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Classics, particularly within the Western University tradition, when used as a singular noun, means the study of the language, literature, history, art, and other aspectsof Greek and Roman culture duringthe time frame known as classical antiquity . As a plural noun"classics" can refer to texts written in the ancient Mediterranean world. The study of classics is a primarysubject for the humanities , and the people reading classics are sometimescalled humanists .

The word is derived from the Latin classicus which literally means "belongingto the highest class of citizens". Furthermore, its meaning intimates "superiority, authority and even perfection"."Classicus occurs first in Aulus Gellius, a Roman author of the second century who in his miscellany Noctes Atticae (19, 8, 15) refers to classicus scriptor,non proletarius. He was ranking writers according to the classification of the Roman taxation classes.

This method was started when the Greeks were constantly ranking their cultural work. The word they used was canon ; ancient Greek for a carpenter's rule. Moreover, early Chrisian Church Fathers usedthis term to classify authoritative texts of the New Testament. This rule further helped in the preservation of works sincewriting platforms of vellum and papyrus and methods of reproduction was not cheap. The title of canon placed on a workmeant that it would be more easily preserved for future generations. In modern times, a Western canon was collated that defined the best of Western culture .

At the Alexandrian Library, the ancient scholars coined another term for canonized authors, hoi enkrithentes; "theadmitted" or "the included".

Classical studies incorporate the certain type of methodology. The Rule of the classical world and of Christian culture andsociety was Philo's rule:

"Philo's rule dominated Greek culture, from Homer to Neo-Platonism and the Christian Fathers of late antiquity. The rule is:"μεταχαραττε το θειοννομισμα" ("metaxarratte to theion nomisma"). It is the law of strict continuity. We preserveand do not throw away words or ideas. Words and ideas may grow in meaning but must stay within the limits of the original meaningand concept that the word has."

Classical education was considered the best training for implanting the life of moral excellence arete (paideia) hence a good citizen. It furnished students withintellectual and aesthetic appreciation for "the best which has been thought and said in the world". Copleston, an Oxfordclassicist said that classical education "communicates to the mind...a high sense of honour, a disdain of death in a good cause,(and) a passionate devotion to the welfare of one's country". Cicero commented, "Allliterature, all philosophical treatises, all the voices of antiquity are full of examples for imitation, which would all lieunseen in darkness without the light of literature".

Practically every university and college in England and America had a classical department. Classical studies formed the basisfor a liberal arts education and were considered necessary for the advancement and preservation of a country's liberty andWestern culture. Since the l960's, due to modern cultural attacks and lack of interest, classical departments have beenclosing.

  • Ancient Greece
Classical definition ofrepublic
Greek language , Greek mythology , Greek literature
Greek architecture

Ancient Greek culture is not monolithic: it consists of two completely different strains corresponding to two differentpeoples: the Ionian and the Dorian .

  • Ancient Rome
Roman Kingdom , Roman Republic , Roman Empire
Roman Army
Roman mythology
Latin , Latin literature , Rhetoric
  • Post-classical scholarship

Classics can also mean (typically in non-academic contexts) classic books . In ancient China these might include:

Chinese classic texts
Chinese philosophy

Western Classicists

Karl Otfried Müller German, Theodor Mommsen , Thomas Tyrwhitt , Pierre HenriLarcher , Ada Adler Danish, Werner Jaeger German, Edith Hamilton American, Bernard Knox , (A. E. Taylor),(Gregory Vlastos)


  • "Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above thevulgar herd but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument."
    —Thomas Gaisford, Christmas sermon, Christ Church, Oxford.

See also


  • "Classicism in Literature", René Wellek, Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, ed.by Philip P. Wiener, Charles Scribner's Sons, NY, l968, l973.
  • The Oldest Dead White European Males, And Other Reflections on the Classics, Bernard Knox, W. W. Norton & Co.,NY, London, l993.

Western Classical Reference Bibliography

  • Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, ed. by Harry Thurston Peck, Cooper Square Publishers,Inc., l962. (1701 pages)
  • The New Century Classical Handbook, ed. by Catherine B. Avery, Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., Ny, l962. (1162pages)
  • The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. by M.C. Howatson, Oxford University Press, NY, l989. (615pages)
  • Loeb Classical Library

Misc. Bibliography

  • Brush Up Your Classics, Michael Macrone, Gramercy Books, NY, l991. (Guide to famous words, phrases and stories ofGreek classics.)

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