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.

Latin 2023-2024 Courses

Indigenous Ecologies and Environmental Justice

Open, Seminar—Spring

Native American and Indigenous peoples today protect 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity; and Indigenous ways of living in relation to the natural environment, in keeping with Indigenous ecological knowledge and practices, have sustained ecosystems for centuries. Yet, throughout history, settler colonial and industrial extractive projects have displaced native peoples and instigated the environmental crises that plague our current world and threaten our future survival. In response to these destructive incursions on their ancestral lands, Indigenous peoples in the Americas and beyond have long been at the forefront of resistance movements against environmentally exploitative projects and have engaged in an ongoing struggle that links Indigenous sovereignty with care for the natural world. In this interdisciplinary environmental studies and anthropology seminar, we will explore the humanistic concerns and ethics at stake regarding people’s role in ecosystems; our collective responsibility to protect the natural world; and our work toward environmental and climate justice as intimately linked to Indigenous ecological knowledge, governance, and rights. This course will include readings on Native American and Indigenous oral history and literature; land dispossession, displacement, and migration; ecological knowledge and practices; decolonizing food systems, agriculture, and sustainability; health, medicine, and healing; resistance movements and social alliances; and the intersections of Indigenous sovereignty, climate change, and environmental justice. We will explore Indigenous knowledge and decolonizing approaches, as we re-envision an ethical path to a sustainable future that integrates environmental protection with social justice. This course will fully participate in the spring 2024 Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster, with a focus on environmental and climate justice and a strong involvement with local organizations. The semester will include two interludes during which students will engage in collaborative projects across disciplines and in partnership with students from Bronx Community College. Students will have the opportunity to develop field-based conference projects.


Beginning Greek

Open, Small seminar—Year

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.


Imperialism and Servitude: Slave Rebellions in Greek and Roman History

Open, Seminar—Spring

The ancient historians of Greece and Rome have related many examples of slave rebellions to posterity. These stories tend to appear in the context of struggles to control newly acquired wealth and power from successful conquest and imperialist policies. In this course, we will focus on slave rebellions in two historical epochs. First, we will examine historical evidence on slavery in Athens and Sparta, famous Greek city-states in the period inclusive of the Persian and the Peloponnesian Wars. The second era is the Roman Republic in the final two centuries BCE when, as powerful factions struggled for power over Rome’s newly conquered wealth and territory, major slave rebellions spread from Sicily to other Roman spheres of influence—and, finally, to Italy itself in the famous Spartacus rebellion. In this course, we will read selections of the surviving historiography, in English translation, by authors such as Thucydides, Plutarch, Sallust, and Diodorus Siculus, among others. We will also read secondary scholarship discussing some of the many controversies on these topics, such as the theoretical constructs of slavery, ideologies of rebel slaves, the perspectives of historians ancient and modern, conditions favorable to revolt, and the reception of stories of rebellion in later centuries, to name a few. Assignments will include regular low-stakes writing practice, as well as a class presentation and a major conference project. Conference work may take the form of traditional papers or a digital humanities project.


Ancient Eros: Love in Classical Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

The theme of love in classical literature is a profoundly influential topic, appearing in genres as diverse as epic and lyric poetry, tragedy, philosophy, and even the earliest novels. The attitudes toward love expressed in these texts vary considerably: Sometimes, it is personified as a beautiful and playful god; often, too, it appears as a powerful, destructive force that can lead to irrational behavior and life-changing disaster. The literary motif of love is a catalyst, as well as a resolution of many narrative and poetic arcs; its transformative nature is deeply engaged with aspects of gender, sexuality, and identity throughout the Classical era. In this course, we will read a wide-ranging selection of ancient texts, as well as look ahead to the reception of the theme of Classical Eros in later art and literature. Along with readings, assignments will include regular low-stakes writing practice, a presentation to the class, and a major conference project. Conference work may take the form of a paper or a creative writing project. The reading list will be selected from the following works in English translation, sometimes comprising the entire work and sometimes parts TBD): Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Sappho; Euripides, Hippolytus, Euripedes; Symposium, Phaedrus, Plato; Argonautica, Apollonius of Rhodes; Idylls, Theocritus; Eclogues, Catullus, Vergil; Amores, Ovid; Golden Ass, Apuleius; Apology, Apollonius; late antique era love spells, letters, and curse tablets.


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.