The Classics Major

Chapin Hall
Chapin Hall. Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, 1912.

Students who major in Classics find it a rich and varied field in which every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman life is considered worthy of study. A student may pursue both Greek and Roman studies or focus on one culture alone. Some students design a major program in which a particular approach predominates (literary or historical, for instance) while, for many, a chief attraction of Classics is its interdisciplinary character. There are two routes through the Classics major, the Language Route and the Civilization Route (see below). Majors and prospective majors should consult with the department’s chair, who is the formal adviser for every Classics major, and with other faculty in the department to ensure a well-balanced and comprehensive selection of Classics courses appropriate to their individual interests. They may also benefit from advice on courses offered in other departments which would complement their particular interests in Classics.

Students considering Study Away either in the junior year or in the summer should consult with Classics faculty as early as possible, both to learn about programs and financial aid opportunities and for advice on choosing courses at Williams that will best prepare them for the programs that interest them. Students interested in Graduate Study or Teaching should also consult with Classics faculty as early as possible.

The Language Route

The traditional Classics major requires the student to take at least nine Classics courses, of which at least six must be in one or both of the ancient languages. Students who choose to study both Greek and Latin must complete at least two 400-level courses in one of the languages. Students who study only Greek or only Latin must complete at least two courses at the 400-level. The remaining courses of the major should be selected from the offerings in Greek, Latin, or Classical Civilization or from approved courses in other departments. Senior majors must enroll in the non-credit Senior Colloquium (CLAS 499, fall and spring); junior majors are encouraged to participate. Every major is normally expected to take at least one Classics course, in addition to the Senior Colloquium, in the senior year.

The Civilization Route

A student pursuing this route to the major is required to take either Classics 101 or Classics 102 (or an appropriate substitute for those courses) and either Classics 222 or Classics 223 (or an appropriate substitute for those courses), as well as three additional courses selected from the offerings in Classics or from approved courses in other departments. Please consult the department for details about approved courses and substitutes.

The student must also take either three courses in Greek and/or Latin with at least one at the 400 level, or, four courses in Latin (that is, at least through Latin 302). This major will normally culminate in a senior independent study. Several of the courses elected, including the independent study, should relate to one other in such a way as to reflect a concentration on a particular genre, period, or problem of Greek and Roman culture, or on such areas as ancient art and archaeology, religion in the Greco-Roman world, and ancient philosophy. Senior majors must enroll in the non-credit Senior Colloquium (CLAS 499, fall and spring); junior majors are encouraged to participate. Every major is normally expected to take at least one Classics course, in addition to the Senior Colloquium, in the senior year.

Senior Colloquium

Senior majors are required to enroll in the Senior Colloquium (CLAS 499) in the fall and spring, and junior majors are encouraged to participate. The colloquium, which the department’s faculty also attend, meets four or five times each semester and engages in various activities. Seniors working on an honors thesis or independent study discuss their work-in-progress and also make a final presentation; every senior makes a presentation of some kind in the course of the year, for instance, sharing a paper prepared for another course, giving a reading or a short performance, or presenting the results of research pursued in connection with the colloquium. At other colloquium meetings, the group might discuss a classical text, a critical essay, a current theater production or museum exhibition, or the talk just given by a visiting speaker. Indeed, the colloquium often hosts visiting speakers. Our activities vary according to the interests of students and the events held on campus in a given year.

Learning Objectives

Coursework in the Classics Department is designed with these learning objectives in mind:

• To contribute to the liberal education of our students, regardless of their major field of study.

• To prepare students who plan to pursue graduate work in Classics or related fields. Moreover, we aim to increase the capacity for disciplined inquiry in all our students, to develop their skills of analysis and synthesis, and to nurture their imaginative and critical faculties.

• In our language courses, to enable our students to increase their linguistic facility in Greek or Latin as they study important authors, topics, or periods, and to enable the development of related methodological skills.

• In our civilization courses, to introduce our students to and familiarize them with the literature, history, mythology, art, archaeology, religion, and philosophy of ancient Greece, Rome, and the larger ancient Mediterranean world.

All of our offerings challenge students both to confront the foreignness of these ancient cultures and to explore the profound connections between them and our own. We aim to awaken our students’ sense of curiosity and wonder, to promote their thoughtfulness, and to encourage them to discover the satisfaction that comes from developing competence in difficult technical skills while acquiring knowledge both broad and deep, and likewise, to foster their capacity for historical, literary, and cultural analysis, which processes will find endless practical applications in their post-collegiate lives.


For more information about The Major, visit the links at right.