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 today’s great artists and writers. 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.

2019-2020 Courses

Beginning Latin

Open , Seminar—Year

This course provides a rigorous and thorough introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary with a view to reading the language as soon as possible. The course will also introduce students to famous mythological stories with the goal to read them in their original language (Latin) by the end of the academic year. Close reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in English, will accompany intensive language study in the fall. By mid-semester, 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 Metamorphoses in Latin.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek History for Today’s Troubled Times

Open , FYS—Year

Are we unwittingly reliving the past? Authoritarianism, magical thinking, and tribalism are beginning to characterize the 21st century as they characterized archaic Greece. Over centuries, however, the ancient Greeks experienced a movement in the opposite direction: They began to prioritize reality, condemn tyranny, and experiment with broader forms of political participation. In the fifth century BCE, the ancient Greeks devised, simultaneously, the concepts of history and democracy. As the Athenians were experimenting with the world’s first-ever democratic political institutions, the historians Herodotus and Thucydides distinguished history from myth and offered examples of behaviors to emulate or to avoid. These early historians can help us today to analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read (in English translation) Herodotus’s Histories and Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon. Students will meet with the instructor individually for a half-hour conference once every two weeks. On the alternate weeks, when individual conferences do not meet, the entire class will meet for a group conference.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Odyssey/Hamlet/Ulysses

Open , Seminar—Spring

James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the most important novels of literary modernism, tracks its two major characters, hour by hour, through the streets of Dublin, Ireland, on a single day, June 16, 1904. Never have the life of a modern city and the interior lives of its inhabitants been so densely and sensitively chronicled. But the text is not only grounded in the “real life” of turn-of-the-century Dublin; it is also deeply grounded in literary landscapes, characters, and plots that stretch back to Shakespeare—and beyond Shakespeare to Homer. This class offers the chance for close study of three great texts that are deeply implicated in one another: Homer’s Odyssey, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Joyce’s Ulysses. The themes of circular journeying, fate, identity, parent-child relations, and indebtedness—and “the feminine mystique” that we trace in the Odyssey and Hamlet—will prepare us for a careful and joyful reading of Joyce’s exuberant human comedy in Ulysses. Conference work may entail more extended work in these major authors or other authors and texts roughly contemporary with them or subsequently responding to them, whose work extends and complicates the intertextual webs we will be weaving in class.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: The Origins of Philosophy

Open , FYS—Year

What is being? What is time? What is knowledge? What is the best kind of government, and what is the happiest kind of life? Should we fear death? More than 2,500 years ago in Ancient Greece, a tradition of asking this sort of questions developed under the name “philosophy” (Greek for “love of wisdom”). In this course, we will read the earliest surviving texts of the philosophical tradition—from the first philosopher, Thales, to the great Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle—as well as interpretations and critiques of them by thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Throughout the course, we will discuss the relations (and the tensions) between philosophy and science, religion, art, and politics. Students will have an individual conference every other week and group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Greek Tragedy: Electras

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

There is only one story about which tragedies exist by all three of the great Greek tragic poets—the murder of Clytemnestra to avenge her murder of Agamemnon. We will read all three plays—Aeschylus’s Libation Bearers, Sophocles’s Electra and Euripides’s Electra—with special attention to the relation between Electra and Orestes as co-conspirators in the plot against Clytemnestra. Each play is concerned with the question of justice in its relation to a political life. Insofar as its principle is justice, political life points toward universality. Insofar as its existence depends on excluding some from its borders, it must assert its particularity. Political life involves treating fellow citizens according to universal principles because they are like family. We want our polis to be good, but we want it to be good because it is ours. In Greek tragedy this problematic togetherness of the good and one’s own is repeatedly represented as the tension between the polis and the family—which, in turn, is expressed as a tension between male and female principles. All of these issues are present in all three plays but in quite different ways. We will read them with a view to understanding the importance of those differences.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Ancient Philosophy (Aristotle)

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

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. Doing that 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 spring 2020 will be Aristotle’s Rhetoric. We do not ordinarily claim knowledge of what is most important to us—the good, the beautiful, and just things. Still, our practical lives require that we are not content merely to withhold judgment about them. Accordingly—about the good, the beautiful and the just—we are generally persuaded and seek to persuade. We convince and are convinced without simply teaching or learning. If this sort of thinking is intrinsic to incomplete beings, to human beings, when rhetoric claims be an art or a science of persuasion, this would seem to amount to a claim to be an art or a science of the human. We will read Aristotle’s Rhetoric in light of this tacit claim and with a view to the question: What does it mean that human beings are put together in such a way that we both must and can be moved by persuasion?

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Emergence of Christianity

Open , Seminar—Year

There is perhaps no one who has not heard of the name of a seemingly obscure carpenter's son executed by the Romans around 33 CE. Why? The religion we call Christianity shaped the Western World for at least 1,500 years. In this course, we will study the origins of this tradition. As we study the origins of this movement, we will explore Judaism in the strange and fertile Second Temple period (515 BCE -70 CE). We will encounter the learned societies of holy men like the Pharisees and the Qumran sectarians, as well as the freedom fighter/terrorists called the Zealots. Our main source will be the New Testament of the Christian Bible, though these will be supplemented by other primary materials. Excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and rabbinic literature, as well as other Hellenistic texts from this period, provide the cultural backdrop in which Christianity has its roots. We will learn about the spread of the new movement of “Christians,” as it was called by its detractors in Antioch. How did this movement, which began among the Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean, come to be wholly associated with Gentiles by the end of the second century. Who became Christian? Why were they hated so much by the greater Greco-Roman society? What did they believe? How did they behave? What are the origins of “Christian anti-semitism”? What kind of social world, with its senses of hierarchy and gender relations, did these people envision for themselves?

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Introduction to Ancient Greek Religion and Society

Open , Seminar—Spring

Few people dispute the enormous impact that the Ancient Greeks have had on Western Culture—and even on the modern world in general. This seminar will introduce the interested student to this culture mainly through reading salient primary texts in English translation. Our interest will range broadly. Along with some background reading, we will be discussing mythology (Hesiod), epic hymns and poetry (Homer), history (Herodotus), politics, religion, and philosophy. By the end of the seminar, students should have a basic understanding of the cultural contribution of the Ancient Greeks, as well as a basic timeline of their history through the Hellenistic age.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

First-Year Studies: Ecopoetry: Poetry in Relation to the Living World

Open , FYS—Year

Poetry is the human song called out: in joy, in love, in fear, in wonder, in prayer, in rebuke, in war, in peace, in story, and in vision. The human poem collects us together, individuates us, and consoles us. We read poems at funerals, at weddings, graduations...they accompany us through the gates of our lives, in public, or in private...shared through a book, a computer, a letter, a song. Now we find ourselves at the brink of an unstoppable ecological disaster. A change of consciousness is necessary. How can poetry accomplish this? For a long time, we have not noticed how our civilizations and technologies have affected the rest of the living world. This course will ask questions: Who do we think we are? Who taught us that? Who are we in relation to the other animals? To trees and plants? To insects? To stars? How have our human myths informed those relationships? How are those myths evident in our human world today? What is poetry? What is ecopoetry? How can poetry instruct? How can poetry document? How can poetry re-vision? Prophesy? Protest? Preserve? Imagine? In our time together, you will read poetry written by published poets. You will write your own poems, one each week, and share them with each other. You will keep observation journals, meet with another person in our class each week in a poetry date, and meet with me in individual and small-group conferences. We will proceed as curious learners and writers. Through our close study, each of you (in conference work and together) will learn about a very specific aspect of the natural world that interests you (an animal, a forest, a coral reef, etc.) and then teach the rest of us in class what you have learned. We will learn how to write poems about these subjects so that the poem itself becomes an experience we have never had before. And we might slowly move away from the human as the center of the poem and welcome the rest of the living world in. We will know more at the end of this class about the other animals and plants and insects and rivers and oceans. If our hearts break with this deepening relationship, we might also discover a great joy and a new responsibility. We will want to share what we have learned and written with the wider community. We will find ways to do that. I can assure you, we will be changed. Students will have an individual conference every other week and a half-group conference on alternating weeks.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

This is a writing course that explores the use of episodes in a world made of words. We read short stories, parts of novels, poems, newspaper articles, and essays from many times and worlds and occasionally watch episodes and films. We also do exercises designed to help practice character drawing, dialogue, pacing, composition, editing, and world building. Still, much of the work of the class involves writing episodes of a long work that becomes our conference work and can be completed in one or two semesters. These works are discussed in small groups, whose members become experts on each others’ creations. Many of the works take place in an imaginary world, some are memoirs, others go back and forth between worlds. The course is open but involves a willingness to enter sympathetically into someone else's work over time and to be an informed reader for that person. It also involves the ability to work on a piece of writing for at least a semester.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Poetry: What Holds the Unsayable

Open , Seminar—Spring

Poems are not merely feelings, the poet Ranier Maria Rilke has written, but experiences. What is the difference between a feeling and an experience? How can a poem become an experience? How can a poem, originating from the personal, transcend the personal? How can writing the poem transform the writer? Every poem holds the unsayable. How does a poem do that? How can we attempt to do that—using words? If you are interested in these questions, take this course. It is open to experienced writers, as well as to absolute beginners. If you are interested in these questions, you are welcome. This is a reading/writing course. We will spend time every week reading poems that have already been published (by dead poets and living poets) to see how they were made: music, syntax, line, sound, and image. We might spend time generating new work in class through exercises and experiments. And we will spend time looking closely at one another’s work, encouraging each other to take risks and move even closer to the mystery of the poem. Each writer in the class will meet with another class member once a week on a “poetry date.” Each writer will be responsible for reading the assigned work and for bringing to class one written offering each week. We will work hard, learn a great deal about poetry and about our own poems, and have a wonderful time.

Faculty
Related Disciplines