Why classics?

Even a brief encounter with the ancient world not only fires the imagination of the young but also sheds a dazzling light on why we in the West are as we are, with all our massive strengths and disastrous failings.

For generations a classical education was considered a privilege for the few, not the many, but now its revival in primary and secondary state schools is well under way. Classical subjects equip pupils with grammar, critical thinking and language skills.

This is because teachers know that studying classics:

  • Develops English literacy: students of Latin or Ancient Greek achieve a deep understanding of grammar which encourages accurate use of language. From the very early stages, concepts of singular and plural, tenses and case usage are taught. In GCSE Latin or Ancient Greek, more complex grammatical structures are introduced than those in modern foreign language GCSEs.
  • Aids cultural literacy: Classical mythology forms the bedrock of much modern art and literature, and is constantly reworked in theatre and in the visual arts, film and pop-culture.
  • Teaches the foundations of philosophy and history: The ancient Greeks and Romans have profoundly influenced western society and thought. They established the disciplines of philosophy and history and the foundations of our political systems.
  • Encourages cultural insight: In some ways, the ancient Greeks and the Romans seem just like us, but in other ways, they are very different. This can lead students to reflect deeply about themselves and the lives of others – an important quality in a modern, multi-cultural society.
  • Gives opportunities for wide-ranging thinking: Classical subjects encourage students to cross subject boundaries through thinking that touches on language, literature and civilisation.
  • Allows for depth and breadth: The study of classical subjects is interdisciplinary. All four classical subjects – Latin, Ancient Greek, Classical Civilisation and Ancient History – can involve literature, history, philosophy and the visual arts.
  • Improves employment opportunities: Evidence suggests that employers have respect for potential employees who have studied classical subjects at school or university. Many Classics graduates have made a name for themselves in various fields, including JK Rowling, Boris Johnson and Mark Zuckerburg. This is because, among other things, the study of Classics encourages clarity of thought, attention to detail, and the ability to argue a case.

Through the centuries, the works of Homer, Sophocles, Virgil and Ovid have profoundly influenced Britain’s greatest writers, dramatists and poets, including Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare.

The examples set by Pythagoras, Archimedes, Euclid, Ptolemy, Lucretius and Vitruvius continue to inspire scientists, engineers, architects and astronomers around the world.

Plato and Aristotle established the foundations of western philosophy and political thought; Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus and Plutarch invented the arts of the historian and biographer.

The lives of great men and women such as Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Cleopatra and Constantine teach us lessons in leadership, power and downfall.

Find out why you should support Classics for All and why pupils and teachers believe that learning classics is valuable.

Click here for Dr Peter Jones MBE on ‘Why Classics’

Ian Hislop explains how he got into Classics and why the subject should still be studied today.

Hislop talks about the first great satirist, Juvenal and how his work still resonates with a modern audience.

These videos were made possible through a pro bono studio recording by Penguin Classics (publisher of ‘Little Black Classics’) https://www.littleblackclassics.com/

Read our guide to setting up classics in schools