Classical Studies

Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


Classical Studies offers Occidental students the opportunity to study the languages, literature, art, philosophy, history, and cultures of Greece and Rome in a multicultural context. Taken together, the courses address the impact of ancient cultures on later civilizations and draw parallels with non-Western cultures.


Occidental offers a minor in classical studies consisting of five courses taken in at least three different departments, at least one of which must be an original language course in Greek or Latin (Greek 101, 102, 201, Latin 101, 102, or 201). Courses with classical emphasis suitable to the minor are listed below.

To share the resources of faculty and students interested in classical studies, the committee sponsors interdisciplinary colloquia. Students who are interested in creating an Independent Pattern of Study in a topic related to the ancient world should consult with the chair of the committee for advice in constructing a program tailored to their needs.


Ancient & Medieval World

Among the courses offered at Occidental of interest to the student of the ancient and medieval world are the following, below this listing are Clasical Studies courses:

Art History and the Visual Arts

H170. Introduction to Early European Art
H270. Greek Art
H274. Roman Art
H275. Early Christian and Medieval Art
H391. Seminar in Early Western Art

English and Comparative Literary Studies

186. European Literary Traditions
205. The Wake of the Ancient
286. European Literary Traditions
300. Survey of Ancient Greek Literature
303. Genres in Classical Literature
305. Athenian Experience
397. Independent Study: Greek Reading
397. Independent Study: Latin Reading


101. Elementary Greek
102. Elementary Greek
201. Topics in Classical Philology (Greek)
397. Independent Study


121. Europe to 1700
220. Ancient Athens and Renaissance Florence
223. Rise of French Culture
224. Italian Renaissance
226. Age of Encounters
274. Medicine and Disease in Western Society


101. Elementary Latin
102. Elementary and Intermediate Latin
201. Topics in Classical Philology (Latin)
397. Independent Study


205. Introduction to Ancient Thought
300. Topics in Classical Philosophy


251. European Political Thought: From Plato to Machiavelli

Religious Studies

175. The World of the New Testament
190. History of Early Christianity
290. Banned Books: the New Testament Apochrypha
370. Death, Dying, and Afterlife in the Ancient Mediterranean

200 - In Other Wor(l)ds:Lit,Language,Culture Proseminar

A survey of some of the most important movements in modern literary and cultural theory, one that emphasizes the ways in which literature and social systems interact within a given culture, with special attention paid to the way in which the formal elements of language (its syntactic and semantic features, its oral and/or written expression) helps constitute our experience of a literature, a culture, and ourselves. To enhance their understanding of the subtle, ever-variable relations between language, literature, and culture, students will be asked to think through examples from a wide variety of geographic regions and time periods.

202 - Style and Substance: Philosophy and the Arts

How do we make “sense” of art? of literature? of the latest (or earliest) styles of music? Often we try to explain such things in terms of this or that historic, material, or political cause. Such explanations are important, and no doubt useful. They often tend, however, to neglect a certain, basic question: namely, why it is that art can move us so deeply (and just as importantly, why is it that some art fails to move us in any way whatsoever). In this class, we shall attempt to think about (and feel our way towards) a number of different arts, both high and low, in a somewhat different manner--not by relating the “form and content” of art to this or that thing within the world, but by relating them to the question of existence itself, to why or how there is a world in the first place. In other words, beginning with the ancients, we will survey the history of philosophy, and of metaphysics in particular, not for its own sake, but with the special purpose of illuminating, explaining, and ultimately invigorating the history and meaning of art. The study of the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, and the like, might seem far removed from the poetry we enjoy, the music we prefer, the way we want our bodies to look and to feel; yet it shall be the task of this class to test the thesis that, in fact, what the many changes of style that mark the history of the arts most fundamentally signify is (to quote Mircea Eliade) nothing less than a “thirst for being.” Which is just to say that art matters--style itself matters--precisely because it is these things which most directly and pressingly invite us towards ever new ways “to be.” Such is the “sense,” at any rate, that this class shall try to make of the arts in general--beginning with the earliest works of art and philosophy we know, but often reflecting, too, upon those that lie all too near.

204 - Between Desire and Despair: Roman Lit Survey

This course opens with a two-week survey of Roman Republican and Imperial History, and proceeds to survey Roman Literature from Plautus to Seneca, with special emphasis on Roman writers’, orators’, and historians’ reflections on the operations of desire on both the physical body, and the body politic.

205 - Comedy, Philosophy, Romance:Hellenistic Literature

From Romantic Comedy to Sci-Fi, the Hellenistic Age of Ancient Greece--the time following the global conquests of Alexander the Great--saw the invention of many of the literary genres most familiar to us today. In this course, we shall examine the meaning of these genres, both for the societies that invented them, and our own: from romantic comedy to science fiction, biography to anecdote, heart-wringing elegy to the zippy one-liner (among others). Due attention will be paid to the historic context of the literature (the life of Alexander the Great will feature largely in this class), and its intellectual backgrounds (especially as represented in the works of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and Epicureans).

222 - Myth: the Greco-Roman gods

This course is a survey of Greco-Roman myth with a particular focus on the representation, function, and meaning of the gods. Students will study these myths in their original socio-historic contexts but a large portion of the course will be devoted to a historic survey of modern theories of myth. This approach will allow students to appreciate myth’s relation to the various ritual, philosophic, and artistic contexts in which they appear, both in the ancient world and beyond.

292 - Love's Song--A History

In this course we will trace the European history of what we today call "love," from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, and shall do so through a careful examination of the literature that sought to give expression to this ever-changeable and ever-provoking concept: the lyrics of Sappho, the dialogues of Plato, the satirically erotic "technical manuals" of Ovid, the Gospels of Christianity, the troubled Confessions of Augustine, the courtly tales of knights in the Middle Ages, and the great all-encompassing journey of Dante's through heaven and hell in the Divine Comedy. Significant attention will be paid to the way each of these works continues to contribute to our own modern notions of love, in all their ecstatic, heartbreaking, inspiring and frustrating complexity.

303 - Genres in Classical Literature

This course examines the meanings, effects, social contexts and historic development of one of the major Classical genres: epic, lyric, tragedy, comedy, (to name but a few). In 2014-2015, the course will focus on the explosion of new literary genres (romantic comedy, in particular, but also biography, the anecdote, and philosophic dialogue) that followed in the wake of Alexander the Great's conquest of Greece, and the subsequent demise of the autonomous Greek city state. Attention will also be given to the long term effects of these new "Hellenistic" genres on subsequent European literary and cultural history, as it was primarily the Hellenistic sensibility (not the Archaic or Classical) that for the next 2000 years that was understood to be representative of the "Ancient Greek" perspective.


Advisory Committee

Roger Boesche

The Arthur G. Coons Distinguished Professor of the History of Ideas, Politics

B.A., Ph.D., Stanford University

Eric Frank

Professor, Art History & Visual Arts

B.A., Dartmouth College; M.A., Syracuse University; Ph.D., New York University

Debra Freas

Full-Time Non-Tenure Track Associate Professor, Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture; Advisory Committee for Classical Studies Minor

B.A., University of Texas; Ph.D., UC Irvine

Marcia Homiak

Professor, Philosophy

A.B., Mount Holyoke College; Ph.D., Harvard University

Maryanne Horowitz

Professor, History

A.B., Pembroke College, Brown University; M.A.T., Harvard University; M.A., Ph.D., University of Wisconsin

Damian Stocking

Associate Professor, Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture Department

B.A., UC Berkeley; M.A., Ph.D., UCLA

Kristi Upson-Saia

Associate Professor, Religious Studies

B.A., University of Washington; M.Div., Princeton Theol. Sem.; Ph.D., Duke University