Classics Department

Overview & Features

Classics at Hillsdale College

At Hillsdale, the Classics Department takes a traditional and rigorous approach to the study of Greek and Latin. The key to the fullest understanding of our ancient heritage is the study of the Greek and Roman languages. The preciseness and eloquence of these languages make it impossible to appreciate fully the classical works in translation. Therefore, unlike many other colleges, where it is possible to major in classics without ever learning a classical language, a major in classics at Hillsdale is required to become competent in at least one ancient language. This rigorous language training is combined with literature and civilization courses designed to provide a student with an overarching awareness of the cultures of Greece and Rome. The civilization and literature course offered by the Classics Department may be supplemented (with credit toward the major) by courses offered by other departments which are pertinent to the Greco-Roman world. In areas of history, philosophy, religion and politics a student's understanding of the ancient world may be broadened and deepened in classes taught by experts in these areas. To further their appreciation for and interest in classics, qualified students may become members of the Hillsdale chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, a national classics honorary, dedicated to fostering the classical tradition. The student with an interest in education as a career may pursue a program in secondary level Latin certification offered in concert by the Classics and Education Departments.

Classics is the study of the languages, literature, history, and culture of ancient Greece and Rome. It was originally recognized as an essential part of an American education. The Yale Report of 1828 stated,

We are the people, the genius of whose government and institutions more especially and imperiously than any other, demands that the field of classical learning be industriously and thoroughly explored and cultivated. The models of ancient literature, which are put into the hands of the young student, can hardly fail to imbue his mind with the principles of liberty, to inspire the liveliest patriotism, and to excite to noble and generous action, and are therefore particularly adapted to the American youth.

In fact, until the last few decades, the Greek and Roman cultures and civilizations were subjects in public high schools. Yet in today's technocratic age, far removed from ancient Greece and Rome, students only ask "What can I gain from the study of antiquity?" The ancients themselves answer this question best. "The thing that makes the study of history particularly wholesome and beneficial is that you look at lessons of every experience, set in clear view, and from them you can choose for yourself and your country whom you should imitate, and what things shameful in origin and shameful in their result you should avoid." (Livy, 1st century AD). The classical authors wrote for all time the history of things "that happen and always will happen while human nature is the same," (Thucydides, 5th century BC). The study of the classics has been basic and essential to European thought since the Renaissance and to American thought and education since its inception. It provides a background that is virtually indispensable for any in-depth study in political science, religion, philosophy, or literature, and gives students a unique insight into the heritage of Western civilization. In addition, the grammatical precision, eloquence, and analytical training developed by classical studies gives the student excellent, and widely recognized preparation for a wide variety of professions.

"In company with Sallust, Cicero, Tacitus, and Livy, you will learn wisdom and virtue. You will see them represented with all the charms which language and imagination can exhibit, and vice and folly painted in all their deformity and horror. You will ever remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen." --John Adams to John Quincy Adams.