Languages and Cultures

Classics Course Descriptions

History 130 Introduction to Archaeology (4)

For at least 2.5 million years, humans have created tools of increasing sophistication and variety. In this introduction to archaeology, we focus on the artifacts that are antiquity’s leftovers. What can this “stuff” reveal about past people? How and why did they use it? How did it shape who they were? How can literary evidence, where it exists, enrich and complicate the picture? And how do we use (sometimes abuse?) it to define who we are today? These are just some of the questions we will address. Along the way, we will learn about the discipline’s aims, history, and methods, consider its relationship to the field of history, and devote special attention to its modern practice, problems, and significance. Broadly speaking, the course will consider, in turn, the nature of archaeological evidence, how we interpret it, and finally what we should do with it. While we often will focus on archaeological sites in the Mediterranean and Near East, discussion will touch on others throughout the world. As will be clear immediately and throughout, at the heart of this course is the identity of human beings, past and present."

Classics 221 Golden Age of Athens (4)

All works read in English. Great works of Greek literature, history, and philosophy from the 5th and early 4th centuries B.C., one of the most remarkable periods of intellectual, artistic, and political activity. Authors read include Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristophanes, and Plato.

Classics 223 Classical Mythology (4)

From gods and heroes to witches, monsters, and legendary rulers, the imagination of the ancient Mediterranean was populated with a dynamic cast of characters and the myths that told their stories. In this class, we will explore Greek and Roman mythology through ancient art and literature as well as selected modern art, literature, and film that take classical myths as their inspiration. As we go, we'll become familiar with some of the most significant and influential mythology of the classical world, and we will learn how to apply strategies like close reading, comparative analysis, and critical theory to these myths to help us ask What is a myth? What do myths mean, and why are they important? And what do ancient mythology and the modern day have to say to each other?

History 220 Sword & Scroll Violence and Cultural Exchange in Antiquity (4)

This course explores different cultures in ancient Greek, Roman, and/or Near Eastern lands that came into intimate contact, producing hostility and violence and/or creative cultural exchange. We will study the cultures of femininity and masculinity (gender), rival imperial cultures or imperial culture and that of a subject people (race and ethnicity), and the cultures of wealth and poverty (class). Our investigation is to better understand the defining features of each of these opposing cultures in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, how the social identity and status of any one person was informed by all three factors (gender, race and ethnicity, and class), how the contact of such cultures involved a power dynamic and could lead to conflict, and how, despite this, they could also lead to fruitful exchange, producing hybrid cultural forms that still impress us today or at least understanding that awaited social change.

Classics 279 Scientific Etymology (4)

Language is power. Nowhere is that truer than in the language of science, which is based on Greek and Latin. In this course, students dramatically increase their understanding and command of scientific terminology through learning its Greek and Latin roots. Students in biology, chemistry, nursing, nutrition, and other science programs will save themselves numerous hours of study by taking this class—and hundreds of hours if they plan on graduate entrance exams and study. And all students, regardless of major, will improve their scientific literacy, ability to navigate their health histories and healthcare, and fluency with English in general, which also owes a major debt to Greek and Latin. What is more, this class will help you experience the study of language as an enjoyable adventure in exploration, rather than a burdensome task. Languages do not materialize out of nothing. They are based on thousands of root words that have moved through time and now join in a variety of combinations that give meaning. Every day your words carry a legacy of human history that stretches back millennia. Greek and Latin are alive and well, and in this class, you will study words that enable you to understand the present and past and to advocate for yourself, your family, your friends, and your fellow citizens.

History 330 Parties & Wars Greece in the Classical Period (4)

The Classical Period in Greece (c. 480-323 BCE) is a cornerstone for western history, and its legacy very much extends into our modern world. In this course, we will concentrate on investigating Greek society and culture at this vibrant time. In particular, we will explore the complexities of Greek identity, broadly defined. At the heart of this course will be the contention that identity was (and is) not a fixed and immutable concept. Rather Greeks constructed and negotiated key elements of their identity as part of a dynamic social process. With this in mind, this course will focus on evidence that illustrates how Greek identity was articulated and debated in a social context in general and in certain social spaces in particular. Such “spaces” of interest will include political debates, battlefields, theatrical productions of tragedies and comedies, funerals, philosophical dialogues, legal trials, drinking parties, and athletic events. In considering how Greek identity was worked out in various ways in these different social contexts, we will learn about a wide range of Greek social and cultural practices related to government, ethnicity, the military, family, gender, religion, death, humor, intellectualism, the body, and education. Humans today are social animals, and the ancient Greeks were no different. Appreciation of the Greeks’ intensely social orientation will lead us to new insights about them – and ourselves. This course is suitable for students of any major, including those who have not taken a previous history course.

History 377A Roman Empire (4)

An examination of the history of the Roman empire, beginning with Julius Caesar and Augustus, who introduced rule by Roman emperor in the late first century B.C.E., and ending with Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the fourth century C.E. Our point of departure is the vastness of this empire. It stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates River, from the North Sea to the Sahara Desert. As such, it encompassed and encountered numerous peoples and cultures, many subject to the power Rome. With this in mind, we will try to achieve a more balanced view of life in the Roman empire by investigating it from the perspective of the rulers and the ruled. To this end, we will (1) study the Roman emperors and their policies, (2) grapple with the struggles of an example subject people, the Jews, under Roman empire, and (3) support students in their pursuit of research projects that will underscore the rich diversity of experience within the Roman world. Throughout we will focus especially on the potential of ancient evidence to answer the following questions. What were the priorities of the Romans, and especially the emperor, in the maintenance of the Roman empire? What was the response of subject peoples like the ancient Jews to that empire? What strategies did they develop for political, cultural (especially religious), social, and economic survival? As we pursue these questions, students will have the opportunity to take part in many well-informed class discussions and to engage more deeply with particular issues through thoughtful papers and collaborative workgroup sessions. This course is suitable for students of any major, including those who have not taken a previous history course.

Classics 379 Grand Strategy (4)

Vision and decision, across 5000 years of human history this is the subject of Grand Strategy. In this course, we will consider a vast array of case studies, starting from the depths of ancient history and moving into the present moment. Along the way, we will witness the spectacular successes and failures of some of the most famous leaders of all time. We will ask a series of interrelated questions that will enable us to understand past human behavior and to best prepare ourselves for how to grapple with crises now, political and personal (and broadly defined). What resources did leaders have? How did they use them? To what effect? How should we explain success or failure? What can we learn from later creative reflections on these movers and shakers in society? How should we apply the past to the present? Is there a reliable recipe for success? As we grapple with such questions and seek truth, students will have opportunities to apply what we learn in a modern context. They will collaborate on responses to global crises and consider how this course can help them to lead lives of positive impact and deep meaning. If you want big history, big questions, and (possibly) big answers, join us.

Classics 399 Senior Capstone (2)

All Classics Ancient Mediterranean Studies majors and Classics Classical Languages majors must present a senior project in a public forum. In consultation with a faculty advisor, students choose a project appropriate to their previous course of study and/or their individual goals. Students completing 398 on a topic relevant to their Classics major do not need to complete CLAS 399.

The classical languages major and minor, ancient Mediterranean studies major, Greek minor, and Latin minor will be gradually discontinued beginning Fall 2023. Students who were enrolled at CSB and SJU prior to Fall 2023 will be able to continue in these majors and minors and all appropriate opportunities will be available to them through Spring 2026. All students may continue to minor in ancient Mediterranean studies and take the Latin language sequence (111, 112, and 211).


The Classics Program offers a wealth of fascinating courses. They explore the complex cultures of the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East, especially the expansive Greek and Roman worlds. The core faculty of the Classics Program instructs the majority of these courses. Many study ancient texts in English translation (designated “Classics” courses), while others allow students to read and investigate texts in the original Greek and Latin (designated “Greek” and “Latin” courses, respectively). Check them out! For still other opportunities, see the extensive list of courses at CSB+SJU and abroad that can count towards degrees in Classics: Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Classics: Classical Languages.

College of Saint Benedict
Saint John’s University

Jeff DuBois
Chair, Languages and Cultures Department
CSB Richarda P32

Jennifer Schwichtenberg
Department Coordinator
CSB Richarda P38
SJU Quad 253A