The precision and discipline students must acquire to master Latin enables them to read English more analytically and critically and to write it more concisely and fluently.

Classical Language & Civilization

The principal aim of the Classics program is to enable a student to read in Greek and Latin what the great authors of the classical period wrote. These seminal works—universally admired for over 2000 years—give students a perspective on their own lives and times by addressing the timeless questions: Does human existence have meaning and value? Why and how is life both comic and tragic? What does it mean to be human? Why and how are humans both selfish and altruistic? Is there anything worth dying—or living—for? The authors of classical antiquity have endured because of the way they frame these questions and because of the answers they offer to them. 

Students studying a language that is over 2000 years old quickly realize that certain human insights and values abide through all the ages. All humans must grapple with the reality of death; all must find something that gives their lives meaning. Greed and selfishness exist, even thrive—some would say—in every generation, but it is courage and self-sacrifice that ultimately change and win the hearts and minds of others. We believe that students are better prepared for life by joining with Vergil and Homer, in their own tongues, as these authors wrestle with life’s difficult, but defining, questions. 

The school requires three years of Latin and, from the first day, students begin profiting from the study of Latin vocabulary. Since over half of English words derive from Latin roots, students improve their English vocabulary as they learn Latin. Recent studies show that Latin students consistently scored higher on the verbal section of the SAT than students studying any other foreign language. Likewise, students often come to understand and learn English grammar for the first time when they come to grips with Latin grammar. We believe that the precision and discipline students must acquire in order to master Latin enable them to read English more analytically and critically and to write it more concisely and fluently. Latin is the mother not only of English but also of the Romance languages. It is, therefore, a natural springboard to the acquisition of these languages.

The main reason we want a boy to learn Latin, however, is so that he can read the great Roman authors in their own tongue. No English translation can convey the succinct, deliberate, and even ruthless excitement of Caesar, the inexorable logic and rhetorical cadence of Cicero, or the spiritual grandeur and gripping drama of Vergil. The past few years, Classics masters have sponsored trips to Rome in order to experience in situ the language, history, and art studied so fervently. 

The rationale for studying Greek is the same as that for studying Latin. Arguably, Greek is even richer in vocabulary and nuance than Latin. And, of course, the Greek authors were giants to the Romans before they were giants to us. Because our boys begin Greek when they are older (in Class III), they have had three years of Latin and are thus at home in a highly inflected language. They can progress quickly to the great authors of Greece: much of the second year of Greek is devoted to The Republic (Book I) and other Platonic writings, and third year students study The Iliad of Homer. Occasionally, trips are sponsored to Italy and Greece. One of the great annual school-wide celebrations of declaimed Latin and Greek is Exelauno Day. 

Classical Language & Civilization Courses

  • Latin 1

    (Class VI) Latin 1 focuses on having students understand the fundamentals of the Latin language. English and Latin grammatical usages are extensively compared as mutual reinforcements. First Year Latin, by Jenney, a traditional text, is thoroughly covered. With emphasis on English derivations from Latin roots, the course stresses forms, syntax, and vocabulary. Extensive comparison of English and Latin grammar reinforces the understanding of the mechanics of both languages. The course also attempts to recreate the Romans as real people by means of class discussion and reports assigned on topics of individual interest. Readings from Ancient Rome: An Introductory History and Classical Mythology & More supplement the basic text.

  • Latin 2

    (Class V) Latin 2 strives for the mastery of fundamentals. Jenney, First Year Latin is completed. When the necessary forms, vocabulary, and grammar are mastered, the course turns to Latin readings from Ritchie, Fabulae Faciles and other suitable texts. Review of grammar and the study of English derivatives from Latin roots continue. Ancient Rome: An Introductory History and Classical Mythology & More are further utilized.

  • Latin 3

    (Class IV) Latin 3 assumes a familiarity with the fundamentals of grammar and concentrates on the literary contributions of a range of Roman authors. The text is Jenney, Second Year Latin. Authors read include Caesar, Livy, Ovid, and Pliny. Required vocabulary is drawn from the College Entrance Examination Board Word List, Levels I and II. John Colby, Review Latin Grammar, is used for weekly composition exercises.

  • Latin 4

    (Class III elective) Latin 4 is a literature course (with appropriate grammar review), emphasizing Latin’s “translation defying” beauty, intricacy, and majesty of expression (both in prose and poetry), as found in a varied group of authors including Caesar, Cicero, Pliny, and Sallust. The course stresses the learning of literary devices, the analysis of “real” Latin literature, and the appreciation of Latin in its various manifestations. The primary texts are Cicero’s First Catilinarian Oration (Steadman), Sallust’s Bellum Catilanae (Steadman), and College Caesar (Steadman). Vergil, Aeneid II (edited by Pharr), the classicus locus for the Trojan Horse story and the centerpiece of the spring semester, serves both as a vehicle for literary analysis and as the quintessential readable tale. Required vocabulary is drawn from the College Entrance Examination Board Word List, Levels I-IV.

  • AP Latin 5

    (Class II elective) AP Latin 5 follows the Advanced Placement Syllabus of Virgil’s Aeneid and Caesar’s Gallic War. The texts are College Caesar (Steadman) and Virgil’s Aeneid (edited by Pharr). Selections from Books I, II, IV, and VI from the Aeneid and Chapters I, IV, V, and VI from the Gallic War are read in order to enhance the students’ appreciation of the history of Epic as a literary form and the theme of statesmanship in the first century B.C. Students are required to take the Advanced Placement Examination in May, which stresses familiarity with the use of imagery and metrical effects, as well as character analysis and the recognition of particular motifs and general themes. In addition to the Aeneid and Gallic War the course explores related works such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Dune to reinforce the concept of the hero as an enduring motif in Classical and World literature.

  • Latin 6

    (Class I elective) The fall course of Latin 6 focuses on the topic of satire primarily through a close reading of The Satyricon of Petronius. The course also samples other examples of satire ranging from Jonathan Swift to The Three Stooges, from Jon Stewart to Saturday Night Live. In the spring, selections from Rome’s most emotional lyric poet, Catullus, are read from Garrison, The Student’s Catullus.

  • Greek 1

    Greek 1 aims not only at gaining control of the language but also at comprehending some of the ideas of the Hellenistic world which have decisively contributed to Western Civilization. The text is Alpha to Omega (Groton), supplemented by materials prepared by the department. Mastery of form recognition, vocabulary (including English derivations), and grammar is stressed, with major emphasis placed on reading and interpreting original Greek.

  • Greek 2

    After a review of the basic grammar and paradigms, Greek 2 spends the remainder of the fall term finishing Alpha to Omega and crossing the bridge to original Greek with materials prepared by the department. Reading from the works of Aesop and Xenophon is the focus of the winter term. In the spring, the major topic is Socrates (man, teacher, philosopher), as depicted in Aristophanes’ Clouds, Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and Plato’s Republic (Book I).

  • Greek 3

    In Greek 3, the fall term is devoted to a study of Homer’s Iliad. Emphasis is placed on understanding the history of the epic, the heroic image in literature, and the values of Mycenaean society. The text is Benner, Selections from the Iliad. In the spring semester, Aristophanes’ Frogs serves as the basis for a study of politics in late 5th-century Athens. Dependent upon student interest, the spring course also includes readings from Greek tragedy: either Euripides, Medea (edited by Elliott) or Sophocles, Antigone (edited by Brown).