Classics facts for kids

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Homeros Caetani Louvre Ma440 n2
Bust of Homer, the ancient Greek epic poet

Classics or Classical Studies is the study of classical antiquity. It encompasses the study of the Greco-Roman world, particularly of its languages, and literature (Ancient Greek and Classical Latin) but also it encompasses the study of Greco-Roman philosophy, history, and archaeology. Traditionally in the West, the study of the Greek and Roman classics was considered one of the cornerstones of the humanities and a necessary part of a rounded education. It has been traditionally a cornerstone of a typical elite education.

Etymology

The word Classics is derived from the Latin adjective classicus, meaning "belonging to the highest class of citizens". The word was originally used to describe the members of the highest class in ancient Rome. By the 2nd century AD the word was used in literary criticism to describe writers of the highest quality.

History

Middle Ages

Catullus, Itally
The Roman poet Catullus was virtually unknown during the medieval period, in contrast to his modern popularity.

In the Middle Ages, classics and education were tightly intertwined, there is no era in history in which the link was tighter. Medieval education taught students to imitate earlier classical models, and Latin continued to be the language of scholarship and culture.

Renaissance

The Renaissance led to the increasing study of both ancient literature and ancient history, as well as a revival of classical styles of Latin. From the 14th century, first in Italy and then increasingly across Europe, Renaissance Humanism, an intellectual movement that "advocated the study and imitation of classical antiquity", developed.

Neoclassicism

The late 17th and 18th centuries are the period in Western European literary history which is most associated with the classical tradition, as writers consciously adapted classical models. Classical models were so highly prized that the plays of William Shakespeare were rewritten along neoclassical lines, and these "improved" versions were performed throughout the 18th century.

19th century

The 19th century saw the influence of the classical world, and the value of a classical education, decline, especially in the US, where the subject was often criticized for its elitism. Though the influence of classics as the dominant mode of education in Europe and North America was in decline in the 19th century, the discipline was rapidly evolving in the same period. Its scope was also broadening: it was during the 19th century that ancient history and classical archaeology began to be seen as part of Classics, rather than separate disciplines.

20th century to present

During the 20th century, the study of classics became less common. In England, for instance, Oxford and Cambridge universities stopped requiring students to have qualifications in Greek in 1920, and in Latin at the end of the 1950's. When the National Curriculum was introduced in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1988, it did not mention the classics. By 2003, only about 10% of state schools in Britain offered any classical subjects to their students at all.

Sub-disciplines

One of the most notable characteristics of the modern study of Classics is the diversity of the field. Although traditionally focused on ancient Greece and Rome, the study now encompasses the entire ancient Mediterranean world, thus expanding the studies to Northern Africa as well as parts of the Middle East.

Philology

Friedrich August Wolf - Imagines philologorum
The eighteenth-century classicist Freidrich August Wolf was the author of Prolegomena to Homer, one of the first great works of classical philology.

Philology is the study of language preserved in written sources; classical philology is thus concerned with understanding any texts from the classical period written in the classical languages of Latin and Greek.

Archaeology

Lion Gate Mykene with Wilhelm Dörpfeld and Heinrich Schliemann
Schliemann and Dörpfeld's excavation at Mycenae was one of the earliest excavations in the field of classical archaeology.

Classical archaeology is the oldest branch of archaeology, with its roots going back to the 1760's. It was not until the last decades of the 19th century, however, that classical archaeology became part of the tradition of Western classical scholarship.

Art history

Some art historians focus their study on the development of art in the classical world. Indeed, the art and architecture of Ancient Rome and Greece is very well regarded and remains at the heart of much of our art today.

Ancient history

With philology, archaeology, and art history, scholars seek understanding of the history and culture of a civilization, in order to compose and establish a continual historic narrative of the Ancient World and its peoples.

Philosophy

The English word "philosophy" comes from the Greek word φιλοσοφία, meaning "love of wisdom", probably coined by Pythagoras. Along with the word itself, the discipline of philosophy as we know it today has its roots in ancient Greek thought, and according to Martin West "philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation". Ancient philosophy was traditionally divided into three branches: logic, physics, and ethics.

Classical Greece

Ancient Greece was the civilization belonging to the period of Greek history lasting from the Archaic period, beginning in the eighth century BC, to the Roman conquest of Greece. The Classical period, during the fifth and fourth centuries BC, has traditionally been considered the height of Greek civilization. The Classical period of Greek history is generally considered to have begun with at the start of the Greco-Persian wars, and to have ended with the death of Alexander the Great.

Classical Greek culture had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of the Mediterranean region and Europe; thus Classical Greece is generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western civilization.

Language

AncientGreekDialects (Woodard) en
Map showing the regional dialects of Greek during the Classical period

Ancient Greek was the language of classical Athenian historians, playwrights, and philosophers. It has contributed many words to the vocabulary of English and many other European languages, and has been a standard subject of study in Western educational institutions since the Renaissance. Latinized forms of Ancient Greek roots are used in many of the scientific names of species and in other scientific terminology.

Literature

The earliest surviving works of Greek literature are epic poetry. The earliest to survive to us were probably composed in the eighth century BC. These early epics were oral compositions, created without the use of writing. Around the same time, the Greek alphabet was introduced; the earliest surviving inscriptions date from around 750 BC.

Mythology and religion

Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece. Modern scholars refer to the myths and study them in an attempt to throw light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece and its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.

Philosophy

Praeneste fibula
The Praeneste fibula is believed to bear the oldest known Latin inscription. The inscription means "Manius made me for Numerius".
Socrates Louvre
So influential was Socrates to classical philosophy that earlier philosophers are today known as pre-Socratics.

The earliest surviving philosophy from ancient Greece dates back to the 6th century BC. Greek philosophy dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, and logic, as well as disciplines which are not today thought of as part of philosophy, such as biology and rhetoric.


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