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Classics or Classical Studies is the branch of the Humanities dealing with the languages, literature, history, art, and other aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during the time known as classical antiquity, roughly spanning from the Ancient Greek Bronze Age in 1000 BCE to the Dark Ages circa CE 500. The study of the Classics was the initial field of study in the humanities. The word "Classics" also refers to the literature of that period.

Traditionally, the focus of classics was tightly centered on ancient Greece and Rome. Ancient Egypt was thought to be beyond the discipline. Today, classicists study a subject more broadly defined as that pertaining to the Ancient Mediterranean World. Those scholars focusing upon the landward side of the eastern Mediterranean—the ancient Persian Empire and the kingdoms of ancient India—are termed Orientalists.

History of the western classics

The word "classics" is derived from the Latin adjective classicus meaning "belonging to the highest class of citizens," and has further connotations of superiority, authority, and perfection. The first, recorded use of the word "classics" was by Aulus Gellius, a second century Roman author who, in his miscellany Noctes Atticae (19, 8, 15), refers to classicus scriptor, non proletarius. He ranked writers per the classification of the Roman taxation classes.

This method was started when the Greeks were constantly ranking their cultural work. The word they used was canon; ancient Greek for a carpenter's rule. Moreover, early Christian Church Fathers used this term to classify authoritative texts of the New Testament. This rule further helped in the preservation of works since writing platforms of vellum and papyrus and methods of reproduction was not cheap. The title of canon placed on a work meant that it would be more easily preserved for future generations. In modern times, a Western canon was collated that defined the best of Western culture.

At the Alexandrian Library, the ancient scholars coined another term for canonized authors, hoi enkrithentes; "the admitted" or "the included."

Classical studies incorporate a certain type of methodology. The rule of the classical world and of Christian culture and society was Philo's rule:

"Philo's rule dominated Greek culture, from Homer to Neo-Platonism and the Christian Fathers of late antiquity. The rule is: "μεταχαραττε το θειον νομισμα" ("metacharatte to theion nomisma"). It is the law of strict continuity. We preserve and do not throw away words or ideas. Words and ideas may grow in meaning but must stay within the limits of the original meaning and concept that the word has."

Classical education was considered the best training for implanting the life of moral excellence arete, hence a good citizen. It furnished students with intellectual and aesthetic appreciation for "the best which has been thought and said in the world." Edward Copleston, an Oxford classicist, said that classical education "communicates to the mind...a high sense of honour, a disdain of death in a good cause, (and) a passionate devotion to the welfare of one's country." Edward Copleston, in The Victorians and Ancient Greece, Richard Jenkyns, 60. Cicero commented, "All literature, all philosophical treatises, all the voices of antiquity are full of examples for imitation, which would all lie unseen in darkness without the light of literature."

At Oxford University Classics is known as Literae Humaniores, comprising the study of Ancient Greek and Latin language and literature, Greek and Roman art and archaeology, history and philosophy. It is sometimes known as Greats after the nickname for the final examinations.

Legacy of the Classical World

The Classical languages have been immensely influential on all western European languages, bestowing on them an international learned vocabulary. Until the 17th century, the Latin language itself was used as the international medium of communication in diplomatic, scientific, philosophical and religious matters.

Latin itself evolved into The Romance languages. Ancient Greek can be seen in Modern Greek and the Griko languages.

The Latin influence on English is most prominent in technical vocabulary; in a similar way, so is the Greek influence on English.

The Ecclesiastical Latin dialect of Latin is still used by the Catholic Church.

Sub-disciplines within the classics

One of the most notable characteristics of the modern study of classics is the diversity of the field. Although traditionally focused on ancient Greece and Rome, the study now encompasses the entire ancient Mediterranean world, thus expanding their studies to Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Forebears of the Classical World

The Classical civilization did not develop in isolation; the ancient Greeks were indebted to their geographical proximity to the much older, intellectually and technologically sophisticated cultures of the East.


Traditionally, classics was essentially the philology of ancient texts. Although now less dominant, philology retains a central role. One definition of classical philology describes it as "the science which concerns itself with everything that has been transmitted from antiquity in the Greek or Latin language. The object of this science is thus the Graeco-Roman, or Classical, world to the extent that it has left behind monuments in a linguistic form." J. and K. Kramer, La filologia classica, 1979 as quoted by [Christopher S. Mackay [1]. Of course, classicists also concern themselves with other languages than Classical Greek and Latin including Linear A, Linear B, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Oscan, Etruscan, and many more. Before the invention of the printing press, texts were reproduced by hand and distributed haphazardly. As a result, extant versions of the same text often differ from one another. Some classical philologists, known as textual critics, seek to synthesize these defective texts to find the most accurate version.


Thanks to popular culture, such as the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, classical archaeology is often seen as very exciting. Philologists rely on archaeological excavation, so that they may study the literary and linguistic culture of the ancient world. Likewise, archaeologists may rely on the philological study of literature in order to contextualize the excavated remains of the classical civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The artifacts they find are key to all the other sub-disciplines and help provide new evidence for the understanding of the ancient world.

Art history

Some art historians focus their study of the development of art on the classical world. Indeed, the art and architecture of Ancient Rome and Greece is very well regarded and remains at the heart of much of our art today. For example, Ancient Greek architecture gave us the Classical Orders: Doric order, Ionic order, and Corinthian order. The Parthenon is still the architectural symbol of the classical world.

Greek sculpture is well known and we know the names of several Ancient Greek artists: for example, Phidias.

Civilization and history

Some classicists use the information gathered through philology, archaeology, and art history to seek an understanding of the history, culture, and civilization. They critically use the literary and physical artifacts to create and refine a narrative of the ancient world. Unfortunately, imbalances in the evidence available often leave a huge vacuum of information about certain classes of people. Thus, classicists are now working to fill in these gaps as much as possible to get an understanding of the lives of ancient women, slaves, and the lower classes. Other problems include the under-representation in the evidence of entire cultures. For example, Sparta was one of the leading city-states of Greece, but little evidence of it has survived for classicists to study. That which has survived has generally come from their key rival, Athens. Likewise, the domination and the expansion of the Roman Empire reduced much of the evidence of earlier civilizations like the Etruscans.

Ancient Philosophy

The roots of Western philosophy lie in the study of the classics. The very word philosophy is Greek in origin—a term coined by Pythagoras to describe the "love of wisdom." It is not surprising, then, that many classicists study the wealth of philosophical works surviving from Roman and Greek philosophy. Among the most formidable and lasting of these thinkers are Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.