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Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterraneanmarker World; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity (Bronze Age ca. BC 3000 – Dark Ages ca. AD 500). Initially, study of the Classics (the period’s literature) was the principal study in the humanities. Traditionally, the Classics studied the Mediterranean civilizations of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Contemporary classicists may include Orientalist scholars, whose research is concerned with Eastern Mediterranean civilisations.

History of the Western Classics

The word “classics” derives from the Latin adjective classicus: “belonging to the highest class of citizens”, connoting superiority, authority, and perfection. The first application of “Classic” to a writer was by Aulus Gellius, a second-century Roman writer who, in the miscellany Noctes Atticae (19, 8, 15), refers to a writer as a Classicus scriptor, non proletarius (“A distinguished, not a commonplace writer”). Such classification began with the Greeks’ ranking their cultural works, with the word canon (“carpenter’s rule”). Moreover, early Christian Church Fathers used canon to rank the authoritative texts of the New Testament, preserving them, given the expense of vellum and papyrus and mechanical book reproduction, thus, being comprehended in a canon ensured a book’s preservation as the best of a civilisation. Contemporarily, the Western canon defines the best of Western culture. In the ancient world, at the Alexandrian Library, scholars coined the Greek term Hoi enkrithentes (“the admitted”, “the included”) to identify the writers in the canon.

The method of study in the Classical World was “Philo’s Rule”: μεταχάραττε τὸ θεῖον νόμισμα —the law of strict continuity in preserving words and ideas. Although the definitions of words and ideas might broaden, continuity (preservation) requires retention of their original arete (excellence, virtue, goodness). “Philo’s Rule” imparts intellectual and æsthetic appreciation of “the best which has been thought and said in the world”. To wit, Oxford classicist Edward Copleston 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”, thus concurring with Cicero that: “All literature, all philosophical treatises, all the voices of antiquity are full of examples for imitation, which would all lie unseen in darkness without the light of literature”.

Legacy of the Classical World

The Classical languages of the Ancient Mediterranean world influenced every European language, imparting to each a learned vocabulary of international application, thus, Latin was the international lingua franca in matters diplomatic, scientific, philosophic, and religious, until the seventeenth century. In turn, the Classical languages continued, Latin evolved into the Romance languages and Ancient Greek into Modern Greek and its dialects. Moreover, it is in the specialised science and technology vocabularies that the Latin influence in English and the Greek influence in English are notable, however, it is Ecclesiastical Latin, the Roman Catholic Church’s official tongue, that remains a living legacy of the classical world to the contemporary world.

Sub-disciplines within the classics

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 their studies to Northern Africa and parts of the Middle East.

Philology

Traditionally, classics was essentially the philology of ancient texts. Although now less dominant, philology retains a central role. One definition of classical philology describes it as "the science which concerns itself with everything that has been transmitted from antiquity in the Greek or Latin language. The object of this science is thus the Graeco-Roman, or Classical, world to the extent that it has left behind monuments in a linguistic form." Of course, classicists also concern themselves with other languages than Classical Greek and Latin including Linear A, Linear B, Sanskrit, Hebrew, Oscan, Etruscanmarker, and many more. Before the invention of the printing press, texts were reproduced by hand and distributed haphazardly. As a result, extant versions of the same text often differ from one another. Some classical philologists, known as textual critics, seek to synthesize these defective texts to find the most accurate version.

Archaeology

Classical archæology is the investigation of the physical remains of the great Mediterranean civilizations of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. The archæologists’ field, laboratory, library, and documentation work make available the extant literary and linguistic cultural artefacts to the field’s sub-disciplines, such as Philology. Like-wise, archæologists rely upon the philology of ancient literatures in establishing historic contexts among the classic-era remains of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.

Art history

Some art historians focus their study of the development of art on 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. For example, Ancient Greek architecture gave us the Classical Orders: Doric order, Ionic order, and Corinthian order. The Parthenonmarker is still the architectural symbol of the classical world.

Greek sculpture is well known and we know the names of several Ancient Greek artists: for example, Phidias.

Civilization and history

With philology, archæology, and art history, scholars seek understanding of the history and culture of a civilisation, through critical study of the extant literary and physical artefacts, in order to compose and establish a continual historic narrative of the Ancient World and its peoples. The task is difficult, given the dearth of physical evidence; for example, Spartamarker was a leading Greek city-state, yet little evidence of it survives to study, and what is available comes from Athensmarker, Sparta’s principal rival; like-wise, the Roman Empire destroyed most evidence (cultural artefacts) of earlier, conquered civilizations, such as that of the Etruscansmarker.

Philosophy

Pythagoras coined the word philosophy (“love of wisdom”), the work of the “Philosopher” who seeks understanding of the world as it is, thus, most classics scholars know that the roots of Western philosophy originate in Greek philosophy, the works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics.

Classical Greece

Greek Philosophy Greek Mythology and religion Greek Science Greek History Greek Literature Greek Language


Classical Rome

Roman Philosophy Roman mythology and religion Roman Science Roman History Roman Literature Latin Language
Astrology/Astronomy


Famous Classicists

Throughout the history of the Western world, many classicists have gone on to gain acknowledgment outside the field. Most other pre-20th century Oxfordmarker playwrights, poets and English scholars studied Classics before English studies became a course in its own right.

Modern Quotations About

  • "Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd but leads not infrequently to positions of considerable emolument."

    Thomas Gaisford, Christmas sermon, Christ Church, Oxfordmarker.
  • "I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat."

    Sir Winston Churchill, Roving Commission: My Early Life
  • "He studied Latin like the violin, because he liked it."

    Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man
  • "I enquire now as to the genesis of a philologist and assert the following: 1. A young man cannot possibly know what the Greeks and Romans are. 2. He does not know whether he is suited for finding out about them."

    Friedrich Nietzsche, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen
  • "I doubt whether classical education ever has been or can be successfully carried out without corporal punishment."

    George Orwell
  • "It's economically illiterate. A degree in Classics or Philosophy can be as valuable as anything else."

    Boris Johnson


See also





Notes

References

Dictionaries

  • Biographical Dictionary of North American Classicists by Ward W. Briggs, Jr. (editor). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994 (hardcover, ISBN 0-313-24560-6).
  • Classical Scholarship: A Biographical Encyclopedia (Garland Reference Library of the Humanities) by Ward W. Briggs and William M. Calder III (editors). New York: Taylor & Francis, 1990 (hardcover, ISBN 0-8240-8448-9).
  • Dictionary of British classicists, 1500–1960 ed. Robert B. Todd (General editor). Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004 (ISBN 1-85506-997-0).
  • An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology, edited by Nancy Thomson de Grummond. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996 (hardcover, ISBN 0-313-22066-2; ISBN 0-313-30204-9 (A–K); ISBN 0-313-30205-7 (L–Z)).
  • Harper's Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities, ed. by Harry Thurston Peck. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896; 2nd ed., 1897; New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1965.
  • Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 (hardcover, ISBN 1-57392-826-7).
  • The New Century Classical Handbook, ed. by Catherine B. Avery. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962.
  • The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, revised 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003 (ISBN 0-19-860641-9).
  • The Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. by M.C. Howatson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.


Miscellanea

  • Beard, Mary; Henderson, John. Classics: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995 (paperback, ISBN 0-19-285313-9); 2000 (new edition, paperback, ISBN 0-19-285385-6).
  • Briggs, Ward W.; Calder, III, William M. Classical scholarship: A biographical encyclopedia (Garland reference library of the humanities). London: Taylor & Francis, 1990 (ISBN 0-8240-8448-9).
  • Forum: Class and Classics:
    • Krevans, Nita. "Class and Classics: A Historical Perspective," The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), p. 293.
    • Moroney, Siobhan. "Latin, Greek and the American Schoolboy: Ancient Languages and Class Determinism in the Early Republic", The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), pp. 295–307.
    • Harrington Becker, Trudy. "Broadening Access to a Classical Education: State Universities in Virginia in the Nineteenth Century", The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), pp. 309–322.
    • Bryce, Jackson. "Teaching the Classics", The Classical Journal, Vol. 96, No. 3. (2001), pp. 323–334.
  • Knox, Bernard. The Oldest Dead White European Males, And Other Reflections on the Classics. New York; London: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993.
  • Macrone, Michael. Brush Up Your Classics. New York: Gramercy Books, 1991. (Guide to famous words, phrases and stories of Greek classics.)
  • Nagy, Péter Tibor. "The meanings and functions of classical studies in Hungary in the 18th–20th century", in The social and political history of Hungarian education (ISBN 963-200-511-2).
  • Wellek, René. "Classicism in Literature", in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, ed. by Philip P. Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968.
  • Winterer, Caroline. The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750–1900. Ithaca, NY; London: Cornell University Press, 2007 (hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8014-4163-9).


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