Classical Studies

Academic Department Introduction

Classical studies is the first and oldest area of study, exploring ancient Greek and Roman cultures from the second millennium BCE to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Classical studies investigates the ancient Mediterranean in all its richness and diversity.

We offer two majors: classics and classical civilization. In both, students explore the ancient world through an integrated, cohesive program of courses. Individual programs are tailored to meet students’ interests, such as literature, archeology, philosophy, law, or religion. A background in Latin or Greek is not necessary. Rooted in ancient Greek and Roman texts and artifacts, our field also considers how later poets, politicians, and playwrights have reimagined these worlds, whether that’s Homer’s influence on Dante or Toni Morrison’s use of Medea in her novel Beloved.

Learning goals

  • Read and interpret texts in Greek and/or Latin and in English translation.
  • Read and analyze primary and secondary sources and communicate ideas clearly and effectively in oral and written form.
  • Work with a range of texts and artifacts to develop an interdisciplinary
    understanding of the historical context in which they were produced.
  • Understand the diversity of cultures in the ancient Mediterranean and their interactions.

Programs of Study

Classics major

The classics major combines work in both Greek and Latin with course work in English on the history, literature, society, and material culture of the ancient world.

Classical civilizations major

The classical civilizations major requires the study of either Greek or Latin and course work in English on different aspects of the ancient world.

Course Highlights

  • Roman chariot races and gladiatorial combat were not just entertainment for the masses, just as the ancient Olympic games were much more than sporting events. Athletic competitions, theatrical performances, and militaristic parades were all public enactments of political and religious ideology. This course examines the spectacle of competitive performances and rituals of power that helped shape ancient Greek and Roman society. Students will investigate ancient writings alongside art-historical and archaeological evidence to consider how social values and identities were constructed through these shared experiences. We will also consider how the modern performances of ancient texts, the Olympic Games, and cinematic representations have emphasized the splendor, drama, and gore of antiquity.
  • Achilles' heel, the Trojan Horse, Pandora's Box, an Oedipal complex, a Herculean task-themes and figures from classical mythology continue to play an important role in our everyday life. We will read the original tales of classical heroes and heroines as depicted by Homer, the Greek tragedians, Vergil, Ovid, and others. Why do these stories continue to engage, entertain, and even shock us? What is the nature and power of myth? Readings from ancient sources in English translation.

Research highlights

  • Classical studies professor Bryan Burns looks at artifacts with a student.

    Professor Bryan Burns is co-director of a multiyear, international, collaborative excavation at Ancient Eleon in central Greece. Every summer, Wellesley students participate in the excavation, and there are also opportunities to continue research back on campus.

  • Students sit around a table talking in the special collections section of the library.

    Professor Ray Starr has two current areas of research. The first focuses on ancient Roman businesses and how they marketed their products, and the second focuses on readers and their texts in antiquity, from the circulation of literary works in bookstores and private networks of friends to readers’ experiences with texts in various forms. These include papyrus rolls and inscriptions on stone, a reflection of his involvement in Book Studies at Wellesley.

  • A faculty member reads at a table with books about ancient Greece and Rome.

    Professor Catherine Keane Gilhuly’s research interests are sex and gender in Greek literature. Her latest book is Erotic Geographies in Ancient Greek Literature and Culture.

  • A faculty member pulls a book out from her bookshelf.

    Professor Carol Dougherty’s current research focuses on the themes of mobility and hospitality in archaic and classical Greek culture and literature.

Beyond Wellesley

Beyond Wellesley

Our graduates build fulfilling careers in a variety of fields, including corporate business, entertainment, government, and higher education. Many pursue graduate degrees. Knowing Greek and/or Latin, our grads are well prepared for careers in medicine or the law. A strong cluster teaches Latin at the high school level.

Department of Classical Studies

Founders Hall
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Kate Gilhuly
Department Chair