Classical Studies Learning Outcomes

There is a fundamental difference in the curricular philosophy of Classical studies: the language component of classical studies is solely concerned with literary languages as they were written in the distant past. Students of Latin and Greek learn to read ancient literature in the original; the aspect of “communication and practical use of language” plays no role.

Like the modern languages, in classics we focus on “structural components and cognitive elements” and the “literary and cultural dimensions of language.” But while modern language courses are conducted mainly in the subject language and incorporate all three of these goals (communication, syntax, culture) from the first semester, classical language courses, because of their more specific objective of reading comprehension, are conducted in English and sequentially differentiate grammar and literature.

In first-year courses students focus almost exclusively on the “structural components and cognitive elements” of the language; they thoroughly learn its entire morphological and syntactical structure, and they acquire a basic vocabulary geared toward the prose texts commonly taught at the intermediate level. They practice this material by reading short sentences of “fake” Latin, which emphasize the entire variety of syntactical elements of the language while using an extremely limited vocabulary set. First-year Latin students learn a great deal of grammar, but are exposed only to tiny snippets of authentic literature.

Students begin reading authentic Latin literature in their second year. This is a challenging transition, as students now face long sentences with a large degree of grammatical complexity and subordination, and with a preponderance of unlearned vocabulary. With the aid of their instructor and printed commentaries, students slowly learn to parse hypotactic syntax, and they also learn how to use reference dictionaries and expand their vocabularies. By the end of the second year students begin to see their readings less as barely-sensible grammatical puzzles and more as artistic writing with a literary message. At the beginning of the second year, students struggle to read two or three pages of authentic Latin prose per week. By the end of the second year, students can read at about double that rate, and they are also exposed to a variety of material, including poetry.

Even after several semesters of Latin or Greek, students are exposed to only a small sampling of literary works and genres. Classical studies students also take a sequence of content courses, which assume little or no knowledge of classical languages. In the lower-level courses (200-level) students read widely in translation and acquire a broad overview of significant aspects (art, history, philosophy, religion) of the Greek and Roman world. From these survey courses students progress to a junior seminar, which focuses on a particular topic and introduces students to modern scholarly approaches to the classical world. This capstone course culminates in an extensive research paper, which incorporates primary texts in translation and modern scholarship.

Classical studies minors are required to take one year of language courses, two content surveys and a capstone seminar. Their language skills are similar to those of modern language minors: they know how language functions as a system and they are able to apply the systematic concepts to the learning of other languages or to their native language. From the content courses classical studies minors also have a broad base of knowledge about the classical world, and particular expertise in one area.

Classical studies majors are required to reach the advanced level in an ancient language, and to take more content courses than the minors, and they write a senior project. They are exposed to some variety of classical literature in the original, and they have a broader grounding in significant aspects of ancient culture. Their senior projects reflect this wider familiarity with ancient literature and civilization. As in the junior seminar, they integrate primary and secondary sources to make an original argument about the classical world.