The Sarah Lawrence College classics program emphasizes the study of the languages and literature of Ancient Greece and Rome. Greek and Latin constitute an essential component of any humanistic education, enabling students to examine the foundations of Western culture and explore timeless questions concerning the nature of the world, the place of human beings in it, and the components of a life well lived. In studying the literature, history, philosophy, and society of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, students come to appreciate them for themselves; examine the continuity between the ancient and modern worlds; and, perhaps, discover “a place to stand”—an objective vantage point for assessing modern culture.

In their first year of study, students acquire proficiency in vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, with the aim of reading accurately and with increasing insight. Selected passages of ancient works are read in the original languages almost immediately. Intermediate and advanced courses develop students’ critical and analytical abilities while exploring ancient works in their literary, historical, and cultural context. Conference projects provide opportunities for specialized work in areas of interest in classical antiquity. Recent conference projects have included close readings of Homer’s Iliad, Aristophanes’s Clouds, Pindar’s Odes, Plato’s Republic, Cicero’s de Amicitia, the poetry of Catullus, and Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as studies of modern theories of myth, Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy (in connection with the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides), the social implications of Roman domestic architecture, and a comparison of Euripides’s Hippolytus with Racine’s Phèdre.

Greek and Latin will be especially beneficial for students interested in related disciplines, including religion, philosophy, art history, archaeology, history, political science, English, comparative literature, and medieval studies, as well as education, law, medicine, and business. Greek and Latin may also prove valuable to all those who wish to enrich their imagination in the creative pursuits of writing, dance, music, visual arts, and acting.

Greek (Ancient) 2023-2024 Courses

Beginning Greek

Open, Small seminar—Year | 10 credits

Why learn Ancient Greek? This subject represents a mode of learning that not only passes on the knowledge of a gloriously colorful era but also has been powerfully effective, even for hundreds of years after the end of its civilizations, in developing students’ abilities. When we learn Ancient Greek, we relearn language in a way that is analytical—applying a framework to examine language structure as we absorb it. By internalizing paradigms of forms and inflections, by using flash cards to memorize vocabulary, we are stretching and strengthening our memory; when we learn grammatical concepts and how these forms fit into them, our brains are forging new connections that will help us learn any other language. The study of Greek reveals that linguistic concepts transcend word-for-word translation, and no translation can ever be truly complete in expressing the original idea spoken. Participation in class and regular practice every day are crucial. Written, digital, and oral homework is regularly assigned. There will periodic quizzes and two in-class translation tests each semester. For conference work in the fall semester, each student will develop a research topic on one special author or figure of classical culture and present the topic to the class either as an oral presentation or a shared paper. In the spring, as we continue our study of grammar in class, we also will begin a close reading of Plato’s Apology in conference. This text represents a famous moment in the history of philosophy and may be Plato’s closest representation of his teacher Socrates, who offers his defense to the Athenian court before he’s sentenced to the hemlock. The final exam for the year will include an essay section on the Apology.


Ancient Philosophies as Ways of Living in Truth

Open, Seminar—Fall

Philosophy is often studied as one discipline among other academic disciplines. For most of its long history, however, philosophy was nothing of the sort. It involved a way of living; of regulating desire, grief, rage, and fear of death; and theoretical contemplation, of course, especially on the nature of truth—but theory was always embedded within a practical concern for the best life humanly possible. We explore this alternative practice of philosophy by examining Ancient Greek and Roman philosophical traditions and interrogating how those philosophers exercised a mode of thinking that inculcates an entire way of living in truth. Ancient philosophers to be discussed include Parmenides, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, Diogenes the Cynic, Aristotle, Epicurus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Sextus Empiricus. We also discuss recent historians of this tradition who try to revitalize this practice, such as Pierre Hadot, Jan Patočka, and Michel Foucault. Thus, we survey not only Ancient Greek and Roman theoretical practice but also interrogate whether this practice of doing philosophy is viable today or even worthy of revitalization and, if so, how to go about living a philosophical life in the present. 


Concepts of the Mind: How Language and Culture Challenge Cognitive Science

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

How does the human mind represent the world? And how do these representations vary across people? Could knowing a different language change how we experience time or even how we see color? Even seemingly simple concepts like “in” vs. “on” mean different things in different cultures, and words like “one” and “two” may not be linguistically universal. Indeed, the very course description that you are reading makes culturally-specific assumptions about psychology and implicitly assumes objectivity. At the same time, humans seem to share certain core experiences, such as perceiving events, creating categories, and recalling the past. Which aspects are shared, and which are unique? In this course, we will draw on research from psycholinguistics, cognitive development, and cultural psychology to learn cognitive science in a larger context. Critically, we will consider how each of those fields have been severely constrained by an emphasis on white, Western, industrialized experiences. We will investigate the broader social and ethical consequences of these assumptions and explore insights and challenges that emerge when we step out of this limited perspective. We’ll draw on primary and secondary sources, including research articles, literature, videos, raw experimental data, and audio recordings. Students will develop projects in conference work that combine their interests with the course content, such as designing an experiment to test cross-linguistic differences in visual attention, analyzing vocabulary from languages other than English, or replicating and reinterpreting an existing experiment using culturally-responsive practices.


Creative Nonfiction

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This is a course for creative writers who are interested in exploring nonfiction as an art form. We will focus on reading and interpreting outside work—essays, articles, and journalism by some of our best writers—in order to understand what good nonfiction is and how it is created. During the first part of the semester, writing will be comprised mostly of exercises and short pieces aimed at putting into practice what is being illuminated in the readings; in the second half of the semester, students will create longer, formal essays to be presented in workshop.