri, as well as the John Max Wulfing collection of ancient coins, one of the richest in North America.

Select from a Variety of Programs

The department offers a variety of programs to suit your interests:

  • Our major in Classics emphasizes the study of Greek and/or Latin literature read in the original languages.
  • Our special major in Ancient Studies emphasizes ancient political, social, and cultural history, with little or no work in the ancient languages.
  • Our minor may be completed through either of two programs:
    • Classics, emphasizing the reading of Greek or Latin literature in the original language
    • Ancient Studies, emphasizing ancient history and culture, but requiring no study of the ancient languages

Immerse Yourself in Intense Language Study

You will find a broad spectrum of courses in Greek and Latin, and in Ancient Civilization and Literature in translation. At Washington University, Greek and Latin are taught utilizing the latest innovations in textbooks and computer technology.

  • You will focus on grammar for the appropriate language in your first two semesters before going on in your third semester to read Plato and then Homer, or in Latin, Virgil and Cicero.
  • You’ll experience a strong program in both Greek and Latin. In our graduate seminars, our most advanced undergraduates are often working alongside graduate students in our vigorous and growing graduate program.

Choose from Great Course Offerings

You can choose from a variety of courses on Greek and Roman history, language, literature, archaeology, and culture. You will learn to read and interpret the classic writings of such great thinkers as:

  • Aristophanes
  • Cicero
  • Euripides
  • Herodotus
  • Homer
  • Horace
  • Ovid
  • Sophocles
  • Virgil

And, beyond these you will select from courses covering such fascinating topics as:

  • Greek Mythology
  • Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine
  • Magicians, Healers, and Holy Men
  • Ancient Greek and Roman Music
  • Greek History: The Dawn of Democracy
  • The Ancient Novel
  • Ancient Madness
  • Ancient History: The Roman Empire
  • Science and Medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome
  • The Greek Theater

Consider Senior Honors

If you would like to work toward senior honors, plan to consult with the chairman of the department early in your junior year to apply. Your advisor can help you take the required courses to qualify for the program. If admitted, you will finish by writing a senior honors paper.

Share Faculty Areas of Interest

You’ll be able to satisfy your deepest interests when working with our faculty. Their own academic explorations span the breadth of the classical cultures of ancient Greece and the Roman Empire:

  • Literature, including the Greek tragedies and comedies, epic poetry, and, ancient and medieval Latin literature
  • Philosophy, history, political thought, and the renowned orators
  • Art, archaeology, ancient monuments, and coins
  • Law and the economy

Look at These Current Explorations

Currently our researchers are exploring various aspects of this rich cultural heritage, advancing and refining knowledge of the Greek and Roman past in such areas as:

  • The nature of Greek and Roman theatre and music
  • Roman oratory and satiric poetry and their influence
  • Greco-Roman education, medicine, and political and economic history
  • The material culture of the Greco-Roman world, including coins, inscriptions, and musical instruments

Join us. Take the next step.

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