At the heart of Classical Studies lies the ancient Mediterranean basin, a region long distinguished by the civilizations of Greece and Rome. Much of our work is thus devoted to the traditionally revered voices of those two cultures. Homer, Plato, Vergil, and the rest are avidly read in their own languages; and monuments like the Colosseum or the Laocoön sculptural group engross us just as they have mesmerized earlier generations. That said, scholars have come more and more to appreciate the fact that this ancient Mediterranean was an enormously diverse place, and that its contacts stretched far beyond the littoral of the Sea. We therefore have come to study an astonishingly broad array of peoples, places, and times. Our interests range geographically from Great Britain, Spain, and Morocco in the west, to the Tigris-Euphrates valley in the east, while also taking into account the connections of Greece and Rome with Afghanistan, India, and China. We look from the European shores of the Baltic Sea, to the northern reaches of the Sahara desert in Africa. Chronologically, we begin as early as about 1200 BCE, the supposed moment of the Trojan War. There is no clearly discernable end date for our interests, since the multifaceted inheritance from ancient Greece and Rome is alive and well today. It will thus hardly surprise that Classics is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-lingual field of study. All of this is investigated and taught by our faculty, whose interests and specializations embrace language, literature, art, archaeology, epigraphy, theater, history, philosophy, religion, gender, economics, psychology and cognitive theory, law, papyrology, science, medicine, and much more.
Nowadays, ancient Greek and Roman superstars are constantly paraded before us by the media. It can thus seem as if Achilles, Caesar, or Cleopatra are close acquaintances. However, careful scholarly engagement with Classical Antiquity quickly reveals a world that is not at all so familiar. It is a realm indeed characterized by sheer brilliance of every sort, yet equally defined by complications, contradictions, and mystery. So, for example, there is no modern translation that can even vaguely echo the riveting sophistication and complexity of Vergil’s Aeneid in its original Latin hexameters. But then, confrontation with Catullus’ viciously obscene poetry in its original Latin transports one to a cultural milieu of quite a different sort – a place where primal urges are expressed in jarringly blunt terms. And if one turns to the world of art, the same phenomena are quickly discovered. The stately white marble façade of Classical Antiquity, which can be so ingrained in our perceptions of that world, turns out to have been painted with a shockingly garish array of color. Classics, then, is a field of study that perpetually challenges one’s intellectual expectations and comfort zone, and does so in every conceivable way.
Our field is also constantly jolted by the discovery of entirely new evidence, as well as by radically new interpretations of what had always seemed rock solid. Two examples, both close to home, are illustrative. David Sider has recently led the charge in the publication and interpretation of newly discovered texts of the poet Simonides of Ceos, and Joan Breton Connelly, with her book, The Parthenon Enigma, champions a revolutionary interpretation of the sculptural frieze on the Parthenon. The study of Classics is a hugely stimulating process of perpetual discovery and re-discovery, and our department is actively engaged in this undertaking.
The Department of Classics at NYU is furthermore exceptionally happy to be part of a unique team, which is devoted to the investigation of antiquity on the largest scope possible. We maintain close connections with the Center for Ancient Studies, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, and the Institute of Fine Arts. There are joint undergraduate majors with the departments of Art History, Anthropology, and the Program in Hellenic Studies; and, we have very close ties with other NYU departments and programs, especially, Religious Studies, Philosophy, and History. New York itself provides us with various unparalleled opportunities. Courses are regularly taught in our department by two of the curators from the American Numismatic Society, where our students also often complete internships. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History are also places where our students find places as interns. And last, but by no means least, our relationship with the Aquila Theatre Company, via Peter Meineck, keeps us constantly and intimately involved in the ways that Classical Antiquity serves to animate and heal contemporary society.
In sum, there is a very great deal to be learned, both about far-distant others and about ourselves, via study of the Classics. The ancient Greeks and Romans continue to inspire and to prepare people exceptionally well for successful and meaningful lives and careers. And the NYU Department of Classics is uniquely positioned to reap the fullest harvest offered by this field of study. We invite you to explore our web site, and to join us in the exciting adventure called Classics.