The Class in Classics

Class is fluid when you are in classics. You can rise a class or two in the world.  Without classics, I might have puttered around for years as an office clerk or at a library circulation desk (and the latter would have been a long shot). But when you are young, have a degree in classics, and invest your life savings in preppy clothes, you can get any job. Yes, you’ll have to move to Maine or Texas, but at least you’ll work.

I fell out of the middle class for a time.  Can that really happen?  When my parents got divorced, my dad got custody, and then got bored and left me to live on my own. A lesbian teacher on the prowl picked me up (I was her second high school student) and installed me in her house for a year and a half. I wonder, what class was I then? Meretrix (a prostitute)? Serva (a slave)? Later, I knew another classics student who’d been prey to whoever came along, and had a reputation as a meretrix, poor girl. She’d had sex with the sex education teacher.

Classics brought us back into the middle class.  We both found good, if not lucrative, jobs.

Classics— derived from the Latin noun classis,  meaning “a  class or division of the people (according to property),” and classicus,  an adjective meaning “of or belonging to the highest class.”

Language enthusiasts love Greek and Latin. Some enjoy the puzzle of the grammar and syntax, others the elaborate figures of speech and meters, still others the history or the philosophy.

I was always a serious reader.  I’d devoured Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Trollope on my own. I was a Victorian, or might as well have been. But unlike John Stuart Mill, who started learning Greek when he was three,  I took it up in college.  It all started when I decided Homer was ridiculous in translation. Before I knew it I was studying Greek and Latin, and reading Homer and Virgil in the original. I was an epic freak!

It wasn’t just the literature I loved, it was the all-absorbing process of translation. It required so much equipment!  I hustled into the library and spread out my Greek and Latin books, dictionaries, grammars, commentaries, notebooks, and flashcards.

The Greeks and Romans are with me for better or worse, through sickness and health. In the hospital, I have recited lines of Latin poetry feverishly. Once a doctor decided I was well enough to go home when he discovered me reading Lucretius in my room.  Nowadays I snuggle up on the couch with classics and a dictionary.  I’ve read classics so long I no longer need an entire table!  There’s less “equipment.”

The ancient languages are no longer spoken; you study them to read the literature. And since you are reading poetry, plays, philosophy, oratory, history, and more, the vocabulary is different for each genre. Even if the words overlap, they mean something different. That’s why you need a dictionary.   For instance, the Latin word classis, which can mean “class,” also means “fleet (of ships).”You cannot read Virgil or Livy without encountering a  classis, a fleet of ships.

Excuse me while I go read Sappho and Catullus.  (Sappho influenced Catullus, and he translated one of her poems.”


4 thoughts on “The Class in Classics”

  1. This is a neat post. It took me a while to move into reading Classics. I always delved into reading of them when young, but I only started seriously post – collage.

    It is so fascinating and impressive that you can read the ancient languages. I am in awe of that!

    1. Languages are so much fun, and I’m so glad I did it. The great thing about classics, whatever the language or century, is that they’re waiting for us when we have time to read them!

      On Sun, Dec 9, 2018 at 4:56 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


  2. You have had a very interesting life! I only studied Latin for a year in high school, although I liked it and wish I had had more. I’ve only read Greek and Latin classics in translation. I think I’m well grounded in English, American, French, and Russian classics, which, like you, I read for fun. I would like to feel that way about the Greek and Latin ones.

    1. Like you, I love classics in all languages, and I have such respect for the translators,too! It was very lucky that I had a chance to study the ancient classics, but I love the English and American canon, too. Give me a book and I’m happy…

      On Sun, Dec 9, 2018 at 8:08 AM Thornfield Hall: A Book Blog wrote:


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