Why Study the Classics?

Plato meditating on immortality before Socrates

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While the ancient world may seem remote and quite divorced from the problems of the present, the study of Ancient History can help students make sense of the world as it is today. The nature and impact of various cultural and religious developments, the responses of societies to complex social and economic challenges, the issues of justice, discrimination and violence were as much part of the ancient world as they are of ours.

-University of Sydney: Why Do History? (www.arts.usyd.edu.au/Arts/departs/anchistory)

Eye Opening

Sometimes we wear blinders that prevent us from seeing what goes on around us. A parable or fable can gently pry open our eyes. So can a story from history.


When we read about the ancient customs, we can't help but compare our responses to those exhibited by our ancestors. In seeing the ancient reactions we learn how society has evolved.

Pater Familias and Enslavement

It's difficult to read about ancient enslavement without seeing it through the eyes of the not so distant practice in the American South, yet by examining the ancient institution closely, we see major differences.

Enslaved people were part of the general familia, could earn money to buy their freedom, and like everyone else, subject to the will of the head of the family ( pater familias).

Imagine a father of today ordering his son to marry the woman of his father's choice or adopting out his son for the sake of political ambition.​

Religion and Philosophy

Until recently in the West, Christianity provided a moral rubber band holding everyone in place. Today the principles of Christianity are challenged. Just because it says so in the Ten Commandments is no longer enough. Where should we now hunt for unalterable truths? The ancient philosophers who fretted over the same questions that plague us today and reached answers that should hold sway with even the most devout atheists. Not only do they provide lucid ethical arguments, but many of the self-improvement, pop-psychology books are based on Stoic and Epicurean philosophy.

Psychoanalysis and Greek Tragedy

For more serious, psychoanalytical problems, what better source than the original Oedipus?

Business Ethics

For those in a family business, Hammurabi's law code tells what should happen to a shortchanging shopkeeper. Many principles of today's law come from antiquity. The Greeks had jury trials. The Romans had defenders.


Politics, too, has changed little. Democracy was an experiment in Athens. The Romans saw its flaws and adopted a Republican form. The founders of the United States took elements from each. Monarchy is still alive and has been for millennia. Tyrants still wield too much power.


To stave off political corruption, property qualifications were required of politicians in antiquity. Today, to stave off corruption, property qualifications are disallowed. Regardless of property qualifications, bribery has had a time-honored underhand in the political process.

Greek Mythology

Studying the Classics lets you learn the fascinating myths of the ancient Greeks and Romans in their original with all the nuances of the language that are missed in translation.​

The history of ancient societies and cultures, which are at the same time mysteriously alien and hauntingly familiar, is intrinsically fascinating. Who has not wanted to learn about antiquity or from it?

-University of Sydney: Why Do History? (www.arts.usyd.edu.au/Arts/departs/anchistory)

You can read about fantastic adventures, feats of daring, and places highly colored by imagination. If you want to write and have a spark of C.S. Lewis' genius [see his essay "On Three Ways of Writing for Children"], ancient myths may produce new stories in you.

If you're tired of watered down, politically corrected television, fairy and nursery tales, the real stuff is still there in classical legend—brave heroes, damsels in distress, monster slayings, battles, cunning, beauty, rewards for virtue, and song.


  • Latin—The language of the Romans, Latin, is the basis for modern Romance languages. It is a language of poetry and rhetoric, a logical language still used in medicine and science when the need arises for a new technical term. What's more, knowing Latin will help with English grammar and should improve your general reading vocabulary, which, in turn, will increase your scores on the College Boards.
  • Greek—The "other" Classical language, is likewise used in science, literature, and rhetoric. It is the language in which the first philosophers wrote their poetry. Subtle semantic distinctions between Greek and Latin led to controversies in the early Christian Church which still affect organized Christianity today.

Translation Problems

If you can read the Classical languages you can read nuances that can't be conveyed in translation. Especially in poetry, it is misleading to call the interpretive rendering into English of the original a translation.

Showing Off

If nothing else, you can always study Latin or Ancient Greek to impress. These no longer spoken languages require hard work and show dedication.

More Reasons to Study Classics

Ancient History is a fascinating area of study, rich in wonderful stories of human endeavor, achievement, and disaster. The history of humankind from the very earliest times is part of everyone's heritage and the study of the subject Ancient History ensures that this heritage is not lost.

Ancient History.... not only broadens perspectives, but it also provides the transferable skills in analysis, interpretation, and persuasion which are sought by high-level employers in the public and the private sector.

-University of Sydney: Why Do History? (www.arts.usyd.edu.au/Arts/departs/anchistory)

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Gill, N.S. "Why Study the Classics?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/why-study-classics-119108. Gill, N.S. (2023, April 5). Why Study the Classics? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-study-classics-119108 Gill, N.S. "Why Study the Classics?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-study-classics-119108 (accessed June 9, 2023).