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Classics, particularly within the Western University tradition, when used as a singular noun, means the study of the language, literature, history, art, and other aspects of Greek and Roman culture during the time frame known as classical antiquity. As a plural noun "classics" can refer to texts written in the ancient Mediterranean world. The study of classics is a primary subject for the humanities, and the people reading classics are sometimes called humanists.

The word is derived from the Latin classicus which literally means "belonging to the highest class of citizens". Furthermore, its meaning intimates "superiority, authority and even perfection". "Classicus occurs first in Aulus Gellius, a Roman author of the second century A. D. who in his miscellany Noctes Atticae (19, 8, 15) refers to classicus scriptor, non proletarius. He was ranking writers according to the classification of the Roman taxation classes.

This method was started when the Greeks were constantly ranking their cultural work. The word they used was canon; ancient Greek for a carpenter's rule. Moreover, early Chrisian Church Fathers used this term to classify authoritative texts of the New Testament. This rule further helped in the preservation of works since writing platforms of vellum and papyrus and methods of reproduction was not cheap. The title of canon placed on a work meant that it would be more easily preserved for future generations. In modern times, a Western canon was collated that defined the best of Western culture.

At the Alexandrian Library, the ancient scholars coined another term for canonized authors, hoi enkrithentes; "the admitted" or "the included".

Classical studies incorporate the certain type of methodology. The Rule of the classical world and of Christian culture and society was Philo's rule:

"Philo's rule dominated Greek culture, from Homer to Neo-Platonism and the Christian Fathers of late antiquity. The rule is: "metaxarratte to theion nomisma". It is the law of strict continuity. We preserve and do not throw away words or ideas. Words and ideas may grow in meaning but must stay within the limits of the original meaning and concept that the word has."

Classical education was considered the best training for implanting the life of moral excellence arete (paideia) hence a good citizen. It furnished students with intellectual and aesthetic appreciation for "the best which has been thought and said in the world". Copleston, an Oxford classicist 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". Cicero commented, "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".

Practically every university and college in England and America had a classical department. Classical studies formed the basis for a liberal arts education and were considered necessary for the advancement and preservation of a country's liberty and Western culture. Since the l960's, due to modern cultural attacks and lack of interest, classical departments have been closing.

Classical definition of republic
Greek language, Greek mythology, Greek literature
Greek architecture

Ancient Greek culture is not monolithic: it consists of two completely different strains corresponding to two different peoples: the Ionian and the Dorian.

Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic, Roman Empire
Roman Army
Roman mythology
Latin, Latin literature, Rhetoric


Classics can also mean (typically in non-academic contexts) classic books. In ancient China these might include:

Chinese classic texts
Chinese philosophy

Table of contents
1 Western Classicists
3 See also
4 Bibliography

Western Classicists

Karl Otfried Müller German, Theodor Mommsen, Thomas Tyrwhitt, Pierre Henri Larcher, Ada AdlerDanish, Werner JaegerGerman, Edith HamiltonAmerican, Bernard Knox, (A. E. Taylor), (Gregory Vlastos)


See also


Western Classical Reference Bibliography

Misc. Bibliography