The Classics

A Critical Review of the Classics

By Milana Carse

The study of Classics has always been praised as a means to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As I study the Classics, I have also seen my writing, speaking, and research skills improve. Our discipline considers different kinds of evidence, including ancient texts, surviving buildings and other structures, as well as artifacts uncovered through archaeological excavation. Students who study Classics are motivated by the desire to understand these cultures but also find that this study leads to an examination of questions that are relevant to all human cultures–questions concerning the limits of human nature, the role of religion, the purpose and scope of social and political organizations, the place of literature, myth, and history in civilization, and so on. Consequently, Classics not only illuminate the past, but train the mind in ways relevant to the present. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Classics majors and double-majors have a better chance of getting into medical school than science majors.

In addition to providing a window into the genesis of many aspects of our modern world, the study of Classics confronts students with the uncomfortable realities of living in ancient societies, including social issues such as restrictive gender roles and sexuality, and slavery, all of which were quite prevalent in the ancient world. For example, women in both Ancient Greece and Rome were generally excluded from public life and confined to the domestic sphere (with the notable exception of Sparta). While upper-class women in ancient Greece could be educated in literature and music and own property, lower-class women were restricted to domestic skills such as weaving and cooking. As a later society, Rome offered women more freedom in terms of control over property, but they still were not allowed to vote or hold political office, and they were expected to prioritize their husband’s needs over their own. Finally, slavery was a widespread feature of both societies, and physical and sexual abuse of slaves was a common pratice.

Understanding ancient peoples’ stories and walking in their shoes through study of the Classics can provide a better sense of where our modern world came from, how far we have come–and
how good most modern people have it! While clearly not every practice of the Ancient world was worth keeping, many social, political, and cultural innovations of these civilizations have echoed
through the centuries for a reason. The fact that we have retained much of the best of Antiquity while discarding the most harmful practices gives hope that even our modern dysfunctions will
someday be looked at as curiosities and lessons to not repeat by future students of the Classics who study our present time.