Classics

Classics course offerings at Sarah Lawrence College include Greek (Ancient) and Latin at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels, as well as literature courses in translation. Beginning language students acquire the fundamentals of Greek (Ancient) or Latin in one year and begin reading authentic texts. Intermediate and advanced students refine their language skills while analyzing specific ancient authors, genres, or periods.

Ancient Greek and Roman insights and discoveries originated Western culture and continue to shape the modern world. Ancient artists and writers still inspire the greatest artists and writers of today. Greek and Roman ideas about politics, drama, history, and philosophy (to name just a few) broaden 21st-century perspectives and challenge 21st-century assumptions. Classical languages and literature encourage thoughtful, substantive participation in a global, multicultural conversation and cultivate skills necessary for coping with both failure and success. Because it is multidisciplinary, classical literature adapts easily to students’ interests and rewards interdisciplinary study. Classics courses contribute directly to the College’s unique integration of the liberal arts and creative arts, as developing writers and artists fuel their own creative energies by encountering the work of ingenious and enduring predecessors. The study of the classics develops analytical reading and writing skills and imaginative abilities that are crucial to individual growth and essential for citizens in any functioning society.

2017-2018 Courses

Beginning Greek

Open , Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to ancient Greek grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, with the aim of reading authentic excerpts of ancient Greek poetry and prose as soon as possible. We will also examine the etymological relationship of Greek to English and discuss the development of Greek culture during the Classical era. There will be several short quizzes and two longer translation exercises. Students will also choose a special author or topic for a conference project. During the spring semester, while continuing to refine their grammar and reading skills, students will read extended selections of Plato’s Apology in the original Greek.

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Intermediate Greek

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This course has two aims: to develop the student’s ability to read Greek intelligently and fluently and to give the student a general understanding of Greek history and literature. The authors to be read will be determined at the time of registration.

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Advanced Greek

Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course has two aims: to extend the student’s ability to read classical Greek and to deepen the student’s appreciation of the literary traditions of the Greeks. The authors to be read will be determined at the time of registration.

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Beginning Latin

Open , Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, with a view to reading the language as soon as possible. Close reading of Vergil’s Aeneid in English will accompany intensive language study in the fall. By midsemester, students will be translating authentic excerpts of Latin poetry and prose. During the spring semester, while continuing to develop and refine their knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary, students will read selections of the Aeneid in Latin.

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Intermediate Latin

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This course will offer students who have established a foundation of Latin skills a chance to read poetic and prose works from a pair of famed authors of the Late Roman Republic: the poems of Catullus and Cicero's Pro Caelio. Poet and politician reveal very different attitudes about some of the same controversial figures in Roman life during this period. Catullus is famed for immortalizing his mistress, "Lesbia," in the groundbreaking genre of Roman neoteric poetry. This woman is traditionally identified as the notorious Clodia whom Cicero, in his exemplary legal oration, the Pro Caelio, blames for attacking his client. Through the study of these two authors, the conventions of Roman rhetoric and poetry will be introduced. To establish context, the class will explore the literature and history of the Late Roman Republic with particular emphasis on the tumultuous years from the death of Sulla (78 BCE) to the death of Caesar (44 BCE). Excerpts of other authors will be examined, including Lucretius, Caesar, and Sallust. There will be two formal translation exercises per semester, and students will develop a special topic in conference for a paper or presentation. Additional conference hours and grammar review will be included, as necessary.

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Advanced Latin

Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course will explore the literature, history, and politics of the Late Roman Republic, with particular emphasis on the tumultuous years from the death of Sulla (78 BCE) to the death of Caesar (44 BCE). Closely examining works of Catullus, Lucretius, Cicero, Caesar, and Sallust, we will consider how the violent struggle for political power resulted in the demise of republican government and the centralization of authority in the hands of one individual. Class discussions and writing assignments will assess the relationship between intellectual views and political action during this critical moment in Western history. Students will attend seminar meetings and, in addition, develop and refine their reading comprehension skills by reading selections of the seminar texts in Latin for their conference work. Reading assignments will be read in their entirety in English. Additional conference hours and grammar review will be included, as necessary. Conference projects can also include science and linguistics. With the permission of the instructor, qualified students will participate in the Intermediate Latin seminar and complete additional readings in Latin for class and conference work.

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The Greco-Roman World: Its Origins, Crises, Turning Points, and Final Transformations

Open , Seminar—Year

This course invites the serious student to penetrate the tides of time in order to uncover what really lies behind the making of ancient Greece and Rome from their earliest times to their final transformations. The aimed-for result is a more deeply informed understanding of their direct contribution to us; namely, the classical tradition that still shapes our thinking and exercises our imagination. The methodologies employed will be derived as much from the fields of anthropology and sociology as from those of political science, economics, archaeology, and religious studies. The particular topics pursued will be set through joint decision by class members and the teacher but anchored always in the reality of what these two gifted peoples experienced—or believed to be their experience. To further this goal, all conferences will be in small groups, and all papers will be written as joint productions rather than as individual conclusions. A model for this procedure will be established in the first two weeks of the fall semester through the class’s multidisciplinary reading, in translation, of important selections from Homer’s Iliad.

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First-Year Studies: From Homer to Plato

Open , FYS—Year

The habit of asking questions, which constitutes Western thought, has its primary origin in Greece. In this class, we will read Greek epics, tragedies, histories, comedies, and works of philosophy in order to think about how our thinking got started.

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Lucretius: On the Nature of Things

Open , Seminar—Fall

Lucretius was a first-century BC Roman philosopher and poet—the contemporary of Cicero, Catullus, Virgil, and Horace and a follower of the Greek atomist Epicurus. All that remains of Lucretius’ work is a long poem, entitled, “On the Nature of Things.” It is written in epic meter and explores everything from nature and the world to human beings and the soul. Lucretius explains supernatural entities on the basis of natural phenomena. The motivation for this materialism seems to have been to bring human morality back down to earth. We will read Lucretius’ original text with a view to why it was written in poetry and how it might have provoked St. Jerome to claim that Lucretius composed it while drunk on love potion. We will also read the only surviving letters of Epicurus in Diogenes Laertius’s "Lives of Eminent Philosophers," along with several essays by Martin Heidegger on the limits of human thinking and the failure of modern philosophy to comprehend antiquity.

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Love, Friendship, and Philosophy

Open , Seminar—Spring

The word “philosophy” is usually glossed as “love of wisdom,” where “love” comes from the prefix philo-. But the Greek word philia really means “friendship.” Indeed, it would seem strange if the philosopher’s pursuit of truth were to be characterized by an erotic longing. Wouldn’t this lead him to fall in love with truth and so to be prejudiced toward it? Plato, more than any other author, uses the metaphor of erotic conquest to describe the search for knowledge. This course will ask if there is a difference between eros and philia—love and friendship—and whether philosophy’s attachment to truth-seeking is lusty or friendly. We will read Plato’s Symposium (on eros) and Plato’s Lysis (on friendship), as well as Cicero’s essay on friendship and excerpts from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

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Ancient Philosophy (Plato)

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

This course will be devoted to a careful reading of a small number of texts from a major figure in ancient philosophy. The goal of the course is twofold. It is first designed to acquaint students with one of the seminal figures of our tradition in more than a superficial way. In doing that, it will force us to slow our usual pace of reading, to read almost painfully carefully, with a view to understanding the thinker as he wrote and as he understood himself and not as a stage in an historical development. The second part of the goal of the course is to introduce and encourage this kind of careful reading. The text for fall 2017 will be Plato’s Theaetetus, the dialogue in which the question “What is knowledge?” is raised.

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Readings in Christian Mysticism: Late Antiquity

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

Permission of the instructor is required.

This course will focus on the intersection of Jewish theology and Greco-Roman philosophy in the early Christian texts commonly seen to contain "mystical elements." We will define these elements as texts that have to do with the desire on the part of the reader to "know," experience, or "be with" God and with the author's attempt to properly demarcate the boundaries within which these desires can be fulfilled. Christian mysticism is perhaps best thought of as erotic theology—theology that involves the desire for God. Recognizing this, we must also acknowledge that inherent to this theology is a profound paradox. What is desired must be conceived. It must be held in the grasp of one's understanding in order to be attained. While this is fine for an orange, or even wealth and power, it is much more problematic when the object of desire is God, the creator of the universe. Theologians in the early church developed a language of desire and specific sets of practices involving one's lifestyle and prayer in order to resolve this paradox and fulfill their desire. They began to ponder this paradox with a synthesis of a biblical theology of divine revelation (i.e., the revelation of God as preserved in the biblical canon, symbolized in both the revelation of YHWH on Mt. Sinai and in the incarnation of the Divine Logos as Jesus of Nazareth) and Platonic expression of a desire for the ultimate good, truth, or beauty. In order to better grasp these ideas, we will read parts of the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and contemplate the anthropology of desire set forth by Plato in the Symposium and the Phaedrus. Educated in the Hellenistic world, the early church fathers took these ideas for granted and attempted to find common ground with their Christian inheritance. We will study the phenomenon of Gnostic Christianity, an early attempt at synthesis of biblical material and Greek philosophy. We will then move on to encounter the great early Christian writers—such as Origen and Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Psuedo-Dionysius, and Ambrose of Milan—and conclude our study with a lengthy look at what, for Western culture, is the seminal work of Augustine of Hippo.

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