The Daily Gamecock

Classics claims relevance

Greek, Latin language study prepares students for careers

The Classics are alive today ­­— in modern political debate, in Mad Men's Don Draper and right here at USC.

At the university, they have a long history, as South Carolina College was originally chartered in 1801 for the study of Greek and Latin, according to Classics Program Director Dr. Catherine Castner.

But today, USC has only about a dozen undergraduate Classics majors and about half as many PhD students in the field.

Though the Classics program is small in numbers, the curriculum is big on developing in students the thinking skills and knowledge background that are attractive to many post-graduate programs and potential employers, students and professors said.

Students majoring in Classics choose one of three areas of focus within the program.

The Latin and Greek tracks are language-intensive, while the Classical Studies concentration turns students' focus to the cultural aspects of Classical societies.

Students and professors said that studies in any of the Classics concentrations allow students to gain unique, high-level reading, writing, analytical, communicative, organizational and research skills that are well-suited and beneficial for a variety of professional and higher-education environments.

"(Classics offers) the same benefits of a typical liberal arts education, with the analytical unit on steroids," said Allen Miller, a Classics professor and the chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

Professors and students alike said it is a misconception that an education in Classics is impractical beyond the classroom, arguing that a background of Classical languages and culture provides students an easy gateway into professional schools and businesses.

"(Classics) is a great major to have on its own," said James Woods, a fourth-year biological sciences and Classics double major, "but it's a great complement to other studies."

For instance, students, like Woods, who are interested in any field of medicine are afforded the benefit of knowing the languages, as a great deal of medical terminology is either found precisely or rooted in the Latin language.

And students like Del Maticic, a third-year Classics and History student, who plan to pursue law degrees are more aware of the roots of many American political ideals, which can be traced back to the classical Greek and Roman cultures.

"If all you do (in the classroom) is devised textbook ... that's nothing like what you do in law school," Maticic said. Studying Classics and studying law are similar, he said, in that students must be able to "decipher difficult texts (and) draw connections where there are none easily seen."

"You start to see connections everywhere," Maticic added.

Miller said that though there are a small number of Classics majors, USC's is among the top tier of such programs in the Southeastern Conference and the region.

He expects the program to grow, in both size and tenor, citing the draw of prominent scholars on faculty and the interest by students in the subject material. Beginning Latin courses already fill quickly, he said, and mythology and translation classes are in high demand.

Classics professor Hunter Gardner said she suspects there has been some influence from the economic recession on the drop in the number of Classics majors on campus in recent years due because of both budget cuts for secondary courses in the field and parents pressuring their students to go to school for a more "practical" degree.

However, Gardner, Miller and Castner all said that many businesses are looking for students with liberal arts educations, because they come into the work force with better basic skills, especially communication and abstract thinking, and are easily trainable on the job.

Rob Irons, a graduate Comparative Literature student with an emphasis on Classics, said his studies have helped prepare him "for any job, not just a job," and "for everything outside of a job."

But the field's appeal, he said, goes much deeper than readying him for a career.

"What about the other half of your waking life outside of your job? Is whatever you're studying really helping you there? Classics is one of the few areas (of study that) you can say yes, it does," Irons said.