Classics

Evelyn Richardson (Classics Fellow)

The study of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, their languages, philosophy, history, literature and culture, has been the backbone of Western education for nearly 2,000 years. The immense contribution of these two civilizations to the subsequent development of the Western world has long been recognized. Study in this area is therefore an invaluable part of a well-balanced liberal arts education, and will reinforce students’ understanding of many other disciplines, including European literature and languages, philosophy, music, law, history of art, drama and even mathematics and the sciences.

At Marlboro, most of the students who take Greek or Latin are beginners and start off in a small group. The self-selective nature of the courses therefore enables students to progress largely at their own pace. Even one or two semesters’ work can greatly improve skills in language learning, as well as understanding of the basis of European romance languages and English. In their second year, students should be at the stage where they can tackle unabridged classical authors.

No student may graduate with a degree in the field of classics without having studied both classical languages for at least two years each at the college level. Those considering graduate work in classics should note that many graduate programs require more than this minimum, and that a reading knowledge of two modern languages (usually German and French) generally has to be demonstrated within the first two years of a doctoral program in classics.

Areas of Interest for Plan-Level Work:

Specialization depends on the current classics fellow. History, literature, philosophy, religion, theater, art, prose or verse composition, sex and gender, ancient science and medicine and philology are all possible areas.

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

LATIN IA (HUM36)
This is a beginner’s course in Latin. Students come to Latin for many reasons: to understand better their own and other languages; to access one of the richest bodies of literature and history in the world; or simply as an intellectual test. Latin is a demanding language, and students should be prepared for regular short quizzes to reinforce material as we go along, but consistent effort will pay rich dividends. We’ll be working from Wheelock’s Latin (6th edition), which introduces students to the basic elements of grammar, syntax and vocabulary, and offers students original Latin thought and language as soon as possible. Prerequisite: None    Introductory | Credits: 4

LATIN IB (HUM618)
Continuing the Latin IA course, normally using Wheelock’s Latin.  Prerequisite: Latin IA     Introductory | Credits: 4

GREEK IA (HUM286)
This is a beginner’s course in Ancient Greek. Greek is a truly special language, with an incredible variety of expression, beauty of sound and richness of thought, literature and history. It is also a challenging language, and students should be prepared for regular short quizzes to reinforce material as we go along, but consistent effort will pay rich dividends. We’ll be working from John Taylor’s Greek to GCSE, which introduces students to the basic elements of grammar, syntax and vocabulary through stories set in authentic Ancient Greek contexts. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

GREEK IB (HUM620)
Continuing the Greek IA course, normally using Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek.  Prerequisite: Greek  IA     Introductory | Credits: 4

LATIN IIA (HUM427)
This course is a continuation of Latin IA and Latin IB. We will aim to finish Wheelock’s Latin and move on to original texts by the end of the semester. The choice of texts studied will very much depend on the interests and enthusiasms of students: we could try Catullus’ lewd love poems, or Vergil’s Dido and Aeneas, or Tacitus’ thoughts on living under a dictatorship. Prerequisite: Latin IA and IB     Intermediate | Credits: 4

LATIN IIB (HUM619)
Continuation of Latin IIA. Prerequisite: Latin IIA     Intermediate | Credits: 4

GREEK IIA (HUM47)
This course is a continuation of Greek IA and Greek IB. We will aim to finish Taylor’s Greek to GCSE and move on to original texts by the end of the semester. The choice of texts studied will very much depend on the interests and enthusiasms of students: we could sample Socrates’ thoughts on the good life, or Homer’s epic poetry, or try our hand at the New Testament in the original. Prerequisite: Greek IA and IB
Intermediate | Credits: 4

GREEK IIB (HUM621)
Continuation of Greek IIA. Prerequisite: Greek IIA     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

OF ARMS AND THE MAN I SING: ANCIENT EPIC FROM GILGAMESH TO THE AENEID (HUM1466)
Two works from the ancient world survive in greater numbers than any other: Homer’s two great epics, the Iliad—the original story of the Trojan war—and the Odyssey, a colorful account of Odysseus’ long journey home from Troy. Homer’s work was a common cultural reference point for all Greece, and not without reason has been dubbed “the bible of the Greeks;” Homer himself was often simply referred to as “The Poet.” Vergil’s Aeneid, a very Roman reworking of both epics, tells the story of the foundation of Rome, and achieved a similarly canonical status almost overnight. But despite this canonical status, the ancient epics have retained their capacity to surprise us. In spite of its martial theme, Homer’s Iliad is also a work deeply interested in the lives of others, be they women, children or enemies. Vergil's Aeneid by contrast, so long disparaged as an eloquent but ultimately vacuous panegyric of the emperor Augustus, has in recent years been rehabilitated as a profound and at times disturbing meditation on the darker side of Roman imperialism. This course is a chance to trace this foundational genre from its ancient near eastern origins to imperial Rome; topics covered will include mythology and folklore, oral literature, heroism, gender, ethics, warfare and the gods. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

SEX, VIOLENCE & VENGEANCE: GREEK TRAGEDY FOR ALL THE AGES (HUM1427)
In his own time the Greek tragedian Euripides was accused of making the young idle and corrupting women, and ever since the fifth century B.C. Greek tragedy has not lost this power to provoke. “Feminist” tragedies were read aloud at suffragette meetings at the beginning of the 20th century, while the tragedian Sophocles was reworked during the second world war in occupied to France to encode resistance to the Nazis. In this course we shall consider some of the greatest and most well-known Greek tragedies, and explore not only radically different conceptions of justice, fate, theodicy, feminism and political authority, to name just a few key themes, but also the workings of the unfamiliar and formal literary “grammar” of Greek tragedy. It is hoped that the course will culminate in a short performance of extracts from Euripides’ Medea. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

RETHINKING ROME: POWER, SOCIETY AND FAITH IN THE HIGH ROMAN EMPIRE (HUM1452)
This course will fall into three parts: first we will look at the Roman emperors and their opponents, from the bumbling Claudius to the debauched Nero; second, we will consider Roman society from top to bottom—from miserable slaves and the urban poor to the provincial elites who aped and opposed their imperial masters in equal measure; finally we will turn to religion, contemplating the radically unfamiliar “pagan” religious system, the position of Jews in the ancient world and the astonishing rise of Christianity at the end of our period. Throughout we will encounter some eminently modern themes: the corrupting nature of power; the enduring role of propaganda and public relations; the nature and meaning of cultural change; the varied forms of oppression and resistance; and the position of minority groups in a multicultural world. This course will above all be centered around the close reading of a set of core sources (both literary and visual), but we will also consider famous recent artistic interpretations of the period (including I Claudius, Gladiator, and Caligula). We will approach this period from as many angles as possible in our effort to build up a full picture of this incredible society (literary, artistic, architectural, economic and even sociological) and so this course would make an ideal complement to other courses in areas such as history, culture, religion or politics. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

BIRTH OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY & LITERATURE I: THE GREEKS (HUM1284)
Western methods of philosophical enquiry and literary themes, conventions and genres began with the ancient Greeks and the spread of writing. During this course, we shall examine some of the poets and thinkers who made essential contributions to ethics and politics, proto-science and logic, drama, epic, rhetoric and the development of prose. We shall investigate the ways in which their ideas and techniques influenced each other, and the role played by the new technology of ink and papyrus. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

BIRTH OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY/LITERATURE II: ROMANS & BEYOND (HUM1317)
The second part of the course, following Part I: The Greeks in the previous semester. We shall be looking at the development of philosophical and literary ideas after the classical age in Greece. Beginning with the Hellenistics and the philosophies of Epicureanism, Stoicism and more, we shall take a tour through the major Latin authors, including Lucretius, Catullus, Cicero, Virgil, Horace and Ovid, examining them from a philosophical, artistic and cultural point of view, as well as in their relation to the developing techniques of literary criticism. Following papyrology in the previous term, we shall consider palaeography and the transmission of ancient texts through centuries of monastic manuscripts. Lastly, we shall investigate the reception of classical texts in later Western European literature, in such works as Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Tennyson’s Lucretius. Prerequisites: Part I of this course preferred but not essential.     Intermediate | Credits: 4

OVID: THE ANCIENTS & THE MODERNS (HUM1353)
A wildly successful poet of his own day, Ovid has since become the single most influential ancient poet for post-classical literature and culture. His works embrace a wide range of themes, many of which seem to have a peculiarly modern relevance: holocaust, seduction, suicide, sex-change, depression and intoxication are all treated within his pages. Always prepared to push the limits of the acceptable, Ovid ran afoul of the regime and died alone in exile on the remote shores of the Black Sea. The first part of this course will include a detailed examination of his poetry (in translation) and its relationship with other works of the classical era. The second part will consider how his works have come to underpin subsequent literature, philosophy and thought. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

ANCIENT VOICES ANEW (HUM1372)
This course will continue our look at ancient literature through the work of Ovid. Starting with the exile poetry, the focus will shift to the reception of Ovid in more recent times. By examining a wide range of modern literature, from Kafka to Rushdie, we will establish the continued relevance of Ovid’s work.     Introductory | Credits: 4

TROY REVISITED (HUM1405)
Homer, Hollywood and Tank Girl? This course aims to explore the extensive dialogue between ancient and contemporary literature. Focusing primarily on the myths surrounding Troy, the course will encompass drama, poetry, prose and film. Included in the syllabus will be a diverse range of material, from Logan’s War Music to Atwood’s Penelopiad. Examination of the texts will be interspersed with film, including Kakogiannis’ Iphigenia, Joel Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? and, of course, Troy. We will also take a look at the theory that underpins reception, translation and understanding. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Euripides’ Hippolytus: Translations and literary criticisms, as a preliminary to an independent translation project.
  • Cicero’s Letters to Atticus: Compiling an edition of translations, using notes and maps to set them in their historical context.
  • Western Philosophy and Literature: Detailed study to develop skills in both disciplines
  • Plautus’ Menaechmi
  • Nero: Individual and Institution in First-Century Rome  
  • Origin of the Indo-European –R Ending