Greek Studies

Γνώθι Σαυτόν • Gnōthi Sauton • Know Thyself

Why study ancient Greek, or major in Classics with Greek as your area of concentration?

Besides offering tremendous intellectual enrichment and excitement, training in this language brings you face to face with an entirely new vocabulary, literature, and culture of subjects such as modern medicine, government, and even civilization itself.

Some facts:

  • Greek vocabulary forms the centerpiece of modern medical terminology.
  • Greek tragedy explores themes with universal resonance.
  • Greek comedy provides the root and model for much modern romantic and situational comedy.

It is no wonder, then, that law schools, medical schools, and similar postgraduate institutions look favorably at the applications of individuals with a background in ancient Greek.

But there are other reasons as well. These can be summed up with a famous Greek proverb associated with Apollo's place of prophecy at the Greek city of Delphi:

Delphi Apollo Temple

Temple of Apollo, Delphi, Greece

Gnōthi Sauton, "Know Thyself!"

The Delphic Oracle drew visitors from all over the Greek world and beyond. They came seeking the wisdom of Apollo, whose priestess, the Pythia, served as mouthpiece for Apollo's prophetic utterances.

Gnōthi Sauton: These words, chiseled into the wall of the pronaos, the front porch, of Apollo's temple, would have greeted you as you made your way into the sanctuary dramatically situated on the sheer slope of Mount Parnassus in central Greece.

Gnōthi Sauton means "Know Thyself" -- fit advice for those who would understand how to apply Apollo's riddling prophecies to their own lives. Yet it also serves as a motto for ancient Greek literature in general, for self-knowledge was fundamental for all people, not just the philosophizing Socrates or Plato. Think of Greek tragedy: Oedipus Rex, whose life-and-death struggle was ultimately against the truth of his identity and of his past. Think too of the historian Thucydides, who explored the ways that human nature shapes historical events.

The earliest Greek literature dates from nearly three thousand years ago. Yet ancient Greek still lives for us, whether we read it in translation or in the original -- but especially if we read it in the original. Indeed, by studying and reading Greek, we gain unique insight not just into the literature of the Greeks, but also into the mindset of a people so different yet so close to us in many ways.


Map Locating Delphi

As the Greeks themselves recognized, by knowing the "other" we shall better know ourselves.



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Last Updated: 10/22/15