It’s all Greek to me

Charles Myers

When I first arrived at Villanova, I swore that I knew what I would do. I would major in history and political science and finish my degree well ahead of schedule. At first, I thought that it would be easy enough to do, but along the way I discovered – to my frustration and joy – that I had other interests, one of which is classical studies.

So, rather than subjecting you to a political story, I thought that I would ask a question of you all: why aren’t more of you classics majors?

It is nearly impossible to find a political science major on this campus who isn’t thinking about attending law school, and it is nearly impossible to find a pre-law student who isn’t terrified of the LSATs – in spite of the fact that Classics students remain among the highest scoring on the LSAT of all humanities majors. In fact, the Princeton Review has observed that “Classics majors have the highest success rates of any majors in law school.” Those of you considering going to graduate school should also consider majoring in classics. What, you think that it’s an accident that classics majors routinely dominate the verbal and analytical sections of the GRE exam?

But these self-interested considerations aside, you should study the Classics for a different reason: it is fun. Not right away, and I will admit that learning – OK, I’ll be honest, attempting to learn – Greek has been one of the most difficult things anyone has ever asked me to do academically in my life. But at the same time, the writings I was translating were much more fun than anything I ever read in Intro Italian.

In Intro Greek, I got to read Xerxes and the Helmsman – a selection from Herodotus in which Xerxes orders his men to jump overboard during a squall so that the ship is lightened. Herodotus – with good reason – doubts the validity of this story, but you have to concede that it makes for more interesting reading material than what the other Intro language classes offer.

We should simply face the facts and accept the truth. Reading about mandatory self-sacrifice is just more interesting than about Carlo’s trip to the train station in Rome or Diego’s adventures in the kitchen.

However classical studies is not just an experience in language learning. Learning the languages (yes, there are two main ones, and yes, I would rather forget that Latin existed) is only the beginning. Classics is more than that. It is an experience in learning about history, philosophy, literature and art. In addition to learning (and then later forgetting) all the nifty little grammatical points that your high school English teachers neglected to inform you of, you get to immerse yourself in the study of problems as relevant today as they were when they were written about.

The times have changed, but many of the questions that plagued Ancient Greece and Rome remain today. Questions like “Should wars of choice be fought?” and “Is law more easily circumvented by the rich than the poor?” will keep cropping up, and it might be prudent to learn about their origins.

Finally, if you still need another reason, just think of how much fun it is to dismiss bad readings for other classes with the phrase, “???? ??????? ???? ?????.”


Charles Myers is a junior political science, history and philosophy triple major from Elkins Park, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].