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Kerill N. O'Neill
Classics and Classical Civilization
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From the Constitution of the United States, to the framework of modern law, to the vocabulary and ideas of everyday speech and writing, the classics exert a pervasive influence. The power of Greece and Rome extends into virtually every aspect of our modern lives. Western traditions of history, philosophy, science, religion, art, and, above all, literature draw their origins from the intellectual curiosity and colorful imagination of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Department of Classics provides a window into the lives, times, and ideas of the founders of Western society. Students of Greek learn the language of Homer, Herodotus, Aristotle, and Plato, while Latin classes learn the idioms of Cicero, Julius Caesar, Ovid, and Vergil. The debt we owe to the Greeks and Romans is so large and multifaceted that the study of classics is interdisciplinary by nature. For example, the classics curriculum includes courses offered by the Departments of Philosophy, Art, Government, and Science and Technology. Yet, all of these courses form part of a coherent whole for classics majors and minors. Colby students of the classics reap all the benefits of a liberal arts education, and at the same time, maintain a focus in their studies.
Here at Colby, the Department of Classics is thriving on a resurgence of nationwide interest in classical languages and cultures. Courses range from beginning languages to careful reading and analysis of major Greek and Latin texts, to general courses on tragedy and myth read in translation. Courses on ancient history and culture round out the department’s offerings. Students can choose to gain an overview of long periods of classical history, or study shorter periods in great detail. Often, course subjects are closely related to the research projects of the professors, so the class benefits from the most up-to-date insights, even before publication! In class, we apply various modern, even pioneering, theoretical approaches drawn from the disciplines of anthropology, sociology, and literary criticism. Among the department’s offerings on language, literature, history, and culture, and the courses offered by other departments on, for example, ancient philosophy, classical art and architecture, and classical political thought, students choose from an extensive array of courses. They can emphasize different aspects of the curriculum to suit their individual tastes.
With such an array of courses in the curriculum, the Department of Classics offers majors and minors in two programs: one in classics, which concentrates on language and literature in Greek, Latin, or both, and one in classical civilization that encompasses all the facets of classical culture. Many students in both programs have taken advantage of the opportunity to study in Greece and Italy through programs especially designed for American students. In Athens, the cradle of Western democracy and the birthplace of Greek tragedy and Plato’s academy, Colby students can further their studies while familiarizing themselves with the Acropolis and Agora. In Rome, they can continue to pursue the ideals of a classical education while breathing the air that the Roman emperors inhaled, and walking the streets that for centuries saw triumphs over distant peoples. In recent years, our joint major in Classics/Classical Civilization-English has become popular, and we have recently added another joint major in Classical Civilization-Anthropology.
Outside the arena of course options and credit requirements, the department strives to emulate the intellectual curiosity of the Greeks and Romans. Our activities extend beyond the classroom to various social, yet educational, events. We have enjoyed showing movies and videos related to the classics from time to time. During the year, we sponsor picnic or pizza parties at our homes for all our students. We bring prominent experts from the U.S. and abroad to share new perspectives on topics of the ancient world. The department provides a seminar room, with its own book and periodical collection, as a study room and peaceful haven for majors and minors. We are proud to have state-of-the-art computer support for our students. By tapping a few keys, they can call up any Greek or Latin text, and search through the entire canon of classical authors in the original or in translation. Furthermore, we have bookmarked numerous sites of classical interest on the Internet. All of these resources are to be found in a room graced by reproductions of classical statues, vases, and paintings.
It is the department’s goal to foster keen intellectual curiosity and sound principles of analysis and problem-solving in all our students by providing academic stimuli and allowing our students to harness the power of the imagination just like the great thinkers, politicians, artists, and writers of Greece and Rome. In an age where effective communication skills are crucial to successful careers, our students develop and refine their speaking and writing through oral presentations and papers. Not surprisingly, graduates of the major are pursuing successful careers in law, medicine, teaching, academia, government, art, management, and other fields. The study of the classics trains the mind for much more than the translation of texts and the analysis of a culture. The study of classics also prepares you to meet life with the confidence of Achilles and the self-reliance of Odysseus.