Greek and Roman Studies
Students who study in the Department of Greek and Roman Studies explore aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world with an emphasis on the cultures of Greece from the fifteenth to the fourth century BCE and Rome from the seventh century BCE to the fourth century CE.
This exploration is inherently multidisciplinary and as such encompasses not only the languages and literature of the Greeks and the Romans, but also their history, art, philosophy, religion, and politics. Central to these investigations are the relations of the ancient Greeks and Romans with the other peoples of the Mediterranean and their reception and interpretation by later cultures.
The story of “Classical” scholarship goes back to the Library of Alexandria in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. The project that the scholars of the library undertook was to collect, copy, and edit as many texts of Greek literature as they could find. Their goal was to preserve these texts for future generations. The study of classics still has at its core this act of preservation. But, like the Alexandrian scholars and perhaps more self-consciously, we acknowledge that we ourselves are also involved in an act of reinterpretation. Our goal is both to preserve the knowledge of ancient cultures but also to interpret that knowledge in the context of contemporary culture.
We bring to this project many different skills and many different methods. Our faculty includes scholars trained in philology and literary study, history and epigraphy, and archaeology. Students in our classes thus benefit from studying different facets of the ancient world with teachers who, though they share a broad area of inquiry, are interested in different sets of questions.
Common to all of our classes is an interest in using insights about the ancient world to enrich our understanding of the world that we inhabit. In the end what classicists develop is an intense self-consciousness about the nature of their own assumptions, assumptions which the study of antiquity allows us to question and which we must question in order to be able to focus our attention on the strange “otherness” of different cultures.
The Department of Greek and Roman Studies at Vassar is small (four full-time faculty members and an average of six majors in the senior class). As a result, there is plenty of opportunities for students to get to know each other and their professors. The opportunity arises not just in classes but also in casual conversations with others in the department, in faculty’s office hours, and at the numerous social events and lectures that the department sponsors. Students form friendships with each other, but they also work together to educate the larger student body about the study of Greek and Roman antiquity and why they like working in the department. Concerns or interests that students may have about what is being taught in the department, their preparation for a particular course, summer opportunities, life after Vassar, and graduate school are readily responded to by any member of the department. Although majors are assigned individual major advisors and a thesis advisor, students view all of the faculty and the department’s administrative assistant as people from whom to gain information, good advice, and support.