The allure of a classics degree

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In 2019, I came to the University of Dallas as a bright-eyed and bushy tailed freshman who could not wait to tear into the meat of a liberal arts education. In the first semester I got the usual assortment of Core classes with Understanding the Bible, Literary Tradition I,  Philosophy and the Ethical Life and Principles of American Politics. For my language credit, although I had taken five years of Latin and four years of Greek in high school, I had decided to take Italian because of the Rome program and because I thought that I had my fill of dead languages. 

All around it was a great semester for me class wise. I had a good representation of all the most important liberal arts classes — or so I thought. As I had progressed through the semester, I kept being asked the same question over and over by almost every new person I met; “What’s your major?”, to which I would give the classic freshman reply, “I’m undecided.” 

All of these interrogators would tell me that I had plenty of time to decide, but my zealous freshman self wanted an answer right there and then. I had indicated an interest in philosophy on my application, and was given the sagacious Dr. Chad Engelland as an advisor, who coincidentally was also my Phil and Eth professor. Long story short, philosophy had won my heart over English, politics and theology, and I declared my major by the end of the semester. 

Fast forward to my Rome semester, and I was having wonderful experiences and encounters, right there in the cradle of western civilization. I was so moved by my experiences that I felt a tug on my heart to return to the languages which I thought I had left behind in high school. 

That very same Rome semester, I emailed Dr. David Sweet, the head of the classics department, and informed him of my desire to become a classics major. I decided that I wanted to double major in classics and philosophy. I was fortunate enough that I was able to go right into upper-level courses because of my high school foundation, and I found myself once again steeped in the beautiful world of classics with all of its grammar rules, figures of rhetoric and historical context. 

By the end of my sophomore year, I had all of the philosophy Core classes under my belt and two upper-level classics courses. The beginning of my junior year brought the meat which I had been waiting for all along: upper-level philosophy classes and advanced Greek grammar and composition. However, as the semester progressed, there grew within me a sort of disillusionment with philosophy, particularly modern and postmodern philosophy. 

The required philosophy class Medieval to Modern really exposed this sentiment to me because I was able to see firsthand the transition from high scholasticism into modern philosophy. This transition seemed to me to be anything but progress. I saw and felt a regression, and Contemporary Philosophical Approaches, the junior-level seminar class, did not do much to reinvigorate my love of philosophy. In the midst of all this disillusionment, while I was trapped in the mire of enlightenment rationalism and empiricism, the answer came and pulled me out of the mud before I sank lower into postmodern nihilism. 

That savior was classics. Never once had I become disillusioned with Latin or Greek. I always enjoyed doing the work for class, and looked forward to class every single day. I realized that Plato and Aristotle are the ones who made me fall in love with philosophy in the first place, so I asked myself, why would I leave them off for philosophers who I was not in love with? 

The classics allowed me to broaden my field of study. It includes not just language, but also history, politics, philosophy, and even theology. It is no wonder that nearly every liberal arts student in the past was required to study these languages. I would encourage every person not to leave them behind like I almost did. 

Classics is the foundation of Western Civilization, and any attempt to reclaim that tradition without proper reverence to the original languages strives to do so in vain, because worldview and language are inherently connected. The way in which one speaks cannot help but affect the way one thinks, since nobody thinks without words.

The goal of this article is not to shame any other major and say that classics is superior, but rather to call attention to a major which needs much more exposure and cheerleading than it currently possesses. If any freshman is undergoing uncertainty in picking a major, let them read this and find the answer, as I did, in studying the classics.

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