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Why Study Classics?

Since the Renaissance, a classical education has been one that stretches the mind by combining literature, history, philosophy, art, architecture, government, and religion. The ancient languages themselves offer an unrivaled training in clear thought and forceful style. Many important ideas, methods of investigation, and modes of government in use today were discovered first by the Greeks and Romans; we cannot properly understand our own civilization without recognizing the origins of many of its fundamental concepts and principles. At the same time, Greco-Roman antiquity can be approached as a culture quite markedly ‘other,’ instructive because of its very differences from our own.

"But what can you do with a Classics major?" A lot of things. Some of our majors go on to graduate study in the field; our alumni are well represented among the best PhD programs in the country, and many have gone on to distinguished academic careers. Others pursue a career teaching at the secondary level, in both public and private high schools, within and beyond Virginia. But the majority go on to careers outside academia. A Classics major has proved excellent preparation for law, medicine, business, foreign service, publishing, and the arts. In a world awash in Economics, Psychology and Communications degrees, a Classics major's resumé stands out.

There should be nothing surprising in this. Classicists are trained in reading closely and attentively; they learn not to take things on trust. They gain new skill in using their own language, mastering modes of argument and structures of persuasion that still govern our discourse. They know that ignorance of the past is neither a virtue nor an asset. But they also come to appreciate the limits of our knowledge, to be sceptical of glib explanations. In the process, they expand their own capacity for framing questions and identifying and solving problems. As one of our recent graduates put it, "taking first-year Greek taught me how to learn." These are qualities and skills that pay off in almost any profession. 

All these are good reasons for studying Classics. But it was Thomas Jefferson who gave perhaps the best reason, when he spoke of the ancient languages as "a rich source of delight." To study the Iliad in Greek, to grapple with Tacitus's enigmatic Latin, to read the love poetry of Sappho and Ovid in its original form—this is an extraordinary intellectual experience, one that links us with human beings who lived, thought, and wrote centuries before we were born. There is nothing quite like it.  

Take a look at what some of our Majors have to say about Classics and their future plans!