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 include close readings of Homer’s Iliad, Aristophanes’s Clouds, Pindar’s Odes, Plato’s Republic, Cicero’s de Amicitia, the poetry of Catullus, and Vergil’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 can also prove valuable to all those who wish to enrich their imagination in the creative pursuits of writing, dance, music, visual arts, and acting.

2020-2021 Courses


Beginning Latin

Open, Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary with a view toward reading the language as soon as possible. Close reading of Vergil’s Aeneid 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 from the Aeneid in Latin.


Intermediate Greek: The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek Wisdom for Today’s Troubled Times

Intermediate, Lecture—Year

See course description under Literature.


Readings in Intermediate Greek: Herodotus and Thucydides

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course will review grammar concepts, as necessary, while reading—in Greek—selected passages of Herodotus and Thucydides.


The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek Wisdom for Today’s Troubled Times

Open, Lecture—Year

With the permission of the instructor, qualified students may opt to take this course as Intermediate Greek and read selected portions of the text in Greek.

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. During the late sixth through fifth centuries BCE, ancient Athenians devised, simultaneously, the concepts of democracy and history. 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. Today, those early historians can help us analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read, in English translation, Herodotus’ Histories and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon.


Interrogating God: Tragedy and Divinity

Open, Seminar—Fall

The Greek gods attended the performances at the ancient theater of Dionysos, which both recognized and challenged their participation in human affairs. The immediacy of divine presence enabled a civic body, the city, to enter into conversation with a cosmic one, a conversation whose subject was a shared story about the nature of experience and its possible significance: tragedy. Divinity is less congenial about playgoing in later periods, but it seems to have lent tragedy both a power to be reborn and a determination to address the universe even as Christianity, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Industrial Age reimagine it. In this course, we shall read essential Western texts in which the constant of human suffering is confronted and the gods are called into question even as they shift their shape. Among our authors are Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Goethe, Byron, Ibsen, Beckett, Susan Glaspell, and August Wilson.