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Classics at Hope College

Hope Faculty and Students at Pompeii, May 2012


What is Classics?
Why study Classics?
What can I do with a Classics major?
Reasons to take Latin
Reasons to take Greek
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions



"There are more plums, and more different plums, in this pudding than any other." --John Landels, "Why Classics?" from Routledge's Classics Resource Centre

Classics studies the ancient civilizations situated along the Mediterranean Sea, with special emphasis on Greece and Rome. The evidence for these civilizations comes primarily from texts and artifacts that have survived from antiquity, and we attempt to situate them in as full a context as possible.  Our courses place students in direct contact with the major sources of Western civilization, both Christian and non-Christian.

Classics is, by its very nature, interdisciplinary: We try to understand their language, literature, history, philosophy, religion, politics, social habits and institutions, artwork, and material culture. Classicists deploy a variety of skills of inquiry and analysis that allow them to bring fresh approaches and to apply evidence in order to investigate, analyze, and interpret these elements of classical antiquity.

But there is also a universal quality to the study of classics because the questions that obsessed the ancients, What is we do not spend our time thinking only about civilizations of the past; we also consider how the truths that we find in ancient texts are still applicable today.

Classics at Hope is a small department dedicated to teaching the languages and literatures of the ancient world. Our program, broadly speaking, emphasizes that the skills learned through Latin and Greek are both intrinsically valuable and transferable to other disciplines. As students of classics read the great literature and thought of the ancient world, they simultaneously develop the skills necessary for critical and precise thinking, clear and articulate communication (both written and oral), and responsible and compassionate citizenship in a global society.

Our department, by teaching these universally recognized skills, seeks to prepare its students for careers in both academic and non-academic professions.


"We study [Classics] because without it we cannot know our history and our heritage. And without that knowledge we cannot know ourselves.
-- A. Bartlett Giamatti, late Commissioner of Baseball and President of Yale University

Prof. Steve Maiullo with Hope Students in the Roman Forum

This is a good question, particularly in the modern world that requires its students to have attained demonstrably marketable skills after graduating college. And it is true that certain disciplines, such as Finance, Economics, Business, Engineering, or Biology, have clear career paths and tracks.  It is harder to see what these might be for Classics or how Classics prepares its students for success in the “real world.”

The real power of Classics is that it is exciting and interesting for its own sake, but it also provides its students with marketable skills: the ability to read carefully and closely, to write clearly and precisely, to think abundantly and critically, and to raise questions thoughtfully and incisively.

Here is just a sampling of what Classics can offer its students. The reason for this, we think, is that classics affords its students with transferable skills: it requires close attention to precise detail, good study habits and consistent performance, and the perspective that comes with the study of such a long and broad sweep of history and culture.

1. GRE SCORES GRADUATE SCHOOL, MEDICAL SCHOOL, AND LAW SCHOOL: Classics students have among the highest GRE scores of all undergraduate majors because we focus so closely on linguistic development and argumentation. Classics students also have high acceptance rates into graduate school and even professional schools, such as Medical School or Law School. 

2. LANGUAGE SKILLS: One of the most important skills employers are looking for in potential hires is the ability to read and write well. Greek and Latin are inflected languages and, as such, have more complicated structure and syntax. The sophisticated understanding of linguistic structure and syntax students gain from learning Latin and Greek gives them a deepr understanding of their own language. Plus, nearly 70% of English derives from Latin, so students who learn Latin also improve their English vocabularies!

3. LIBERAL ARTS The study of Greek and Latin is what ties together the humanist tradition in the Western World. The founding fathers of the United States all read Latin and Greek, as did scientists like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. The study of Classics connects you with great minds in many fields: philosophy, religion, science, English literature, Romance literature, and linguistics to name a few. The study of the Classical Tradition was viewed as a foundational education in Western Europe and America.



This one is easy: anything you want. Classics majors have gone on to do, literally, everything. Graduates of our program and others like it in the United States have sent students into many fields of study: law school, medical school, and seminary are the most frequent choices, but there are many others ranging from Wall Street Banking to Politics and acting and computer programming. 



1. You will learn how to “do as the Romans do,” as you get an insider’s look into Roman language, literature, and culture.

2. It’s good preparation for the GRE, medical school, or law school.

3. Your English will improve as you increase your vocabulary (something like 70% of English words have Latin origins) and learn English grammar.

4. On March 15, you can stage the murder and execution of your teacher in the mode of Julius Caesar. You will be able to do this because you can actually read the words of Julius Caesar.

5. Everyone takes Spanish, be different!

6.  Really cool people studied Latin before you: Stephen Colbert, Chris Martin from Coldplay, and J.K. Rowling all studied Latin. That’s right, you can truly understand all those spells in Harry Potter.

7. You will become a better writer and communicator.

8. You will sound smart, because you will properly use who and whom

9.  We learn the words you need to plot the overthrow of governments and to seduce your love interest; we don’t care about renting hotel rooms or how to tell time.

10.  Latin is a rewarding and fun experience because, by the end, you will be reading great works of literature that are both foundational for the Western tradition and critical for understanding the beauties and hazards of human existence.


1. When you say “it’s all Greek to me,” it will actually mean that you understand it.

2. It’s good preparation for Medical School (so many medical terms come from Greek) or Law School.

3. Your English will improve as you increase your vocabulary and learn English grammar.

4. The ancient Greeks pioneered the study of religion, philosophy, math, and science (among other things). 

5. Everyone takes Spanish, be different!

6.  The New Testament was written in Greek. Cut out all the middle-men translators and go directly to the source yourself.

7. You will sound smart, because you will properly use who and whom

8. We don’t waste time with words for the weather (it’s always sunny and hot and dry in Greece anyway). We teach you how to philosophize and corrupt the youth right away.

9.  Greek is a rewarding and fun experience because, by the end, you will be reading great works of literature that are both foundational for the Western tradition and critical for understanding the beauties and hazards of human existence.



Does Classics require knowledge of Greek or Latin?

Not if you just want to take a few courses like Mythology
or Women in Antiquity. But, yes, all of our majors & minors take at least one year of one of the ancient languages. Since language study is the one discipline that links all classicists together, we sometimes borrow for ourselves the label philologist. This is actually Greek for "lover of language," and professors of languages like Spanish rightly get mad at us when we use it informally as another word for classicist. But we don't let Spanish professors stop us.

Why the focus on the Greeks and Romans?
Part of the answer is that these are the two ancient civilizations which have most heavily influenced modern American culture. Our alphabet comes from Rome via Greece. Latin & Greek together have given English something like 70% of its words -- especially the vocabulary of technology and science. Our government is a democratic republic, with democracy coming to us from ancient Athens, and the idea of a republic from the political system which the Founding Fathers believed was the greatest accomplishment of the Romans.

Another part of the answer is that it's hard enough to learn everything about two countries: where's the time to learn about more? But, in fact, other ancient civilizations also receive attention from classicists, especially because places like Egypt & the Holy Land were ruled by Greeks for hundreds of years, and by Romans after that for even more hundreds of years. How the rulers and ruled learned from each other is one of the most interesting features of Classics. Classics truly is the first "multicultural" discipline!

Are any other ancient languages taught at Hope College?

Only occasionally. You should never count on getting a chance to take these other languages, but, yes, sometimes Professor Bandstra from the Religion Department may teach Hebrew and Professor Wilson, Sanskrit.

Will I have a job if I graduate with a Classics major or minor?

If you apply for one. Only a few of our students go on to become Classics teachers. Instead, most see Classics as the most prestigious of all the Liberal Arts -- and are confident that employers & graduate schools will realize that they are smart, articulate, and well-rounded individuals capable of tackling anything.

Latin and Latin teaching received praise in Psychology Today! Read what they say at: PsychologyToday.com