Classical Literature and Historical Linguistics
Greek and Latin came to dominate the ancient Mediterranean world; their greatest texts--from Homer’s epics to the drama, history and philosophy of fifth century Athens, and from Cicero through Virgil to Augustine—have remained engaging, provocative and instructive ever since, especially through the lenses of new theoretical perspectives and broader contexts.
They belong to the Indo-European family, stretching from western China to Iceland, and Latin’s descendants are still spoken by 10% of the world’s population. Cornell is unusual in its focus on Greek and Latin linguistics and supports courses in Sanskrit as well as Greek and Latin at all levels.
Religion is a major research focus for many faculty in Classics, ranging from the cults of the Greek cities to the religions of Rome and its empire, from early Christianity to Late Antiquity, and covering the whole Mediterranean world and beyond. Faculty study the meaning of religion, its impact on social life, its role in the constitution of identity, its expression in visual and material culture.
Plato and Aristotle remain at the center. But at Cornell, the study of Ancient Philosophy has expanded to include later Platonists like Plotinus and Simplicius, as well as the rich tradition of Skepticism from Pyrrho to Sextus, and the rival schools of Epicurus and the Stoics. Latin authors from Cicero to Augustine show the transmission of Greek culture into the Roman world. Traditional philological skills and up-to-date analytical approaches combine to yield new insights into familiar texts.
Text and Objects
Cornell is a thriving center for intermedial approaches to antiquity, especially the study of relations between texts and objects. Our faculty have published widely on the concept of “ekphrasis” in ancient literature (whether in scientific treatises, poetry or art history), as well as the relationship between image and text more broadly. Many of us have a special interest in the relationship between literary texts and inscriptions – from inventories and civic documents to epigrams and songs.
Together, we cross boundaries between the fields of philology, epigraphy, art history and the history of science, with graduate courses often addressing relevant topics from multiple disciplinary angles.