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First Year Focus

What is Classics and why study it?2015-26 Newsletter cover

Classics majors and minors study the language, literature, history and culture of Greek and Roman antiquity.  We offer a wide range of topics with special strengths in literature, mythology, Greek history and politics, ancient philosophy, Roman economics and social history.

Classics at Northwestern comprises a lively group of multidisciplinary scholars with broad interests who are engaged in a variety of research and teaching projects about Greek and Roman antiquity.  They work together to provide a strong, imaginative curriculum, including excellent training in both Greek and Latin.

Students of Classics may also study the reception of classical antiquity in medieval through contemporary culture. We refer to courses about antiquity and reception studies outside the Department of Classics as “Classical Traditions Courses.”  We partner with faculty from the departments of theater and drama, philosophy, writing arts, comparative literary studies, art history, German, English, anthropology, political theory, medieval studies, communication studies, and medical ethics to place our understanding of antiquity in provocative juxtaposition with more contemporary sources and issues.

Our students are intellectually ambitious. They enjoy small classes, strong guidance by faculty, and support for research and extra-curricular activities. Classics is a demanding and distinctive course of study that stresses the development of some exceedingly important intellectual sensibilities: close reading, analytical clarity, thorough research, evaluation of evidence, logical analysis, effective writing, appreciation of nuance and subtleties, historical variability, and cultural differences. All are skills that will serve you in whatever field you choose.

What can I do with a Classics major?

Our students are well prepared to succeed after college.  Recent majors have gone on to graduate school and employment in fields as varied as medicine, law, art history, business, secondary education--and even Classics!

Getting started in Classics

Whether you have studied Latin for many years or have no background in Latin or Ancient Greek, even if you do not plan to study either language, we offer a variety of major and minor pathways that provide an option for every preference.

The major requirements allow for some flexibility.  Students majoring in Classics may choose among three pathways: a concentration in Greek only, Latin only, or both Latin and Greek.  All students must achieve a good knowledge of one ancient language, Greek or Latin, so as to work with primary sources in the original language. Some may choose to work in both languages.

All Classics majors develop familiarity with the broad sweep of ancient history and literature and key analytical skills necessary to examine the record of Greek and Roman culture. The development of research skills is a key feature of the major.  Every student completes a “Research Seminar for Majors,” and eligible students are encouraged to write a senior thesis and earn honors in Classics

The minor also offers three pathways: Latin, Greek, or Classical Studies. Each allows students to survey aspects of classical culture and classical traditions, or to take a more focused course of study such as ancient philosophy, Greek or Latin literature, ancient drama and modern performance, politics in the ancient world, classical literature in translation, or Roman History, or they may choose to freely explore aspects of Greek and Roman culture as part of a strong undergraduate liberal arts education. The minor in Classical Studies has no required ancient language component and is open to Northwestern undergraduates from all schools.

What are some good classes for freshmen?

These 200-level courses have no language requirement and are appropriate for freshmen.  All of them can be counted towards the Classics majors and minors, and they can also be used to satisfy distribution requirements in various areas.

Classics 210 – The World of Homer

Classics 211 – Ancient Athens: Democracy, Drama, and Civilization

Classics 212 – Rome: Culture and Empire

Classics 245 – Classics and the Cinema

Classics 260 – Classical Mythology

Students may soon be ready for 300-level courses, many of which also satisfy distribution requirements and usually do not have prerequisites.

Classics 320 – Topics in Ancient History

Classics 321 – Roman History

Classics 330 – Ancient Economy

Classics 340 -- Greek and Roman Drama

Classics 350 – Greek and Latin Literature

Classics 360 – Origins of Greek Democracy

Classics 370 -- Greek and Roman Religion

Take a Latin or Greek course

If you studied Latin or Greek in high school, you should take the placement exam or present AP credits (see details below) and continue with us at the appropriate level.  Or you can start fresh with Greek 101-1 or Latin 101-1 beginning in the fall.  You can fulfill your foreign language proficiency requirement with either language.

Language Study in Greek and Latin

The Latin ProgramLatin 101

The Latin Program includes three levels of language instruction. Our introductory courses (LAT 101-1,2,3 to be taken in sequence) provide a basic introduction to the language and culture of the Roman world.

The goal of our intermediate courses (LAT 201-1,2,3 to be taken in sequence) is the development of proficiency in reading Latin through the introduction of the students to major works of Latin literature (Caesar, Petronius, Vergil, Catullus).

Advanced Latin courses (LAT 310) are independent units on individual Latin authors (Horace, Vergil, Tacitus, Plautus, Cicero, etc.) or literary genres (Roman satire, novel, comedy, elegiac poetry, etc.) and can be taken in any order.


The Study of Ancient Greek

The first year of Greek 101-1,2,3 provides an introduction to the language, focusing on the vocabulary, forms, and syntax of the Attic dialect. Students will be able to read excerpts from Greek authors that have marked the development of Western thought, from Homer and Herodotus to Plato and the Apostles.

The first quarter of second-year Greek 201-1,2,3 is devoted to readings from the New Testament.  In winter and spring, the focus moves to classical prose and poetry.  Readings vary and can include Homeric epic, lyric poetry, comedy, philosophy, rhetoric, and history.

Advanced Greek 301: Readings in Greek Literature are independent units on individual Greek authors or literary genres and can be taken in any order.

Language Placement and AP Credits

Placement in Latin

IMPORTANT -- Without specific written permission of the Classics Department, you may not enroll in a class at a lower level than the one in which you were placed; should you do so, you will not be given credit for the course

1.   If you took the AP Latin exam in high school, you should follow the appropriate option below

2.   If you have had previous study in Latin, but did not take the AP Latin exam, you must take the on-line Latin placement test  (see instructions below in #3).

3.   Online Latin Placement Exam  It is expected that you take the exam before arriving on campus in the fall. The exam is given only online at Online Language Placement Tests website.

If you take the placement exam before September 10, you will receive your results before Wildcat Welcome. You can find your exam results posted at the Online Language Placement Tests Results page.


Placement in Ancient Greek

If you have had previous study in Ancient Greek, you should arrange for placement by contacting the Director of Greek Instruction, Ryan Platte (

Study Abroad Opportunities

Classics majors may take advantage of some extraordinary opportunities for study abroad.  Many of our students participate in the affiliated program at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, or in Athens at the Arcadia Center for Hellenic Studies. Classroom work is accompanied by visits to sites and excavations, museum tours and lectures, and field trips to various parts of Italy or Greece, respectively.

Another recommended (but non-affiliated) program to which you may apply for credit is the Brown University Summer Study in Rome, titled "Rome: Art, Archaeology and Civic Life from the End of the Republic through the Early Empire."

Extracurricular Activities

Eta Sigma Phi

Eta Sigma Phi is the national undergraduate honor society for students of ancient Greek and Latin. Here at Northwestern, Eta Sigma Phi is an active student group that sponsors intellectual and social events, trips to Chicago theaters and museums, free film screenings on campus, and an annual lamb roast on the lakefront. The most successful initiative of the ΕΣΦ student group over the last four years has been the creation of a yearly calendar that features Classics students and professors starring in mythological and historical scenes from famous paintings

The Beta chapter here at Northwestern offers weekly language tutoring workshops and provides a forum in which students with an interest in Classics can interact with both their professors and their peers outside of class, forming closer, more informal relationships

For More Information

For major and minor requirements and lots of information about what we can offer you, please take a look at the entire Classics Department website.

If you have questions about our major and courses, please contact Prof. Ryan Platte at

For general information about Weinberg College, go to the Weinberg Undergraduate Advising page.

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