Western Civilization's approach to education for 2500 years has been "classical" in the extended sense, in that it has been based on the study of works of the first rank, those reflections of the greatest minds that have had the most effect on the way humans have lived their lives. Until recently it has also been "classical" in the limited sense, in that it has given particular emphasis to the principal works of Greek and Latin authors, those that have been most formative in shaping the reflections of their successors, whether poets or theologians, philosophers or statesmen. "Classical" in the extended sense describes the University's core curriculum; "classical" in the limited sense describes the curriculum of the Classics Department. We look on Classics as still having its traditional role at the heart of a university education, and in this view we are supported by the core curriculum of the University of Dallas, which puts great emphasis on classical authors, and by many departments in the university which encourage their own students to learn classical languages or which join with us in offering double majors in Classics and, for example, English or Politics or Philosophy.
The function of a classical education has always been threefold: first, to engage the mind in the investigation of revolutionary ideas; second, to train the tongue to speak with power and articulation; third, to fire the imagination with examples of conduct that will guide us in our confrontation with life. The classical authors are sometimes mistakenly supposed to be out of date, but they posed to themselves the problems of the human condition in terms that have not changed, and they found solutions with which we still live, though often unawares. These solutions were radical at the time that they were devised and they remain so, for every generation that recognizes them must begin again by going back to the roots of things. There, the ideas live with the freshness of the first shoots of spring. For each age they blossom forth in language that has repeatedly enchanted the western world, supplying it with paradigms for imitation as well as instruments for analysis. We not only aspire to speak like the ancients, but also to understand our own use of speech, by depending on their grammar, logic, and rhetoric. When we act, we do so within an ethical framework that was given its theoretical form by classical philosophers and its practical substance and color by classical poets and statesmen. Because of its attention to thought and word and deed, classical education has been held up as a model for western civilization, and its utility is no less now than it has ever been. Students who major in Classics, therefore, may apply their training in all the ways that their predecessors have - specifically to work, such as a professional career in law, medicine, public service, the clergy, or teaching, and more generally to life as a whole, since it is this whole to which education will always look in the end.
Besides learning to read the great works of classical antiquity, students of Classics also gain direct access to the Christian tradition, since it was primarily in Greek and Latin that Christian spirituality initially took literary shape, flourished thereafter in the great theologians and poets, and continues to illuminate our lives today.
Background photo: the Roman Forum © 2015 by Rebecca Deitsch, BA '17