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For other meanings, see Classics (disambiguation).

Classics, particularly within the Western university tradition, when used as a singular noun, is the study of the language, literature, history, art, and other aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world—particularly ancient Greece and Rome during the period known as classical antiquity. As a plural noun "classics" can refer to texts written in the ancient Mediterranean world. The study of classics was the original study of the humanities and remains important in that branch of learning today. Thus, the people reading classics are sometimes called humanists but are more often referred to as classicists.


[edit] Sub-disciplines within the classics

One of the most notable characteristics of the modern study of classics is the diversity of the field. Although traditionally focused on ancient Greece and Rome, the study now encompasses the entire ancient Mediterranean world, thus expanding their studies to Northern Africa and the Middle East..

[edit] Philology

Traditionally, classics was focused on little more than philology—the intensive study of ancient texts. Although this no longer dominates the field so completely, it retains a central role. One definition of classical philology describes it as "the science which concerns itself with everything that has been transmitted from antiquity in the Greek or Latin language. The object of this science is thus the Graeco-Roman, or Classical, world to the extent that it has left behind monuments in a linguistic form."<ref>J. and K. Kramer, La filologia classica, 1979 as quoted by [Christopher S. Mackay|]</ref> Of course, classicists also concern themselves with other languages outside the two main ones—including the study of Linear A, Linear B, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Oscan, Etruscan, and many more. Before the invention of the printing press, texts were reproduced by hand and distributed haphazardly. As a result, extant versions of the same text often differ from one another. They are also usually fragmentary. Classical philologists, in addition to simply seeking to understand the language, seek to synthesize these defective texts to find the most accurate version.

[edit] Archaeology

Main article: Classical archaeology

Thanks to popular culture, such as the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, classical archaeology is often seen as very exciting. Whereas philology studies the literary and linguistic culture of the ancient world, classical archaeologists study the material culture of the classical civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Archaeologists lead and conduct excavations. The artifacts they find are key to all the other sub-disciplines and help provide new evidence for the understanding of the ancient world.

[edit] Art history

Some art historians focus their study of the development of art on the Classical world. Indeed, the art and architecture of Ancient Rome and Greece is very well regarded and remains at the heart of much of our art today.

[edit] Civilization and history

Some classicists use the information gathered through philology, archaeology, and art history to seek an understanding of the history, culture, and civilization. They critically use the literary and physical artifacts to create and refine a narrative of the ancient world. Unfortunately, imbalances in the evidence available often leave a huge vacuum of information about certain classes of people. Thus, classicists are now working to fill in these gaps as much as possible to get an understanding of the lives of ancient women, slaves, and the lower classes. Other problems include the under-representation in the evidence of entire cultures. For example, Sparta was one of the leading city-states of Greece, but little evidence of it has survived for classicists to study. That which has survived has generally come from their key rival, Athens. Likewise, the domination and the expansion of the Roman Empire reduced much of the evidence of earlier civilization like the Etruscans.

[edit] Philosophy

Main article: Ancient philosophy

The roots of Western philosophy lie in the study of the classics. Indeed, the very word philosophy is Greek in origin—a term coined by Socrates to describe the "love of knowledge." It is not surprising, then, that many classicists study the wealth of philosophical works surviving from Roman and Greek philosophy. Among the most formidable and lasting of these thinkers are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Cynics.

[edit] History of the western classics

The word is derived from the Latin adjective classicus which literally means "belonging to the highest class of citizens", and has further connotations of superiority, authority and even perfection. The first recorded use of the word was by Aulus Gellius, a Roman author of the second century who in his miscellany Noctes Atticae (19, 8, 15) refers to classicus scriptor, non proletarius. He was ranking writers according to the classification of the Roman taxation classes.

This method was started when the Greeks were constantly ranking their cultural work. The word they used was canon; ancient Greek for a carpenter's rule. Moreover, early Christian Church Fathers used this term to classify authoritative texts of the New Testament. This rule further helped in the preservation of works since writing platforms of vellum and papyrus and methods of reproduction was not cheap. The title of canon placed on a work meant that it would be more easily preserved for future generations. In modern times, a Western canon was collated that defined the best of Western culture.

At the Alexandrian Library, the ancient scholars coined another term for canonized authors, hoi enkrithentes; "the admitted" or "the included".

Classical studies incorporate a certain type of methodology. The rule of the classical world and of Christian culture and society was Philo's rule:

"Philo's rule dominated Greek culture, from Homer to Neo-Platonism and the Christian Fathers of late antiquity. The rule is: "μεταχαραττε το θειον νομισμα" ("metacharatte to theion nomisma"). It is the law of strict continuity. We preserve and do not throw away words or ideas. Words and ideas may grow in meaning but must stay within the limits of the original meaning and concept that the word has."

Classical education was considered the best training for implanting the life of moral excellence arete, hence a good citizen. It furnished students with intellectual and aesthetic appreciation for "the best which has been thought and said in the world". Copleston,[Please name specific person or group] an Oxford classicist said that classical education "communicates to the mind...a high sense of honour, a disdain of death in a good cause, (and) a passionate devotion to the welfare of one's country". Cicero commented, "All literature, all philosophical treatises, all the voices of antiquity are full of examples for imitation, which would all lie unseen in darkness without the light of literature".

At Oxford University Classics is known as Literae Humaniores, comprising the study of Ancient Greek and Latin language and literature, Greek and Roman art and archaeology, history and philosophy. It is sometimes known as Greats after the nickname for the final examinations.

[edit] Famous Classicists

Throughout the history of the Western world, many classicists have gone on to gain acknowledgement outside the field.

[edit] Quotations

  • "Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument."
    Thomas Gaisford, Christmas sermon, Christ Church, Oxford.
  • "I love the language, that soft bastard Latin, Which Melts like kisses from a female mouth."
    —George Noel Gordon (Lord Byron), Beppo
  • "I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat."
    Sir Winston Churchill, Roving Commission: My Early Life
  • "He studied Latin like the violin, because he liked it."
    Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man
  • "I enquire now as to the genesis of a philologist and assert the following: 1. A young man cannot possibly know what the Greeks and Romans are. 2. He does not know whether he is suited for finding out about them."
    Friedrich Nietzsche, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen

[edit] See also


[edit] Bibliography

  • Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists by Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (editor). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994 (hardcover, ISBN 0-313-24560-6).
  • Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities) by Ward W. Briggs and William M. Calder III (editors). New York: Taylor & Francis, 1990 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8240-8448-9).
  • Dictionary of British classicists, 1500–1960 by Richard B. Todd (General editor). Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004 (ISBN 1-85506-997-0).
  • An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology, edited by Nancy Thomson de Grummond. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996 (hardcover, ISBN 0-313-22066-2; ISBN 0-313-30204-9 (A–K); ISBN 0-313-30205-7 (L–Z)).
  • Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, ed. by Harry Thurston Peck. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896; 2nd ed., 1897; New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1965.
  • Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 (hardcover, ISBN 1-57392-826-7).
  • The New Century Classical Handbook, ed. by Catherine B. Avery. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962.
  • The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, revised 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003 (ISBN 0-19-860641-9).
  • The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. by M.C. Howatson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.


[edit] On-line resources

cy:Clasur de:Klassische Altertumswissenschaft es:Filología Clásica fa:کلاسیک‌ها is:Fornfræði he:לימודים קלאסיים ky:Классиктер nl:De klassieken ja:西洋古典学 ru:Антиковедение fi:Antiikintutkimus sv:Klassisk tl:Klasikos


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