Message from the Chair

Andrew Feldherr, Department Chair, Professor of Classics

The historian Herodotus gives us one of the earliest account of the motives behind inquiry and discovery: “lest what humanity has brought forth fade away and great and wondrous deeds lose their fame”. That quality of wonder lies at the beginning of every intellectual commitment. But it can take very different forms. Many are drawn to our subject by their wonder at the beauty or the difficulty and intricacy of the Greek and Latin languages. Others by the wonder of recognition at encountering the starting points of ideas and arguments that persist today, and still others at the strangeness and difference of Greek and Roman thought and life. For some it is the luster and prestige of the ‘classics’; for others, horror at their persistent power. Our job as educators is first to create opportunities for students to experience this wonder, in any of its aspects, and then to help them develop it into the basis of new ways of thinking and understanding that will distinctively shape, and be shaped by, their own experience of the world. For that reason, Princeton’s Classics Department has always tried to foster the broadest possible contexts for understanding Greco-Roman cultures. In the past that has meant encouraging students to bring the resources and perspectives of multiple academic specialties to bear on their inquiries, to ask the questions of linguists, literary critics, historians, and philosophers. The circumstances of the twenty-first century have revealed to many of us the special urgency of emphasizing another type of breadth as well: to look at the field from outside its own boundaries and understand how our discipline itself has been shaped by historical circumstances. By increasing the diversity of voices speaking about, through, and against classical culture and its legacies, our profession can combat the ways in which Ancient Greece and Rome have been appropriated in the past and continue to be appropriated in the present to justify exclusion, and it can also provide the grounds for new conversations about “what humanity has brought forth”.

For these reasons, our curriculum aims to make the study of the classics and the Greek and Latin languages open to as large an audience as we can. We offer many courses that assume no prior knowledge of ancient history or literature and have designed our concentrations to allow students without high school experience in Greek or Latin to undertake original research projects. We also have resources available for supporting summer study and training in ancient languages outside of Princeton to provide as many routes as possible for discovering the different worlds of Greece and Rome.

— Andrew Feldherr

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