Geoff Sumi, Chair

Denise Falk, Academic Department Coordinator

112 Ciruti Center

Overview and Contact Information

The discipline of classics comprises the study of the language, literature, history, culture, and society of the Greeks and Romans and of the ancient Mediterranean world from about the eighth century BCE to the fifth century of our own era. Literary genres (such as epic poetry, drama, and historiography), political institutions and ideals (such as democracy and free speech), as well as principles of philosophy and science are all part of the rich legacy that the ancient Greeks and Romans bequeathed to western Europe. Many of their ideas and institutions were consciously revived in the Renaissance and Enlightenment and remain with us today.

Classics combines the study of both ancient Greek and Latin with courses in ancient history, art, philosophy, politics, and religion. The department therefore offers courses in the ancient languages at all levels as well as a wide array of courses (taught in English) approaching the culture and history of Greek and Roman antiquity from a variety of perspectives.

In addition to classics, the department offers majors in Greek, Latin, and ancient studies. Ancient studies approaches Greek and Roman civilizations from an interdisciplinary perspective with less emphasis on the ancient languages. There are also minors related to each of these majors.

Study Abroad

The department encourages study abroad. In recent years a number of students in the department have spent part of their junior year at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies (ICCS) in Rome. Some have pursued their studies at Oxford, Saint Andrews, and other institutions in United Kingdom. College Year in Athens also offers one-semester programs in Greece. Students who anticipate taking an advanced degree in archaeology, ancient art history, ancient history, or classics can apply to summer sessions of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

See Also

Learning Goals

Learning goals for students of classics and ancient studies are:

  • To analyze critically ancient Greek and Roman texts, in their original languages and in translation, within their literary, philosophical, and historical contexts.

  • To understand major monuments and artifacts within their historical and cultural settings; to develop a visual literacy of ancient art and sharpen the ability to see and express what one sees.

  • To imagine fully and creatively ancient cultural communities when relying on limited written and material remains.

  • To deepen the understanding of current problems by studying the responses of ancient Greeks and Romans to questions about the human condition, including, how to live well, and how to govern. 

  • To write and speak more confidently and effectively, and to develop well-reasoned arguments using primary evidence and/or secondary material, including print and digital resources.

  • To expand intellectual breadth through studying the ancient Greek and Roman worlds through different disciplines and modes of inquiry.


This area of study is administered by the Department of Classics and Italian. Classics faculty include:

Paula Debnar, Professor of Classics on the Alumnae Foundation

Geoffrey Sumi, Professor of Classics

Bruce Arnold, Associate Professor of Classics

Catherine Baker, Visiting Lecturer in Classics

Requirements for the Major

A minimum of 40 credits:

At least 8 credits in Greek at the 200 level or above8
At least 8 credits in Latin at the 200 level or above8
12 credits at the 300 level in Greek or Latin12
At least 8 additional credits at the 300 level in approved coursework 18
At least 4 additional credits at the 200 level or above in approved coursework 14
Total Credits40

After consulting with the student's advisor, a major may choose from a variety of related courses in art history, Asian studies, classics (in English), history, politics, or religion at the 200 level or above. Courses at the 100 level do not count toward the major.

Additional Specifications

  • Students anticipating graduate work in classics should begin the study of both Greek and Latin as soon as possible.
  • Students who declare a classics major automatically fulfill the College’s “outside the major” requirement.

Requirements for the Minor

A minimum of 16 credits:

4 credits from Greek or Latin at the 100 or 200 level4
8 credits from Greek or Latin at the 200 or 300 level8
4 credits from Greek or Latin at the 300 level4
Total Credits16

Additional Specifications

  • The minor must include courses in both Greek and Latin.

Teacher Licensure

Students interested in pursuing licensure in the fields of Latin and classics can combine their course work in Latin and classics with a minor in education. In some instances course work in the major coincides with course work required for licensure; in other cases, it does not. For specific course requirements for licensure within the majors of Latin and classics, please consult your advisor or the chair of the classics department. Further information about the minor in education and the Teacher Licensure program is available in other sections of the catalog, or consult Sarah Frenette in the psychology and education department.

Licensure also requires a formal application as well as passing scores on the Massachusetts Test of Educator Licensure (MTEL) in both the literacy component and the subject matter component. Copies of the test objectives for the MTEL are available in the classics department and in the Department of Psychology and Education.

Additional information about the Licensure Program, including application materials, can be found on the Teacher Licensure Program website.

Course Offerings

CLASS-205 Cleopatra: The Not Humble Woman

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

In this course Cleopatra will be considered both as a political figure of importance in her own right and also as an enemy queen, representing a presumptuous challenge to the political hegemony and cultural values of the Romans. She may serve, therefore, as a lens through which one may view social and political tensions within Roman society over the nature of authority and empire. Readings include Vergil, Horace, Propertius, Lucan, Caesar, Sallust, Plutarch and the plays of Shakespeare and Shaw, where she is ambivalently portrayed as a woman who desires power or, contrariwise, as a romantic idealist who scorns temporal powers in fulfillment of private desires.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
B. Arnold
Notes: Taught in English.

CLASS-211 Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek and Roman Myth

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

We will accompany Odysseus on his return from Troy, retrieve the Golden Fleece with Jason, and race with Ovid through his witty -- and often troubling -- retelling of Greek myths from a Roman perspective. This course examines how Greek and Roman authors and artists from very different periods used myth to explore questions about life, art and politics. Works may include: Homer, Odyssey; Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica; Ovid, Metamorphoses and Heroides; Greek tragedy, and ancient images representing myths.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
P. Debnar
Restrictions: This course is limited to first-years and sophomores.
Advisory: Juniors and seniors should contact the professor for permission.
Notes: Taught in English. Optional screenings of films related to ancient myth.

CLASS-212 Greek Tragedy, American Drama, and Film

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

The Greeks, beginning with Homer, saw the world from an essentially tragic perspective. The searing question of why human societies and the human psyche repeatedly break down in tragic ruin and loss, particularly in the conflicts of war and in the betrayal of personal bonds of love and friendship, fascinated them as it still does us. The most consistent themes that emerged from such examination are the tragedy of self-knowledge and illusion, the tragedy of desire, the tragedy of crime and redemption, and tragedy as a protest against social injustice. This course examines the critical influence of the three most important Athenian dramatists, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, on the works of Nobel winner Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and important filmmakers, who have tried to recreate the powerful atmosphere and impact of the Greek tragic theater or reworked the tragic themes of classical myth for their own purposes in the modern age.

Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
Other Attribute(s): Writing-Intensive
B. Arnold

CLASS-226 Bread and Circuses: The Politics of Public Entertainment in Ancient Rome

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Bread and circuses (panem et circenses) was a catchphrase in the Roman empire that described the political strategy of controlling an unruly populace through free bread and public entertainment. Against a backdrop of Roman social and political institutions, this course focuses on the imperial ideology, aristocratic ethos, and cultural practices that underpinned this catchphrase, as well as questions concerning the careers of entertainers--gladiators, charioteers, and actors--who were at once celebrities and social outcasts; the rules of spectatorship at the games; the use of these games as a form of social control; and the logistics of feeding the city population.

Crosslisted as: HIST-226
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi

CLASS-227 Ancient Greece

Fall. Credits: 4

This course will trace the emergence and expansion of Greek civilization in the Mediterranean between the Bronze Age and Alexander the Great. Among themes to be explored are political structures, trade, slavery, gender relations, and religion, as well as the contributions of ancient Greeks to literary genres (drama, rhetoric, historiography, philosophy) and to the visual arts. Throughout we will consider how the history of the ancient Greeks can speak to modern concerns. Sources will include works of ancient Greek literature and history (e.g., Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, Plutarch) as well as archaeological and epigraphic evidence.

Crosslisted as: HIST-227
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi

CLASS-228 Ancient Rome

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Ancient Rome and its empire can be viewed both as a measure of human achievement and a cautionary tale of the corrupting effects of unbridled power. This course covers the history of Ancient Rome from its mythologized beginnings (753 BCE) to the rise and spread of Christianity under the Emperor Constantine (312 CE). Topics include the creation and development of Rome's republican form of government as well as its eventual transition to monarchy, the causes and consequences of the acquisition of empire, the role of the army in administering the provinces and defending the frontiers, the image of emperor, the economy, and religion.

Crosslisted as: HIST-228
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi

CLASS-229 The Tyrant and Gladiator: Bad Roman Emperors from Caligula to Commodus

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

Caligula was a god (or so he thought); Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Commodus dressed as a gladiator and fought man and beast in the arena. The history of the Roman empire is replete with scandalous stories about eccentric and even insane emperors whose reigns raise questions about the nature of the emperor's power and his role in administering the empire. In this course a close study of Roman imperial biography and historiography--the source of so many of these stories of bad emperors--will be weighed against documentary and archaeological evidence in order to reveal the dynamic between the emperor, his court, and his subjects that was fundamental to the political culture of imperial Rome.

Crosslisted as: HIST-229
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
G. Sumi

CLASS-239 Topics in Classics

CLASS-239GR Topics in Classics: 'Greek Art and Archaeology'

Spring. Credits: 4

This course provides an introduction to the art and archaeology of the ancient Greeks. Through a chronological survey of monuments, sites, and artifacts, this course examines the major developments in Greek art, architecture, and archaeology from the Bronze Age (3rd millennium BCE) through the rise of Athens and Classical Art, the victories of Alexander the Great, and finally the conquest of Greece by Rome. We will explore how Greek material culture, from tombs and temples to pots and sculpture, can help us to better understand the histories, lives, politics, rituals, and identities of those living in the ancient Greek world.

Crosslisted as: ARTH-290GR
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
C. Baker

CLASS-239PE Topics in Classics: 'Pompeii and the Archaeology of Daily Life in the Roman World'

Fall and Spring. Credits: 4

In 79 CE, the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, preserving them for future rediscovery. This course examines the unparalleled evidence for Roman daily life that archaeologists have uncovered at these sites since the start of excavation in the 1700s -- including everything from public art and architecture to domestic spaces, farms, tombs, shops, graffiti, and even sewers. Through a thorough exploration of these sites, we will consider how individuals lived, worked, and died in the Roman world, and how the study of archaeology and the ancient world has evolved since the earliest excavations.

Crosslisted as: ARTH-290PE
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
C. Baker

CLASS-242 Sicily: Crossroads of the Mediterranean

Spring. Credits: 4

Its long history as the locus of collisions among cultures -- Greek, Roman, Arab, Norman, Spanish, and (northern) Italian -- has earned Sicily a special place in Mediterranean studies. One product of these clashes is that for millennia Sicilians have confronted questions of identity. More recently, because of immigration waves from North Africa, Sicily is once again at the center of the Mediterranean cultural debate. This course will cover almost three thousand years of Sicilian life, as we explore the role of material culture and literature in shaping Sicilian identities. Readings (with related films) may include selections from such authors as Virgil, and Ovid; Ibn Hawkal and Al-Idrisi; Lampedusa, Pirandello, Giordana, and Maraini.

Crosslisted as: ITAL-242
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
P. Debnar, O. Frau
Notes: Taught in English

CLASS-253 The Spartans: Myth and History

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

In contrast to democratic Athens, oligarchic Sparta was renowned for its secrecy and skillful use of propaganda. Thus, it presents difficult challenges for historical study. In this course we will try to peer behind the "Spartan mirage" to determine how much the Spartans really differed from other ancient Greeks. We will then try to understand the use of Spartans as models for later polities and for groups like the Nazis and Alt-right. Topics: government, education, and citizenship; the role of women, eugenics, and slavery; the use and misuse of the image of Sparta. Readings will include Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plutarch, and modern scholarship on specific topics.

Crosslisted as: HIST-253SP
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
P. Debnar
Notes: With permission of the instructor, this course may be taken by juniors and seniors for 300-level credit in Classics.

CLASS-260 Knowing God

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course examines the following key texts from the ancient world that treat significantly the problem of knowing God and the mystery enveloping such knowledge: Sophocles' Oedipus the King, Plato's Phaedo, Cicero's Concerning the Nature of the Gods, Job, Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and others. Attention is also given to the different ways of thinking about the divine and human natures in these works, which are broadly reflective of Graeco-Roman and Judaeo-Christian value systems.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-225KG
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
B. Arnold

CLASS-262 Kingdoms Human and Divine

Spring. Credits: 4

How political authority is wielded is a theme of some of the greatest works in the Greco-Roman philosophical tradition: Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics, and Augustine's City of God. Authority exercised well gives rise to good order and human flourishing, but abusive authority results in the opposite: injustice, conflict, and ultimately destructive violence. In this course we will compare how these philosophers addressed the problem of political authority in the human realm with the theme of the kingdom of God in the Bible, especially as found in The Gospel of Matthew and The Book of Revelation.

Crosslisted as: RELIG-225KH
Applies to requirement(s): Humanities
B. Arnold

CLASS-295 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 4

The department
Instructor permission required.

CLASS-395 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 8

The department
Instructor permission required.

Courses in Other Departments Counting toward the Major and Minor in Classics

Art History
ARTH-290GRIssues in Art History: 'Greek Art and Archaeology'4
ARTH-290PEIssues in Art History: 'Pompeii and the Archaeology of Daily Life in the Roman World'4
CLASS-205Cleopatra: The Not Humble Woman4
CLASS-211Gods and Mortals: Ancient Greek and Roman Myth4
CLASS-212Greek Tragedy, American Drama, and Film4
CLASS-226Bread and Circuses: The Politics of Public Entertainment in Ancient Rome4
CLASS-227Ancient Greece4
CLASS-228Ancient Rome4
CLASS-229The Tyrant and Gladiator: Bad Roman Emperors from Caligula to Commodus4
CLASS-239GRTopics in Classics: 'Greek Art and Archaeology'4
CLASS-239PETopics in Classics: 'Pompeii and the Archaeology of Daily Life in the Roman World'4
CLASS-242Sicily: Crossroads of the Mediterranean4
CLASS-253The Spartans: Myth and History4
CLASS-260Knowing God4
CLASS-262Kingdoms Human and Divine4
CLASS-295Independent Study1-4
CLASS-395Independent Study1-8
GREEK-101Elementary Greek: Homer's Iliad4
GREEK-102Elementary Greek: Homer's Iliad4
GREEK-250Intermediate Greek Tutorial2-4
GREEK-350Advanced Greek Tutorial2-4
HIST-226Bread and Circuses: The Politics of Public Entertainment in Ancient Rome4
HIST-227Ancient Greece4
HIST-228Ancient Rome4
HIST-229The Tyrant and the Gladiator: Bad Roman Emperors from Caligula to Commodus4
HIST-253SPTopics in History: 'The Spartans: Myth and History'4
ITAL-242Sicily: Crossroads of the Mediterranean4
LATIN-101Elementary Latin I4
LATIN-102Elementary Latin II4
LATIN-201Intermediate Latin I4
LATIN-202Cicero and the Enemies of the Roman Republic4
LATIN-209Vergil: Aeneid4
LATIN-213Myth, Memory, and History: Writing the Past in the Roman Republic4
LATIN-250Intermediate Latin Tutorial2-4
LATIN-302Cicero and the Enemies of the Roman Republic4
LATIN-307The Slender Muse4
LATIN-309Vergil: Aeneid4
LATIN-310Ovid: Metamorphoses4
LATIN-313Myth, Memory, and History: Writing the Past in the Roman Republic4
PHIL-201Philosophical Foundations of Western Thought: The Greek Period4
RELIG-225KGTopics in Religion: 'Knowing God'4
RELIG-225KHTopics in Religion: 'Kingdoms Human and Divine'4