Related disciplines

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) 2024-2025 Courses

Readings in Intermediate Greek

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 6 credits

GREE 3520

Prerequisite: Beginning Greek, registration interview, and permission of the instructor

Qualified students will attend the twice-weekly group conferences for Intermediate Greek (see course description) and complete all assignments required for those conferences.


Intermediate Greek

Intermediate, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

GREE 3510

Prerequisite: Beginning Greek, registration interview, and permission of the instructor

Qualified students will attend the twice-weekly seminar meetings for What Should I Do? Democracy, Justice, and Humanity in Ancient Greek Tragedy (see course description under Literature) and complete the reading assignments for that course. Students will also meet in group conference twice a week to read (in Greek) and discuss one ancient Greek tragedy selected by the group. 


What Should I Do? Democracy, Justice, and Humanity in Ancient Greek Tragedy

Open, Seminar—Year

Are human beings capable of self-government? What does that require? As modern authoritarian movements imperil democratic institutions, norms, and the rule of law, ancient Greek tragedies illuminate values and aspirations underpinning democracy and modern liberal ideals of justice, equality, and universal human rights. Tragedy and democracy emerged simultaneously in ancient Athens in the late 6th century BCE and flourished throughout the 5th century BCE. Ancient Greece never achieved egalitarian politics or anything close to universal human rights, but Athenian tragedies emphasize the essential equality of all human beings in our vulnerability to suffering and death. Surviving plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides dramatize the costs of tyranny, anger, vengeance, and cruelty—to perpetrators, as well as to victims. Commending honesty, generosity, and compassion, tragedies locate nobility not in genetic inheritance, group affiliation, socioeconomic status, numerical superiority, or even moral or ideological convictions but, rather, in our conduct as individuals. Tragedies expose the consequences of human words and actions, as characters make choices conducive to success or failure for themselves and their communities. State-sponsored and publicly performed, tragedies made self-reflection and self-criticism a fundamental feature of Athenian democratic politics and society. “What should I do?” encapsulates the central question of every ancient Greek tragedy and every moment of our own lives. This course is designed for anyone interested in understanding the false promise of authoritarianism and appreciating the origins, goals, and possibilities for a free, humane, equitable democratic society.


Freedom of Mind: Ancient Philosophy

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Philosophy began with the Greeks as the pursuit of freedom of mind—as a rebellion against bondage to conventional belief. But is freedom of mind possible? And to what does it amount? This course, the first half of a yearlong sequence, focuses on the different ways the Greek philosophers and their Roman heirs understood freedom of mind. We will travel from the pre-Socratics through Plato, the Stoics, the Epicureans, and the Skeptics. Students will be expected to come to each class with a written question on the reading, which I may ask them to read aloud at the beginning of class in order to stimulate discussion. They may also be asked to participate in brief group presentations of the reading. The writing requirements for the class will have two components. The first of these will be made up of a short paragraph on the reading for each class and each group conference and should include the written question on the reading; the rest of the paragraph should either develop this question further or pose a further question or questions about the reading. At the end of the semester, you will be expected to submit a log of these short paragraphs, with your three favorites at the beginning of the document. The second writing requirement will be for a paper, or papers, outlining a portion of the reading and posing questions along the way. Through discussion, we will decide on the focus of these papers.


Nietzsche’s Critique of Hume and Hume’s Response

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Nietzsche, in the Preface to The Genealogy of Morals, begins by attacking “English moralists.” By “English moralists” he means, I propose, David Hume in his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. After reading the Preface and Part One of the Genealogy, we shall turn to Hume’s Enquiry in order to understand Nietzsche’s criticism and to see whether we think it is justified. Students will be required to bring a written question to each class and to present short sections of the reading. Writing requirements will consist of a log of the written questions, two outlines of portions of the reading that they present in class with questions and objections, and a conference paper.