The “classical culture definition” is a term that refers to the cultural traditions of ancient Greece and Rome. It is important for every man to study classical culture because it has shaped our civilization in many ways.
In this age of technology, classical culture has been lost. The benefits provided by studying these great works are many and include a greater understanding of our history, the wisdom to better navigate life’s trials and tribulations in a digital landscape, as well as gaining access to significant knowledge that may be beyond our reach otherwise. However there is one critical element absent from most modern studies: self-reflection without an escape hatch built into it for when you get frustrated
If you’ve been reading the Art of Manliness for a time, you’ve probably noticed how much the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome inspire our material. Both of these ancient civilizations promoted the concept of “manliness as virtue,” which we advocate. There’s a good explanation behind this: I majored in “Letters” at college, which is a degree program affiliated with the Classics Department. In both ancient Greece and Rome, I learned Latin and attended lessons on the history of liberty. I studied, analyzed, and even took an entire course on Ovid’s plays. I acquired a strong and enduring passion for ancient culture at this period, and I’m still reading and studying the works of Homer, Plato, and Cicero despite having graduated from college over 10 years ago.
Understanding antiquity’s culture, philosophy, and literature has significantly enriched my life, and it is an education I believe every man should have. Even if you didn’t study the classics in high school or college, there’s a strong argument to be made for starting now. Here are eight reasons why every guy should read the classics, along with a selection of titles to get you started.
1. It broadens your cultural horizons.
Do you understand what it means to be forced to choose “between Charybdis and Scylla”? Do you understand what it means when someone says they’ve “crossed the Rubicon”? Do you understand why Alexander Hamilton is referred described as the “American Cicero”?
References to ancient Greece and Rome’s history and literature abound throughout Western culture. An artist, author, or politician may pack a powerful rhetorical punch with only a brief mention to an old tale or narrative. However, in order for that punch to hit, the audience must be familiar with classical symbols and concepts.
Unfortunately, as more individuals study the classics in high school or college, less and fewer people are able to comprehend the importance of classical references in literature, poetry, and even cinema. These people are losing out on a far richer and deeper intellectual and emotional engagement with these masterpieces if they don’t have that cultural understanding of the Greeks and Romans. Even seeing a film like O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? is more pleasurable if you have a good understanding of Homer’s Odyssey. Start studying the ancient classics if you want to make art and even politics more lively and dynamic in your life. You’ll be astounded by the fresh perspectives you’ll get from your favorite novels or films, and you’ll be better equipped to participate in meaningful discourse with your family, friends, and community:
2. Enables you to participate in the “Great Debate.”
The goal of the famed Great Books curriculum, which was developed in the 1930s at the University of Chicago, was to familiarize pupils with primary source literature that had shaped Western philosophy and society. Robert M. Hutchins, the president of the university, wanted Americans to be able to participate in what he termed “the Great Conversation.” This global discourse, in his opinion, is made up of the serious debates that arise from the philosophical quest of Truth, which dates back to the ancient Greeks and continues now.
The Big Ideas that philosophers, theologians, and artists have been pondering for thousands of years are the subjects of the Great Conversation. What is the definition of justice? What does real friendship entail? What exactly is love? What is the meaning of honor? How do you go about living a decent life?
To actively engage in the Great Conversation, you must have a general understanding of what has previously been said; you don’t want to be the person who leaps in and says things that make no sense. Many individuals nowadays are eager to express their opinions on life’s Big Ideas without first studying the threads of debate that have gone before them. They believe they are adding to the debate, but they come across as anybody who rushes into a conversation without first learning what has previously been said – their ideas are fragmented, out-of-turn, excessively repeated, and out of context.
Reading the ancient texts is required to become “up to speed” on the Great Conversation. To comprehend any philosopher from the 18th, 19th, or 20th century, for example, you must first grasp Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy. No philosophy lives in a vacuum; rather, for thousands of years, all philosophers have been conversing with one another, whether overtly or implicitly. And the origins of this discussion may be traced all the way back to ancient Athens. You can observe how subsequent philosophers have contributed to, modified, and refuted what came out of that city-state after you’ve laid this foundation. Then, at long last, you’ll be able to start contributing constructively to the Great Debate.
3. Allows you to see how thoughts are linked together.
Our educational system has gotten more specialized in recent years. We’ve erected false walls between academic disciplines. When you study history, you mostly concentrate on history. When you study physics, you mostly concentrate on physics. This is referred to as “knowledge fragmentation” by historian Richard Weaver.
When you read the classics, though, those barriers fall away. All knowledge was interrelated for the ancient Greeks and Romans. When reading Herodotus’ The Histories, you’ll see how he links historical events to political philosophy, anthropology, and even geography. Plato contemplates not only Truth, Justice, and Beauty, but also mathematics and science. The Roman Stoics were interested in learning not just how to live in harmony with nature, but also how to administer empires and deal with difficult individuals.
My exposure to the classics has ingrained in me a need to make connections between seemingly unrelated themes and concepts. I like the challenge of combining these disparate ideas into a logical and well-thought-out argument or viewpoint.
And here’s the thing: as technology and the economy evolve, and more and more labor is delegated to algorithms and computers, the ability to find new connections and synthesize facts and ideas will become a highly sought-after talent. Being a competent computer programmer would not enough; corporations may employ inexpensive computer programmers in India. But what about a computer programmer who understands behavioral psychology and can translate that knowledge into a line of code? That’s a considerably more uncommon skill set, and hence a far more valuable one. Some analysts believe that Apple’s success over the last two decades is due to the fact that many of its employees, notably its leaders, have backgrounds in both the humanities and technology.
4. Instills morals and virtue.
Us moderns have a highly practical, even scientific perspective to history and art. We’re more interested in the nitty-gritty details of history, but art is only important if it entertains us.
However, such issues had a far larger and motivating meaning for the ancient Greeks and Romans. History and art were supposed to teach character and morals in addition to being fascinating and instructive. If you read Herodotus’ Histories, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, or Plutarch’s Lives and only get a sense of events that happened thousands of years ago, you’ve entirely missed the point these writers were attempting to convey. For them, history was a means of teaching a man how to live a more moral life. Editorial commentary regarding the morality and immorality of the choices taken by the great men at the heart of these events is woven throughout their recounting of history. They want you to look at the persons and countries that have excelled and try to mimic them, while avoiding the faults and blunders of those who have failed.
The same might be said of Greek art. The Greek tragedies were more than merely a source of amusement. They were put on for the sake of spiritual enrichment. The tragedies taught the Greeks to be cautious of hubris and to recognize that even the most powerful individuals may fall prey to moral faults. The audience was not to be passive observers, but rather to go through a catharsis – a release of tension and a renewal of moral spirit. One was to leave the theater with a renewed commitment to becoming a good citizen.
I always feel edified after reading the classics. Cato’s devotion to republicanism in the face of tyranny inspires me; Aeschylus’ Oresteia reminds me of how my actions affect future generations; Plato’s Allegory of the Cave motivates me to constantly peer beyond the “shadows” of this life; Cicero’s insights into fulfilling one’s duty inspires me to serve my family, faith, and country with honor.
Of course, there will be others who claim that you can’t learn virtue and morality from the ancient Greeks and Romans since they held slaves, had sex with boys, and had no qualms about massacring whole towns — including women and children — during battle. All of this is true, and it is both disgusting and revolting.
This viewpoint, on the other hand, would be completely alien to the civilizations that some attempt to demonize. The ancient Greeks and Romans had a significantly more complex and sophisticated understanding of history. They avoided the awful black-and-white approach of today, in which one can only learn from historical leaders who were virtually faultless in character and held beliefs that exactly aligned with our own — therefore excluding the prospect of learning from, well, anybody. Plutarch gleans both good and bad lessons from a Roman ruler he emphasizes in his Lives, demonstrating his understanding of the dual nature of all beings. It was not unusual for the ancients to seek guidance on how to live a decent and virtuous life from the empires and city-states of even their declared foes. In his Histories, Herodotus, for example, often mentioned lessons the Greeks may learn from the Persians.
Furthermore, reading the classics reveals that males at the time seldom provided unquestioning approval to activities that we now consider repugnant. Indeed, many people grappled with the moral challenges of their period on a daily basis. Honor and the blood feuds it engendered didn’t sit well with Aristotle and the Greek tragedians, and Roman politicians like Cicero preferred to have his lands farmed by tenants rather than slaves.
Finally, we must remember that these are the same individuals who created the concepts that would ultimately lead to the abolition of these morally reprehensible activities. We would not have had the liberal representative democracy that would finally lead to the abolition of slavery in the West if it hadn’t been for Greek democracy.
All of this is to suggest that, although these guys fell short of current moral and ethical standards, we can still learn a lot from them because they struggled with the same basic concerns of virtue and morality that we do today — and left us the means to deal with them in a proactive manner.
5. A better grasp of your government and foundational ideals.
All of the American Founding Fathers were immersed in antiquity’s literature and culture, as historian Carl Richard illustrates in his book The Founders and the Classics. In what would today be called their high school years, they learnt Greek and Latin and read great epic poetry and political treatises. They returned to the works of Ancient Greece and Rome even as middle-aged and elderly men. “I have a considerably greater interest in learning what occurred two or three thousand years ago than in what is presently going,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams about his appreciation for the classics.
Many of the foundational concepts of the American republic were directly derived from ancient beliefs. The Founders cited ancient Greek and Roman political books as models for the foundation of the new country throughout the arguments surrounding the development and approval of the United States Constitution. The United States has a hybrid system of government, with an executive, legislative, and judicial branch, owing to the classics. The Founders also turned to the Greeks and Romans for guidance on both the military and foreign policy of America (citizen-soldiers were favored over a standing army since standing armies might be used by a powerful administration to take away freedom) (be wary of entangling alliances).
The Founders didn’t just look to classical culture for inspiration for the structure of the American government; they also used the classics to educate themselves about the type of personal character that would be required of citizens in order for this great experiment in republican democracy to succeed. While the Founders despised the ancient Spartans’ ruthlessness and full submersion of individuality, they appreciated the city-attitude state’s of “civic responsibility” and decadence-fleeing frugality instilled in its citizens. John Taylor praised the Spartan 300’s bravery and patriotism as an example for all citizen-soldiers, while Samuel Adams intended for Boston to be a “Christian Sparta.”
The Founders thought that through studying the ancient Romans, Americans would learn the value of temperance and rectitude in a republic. The Roman Republic, according to James Wilson, was a success as long as its citizens maintained rigorous austerity and a sense of dignity. However, when Rome grew into a large empire, it abandoned such principles in favor of luxury and debauchery, which eventually led to its demise. “The destiny of Rome, in both her rising and collapsing states, will be the fate of every other country that will follow both aspects of her pattern,” Wilson said.
As a result, the classics provide many examples of how a democracy should work, both good and bad. They also motivate us to a greater degree of citizenship by demonstrating the benefits and drawbacks of stirring political oratory and rhetoric, the importance of full engagement by decent men, and the need of keeping an eye on the spread of corruption.
6. It trains the mind to be disciplined.
It might be difficult to read the classics. If you truly want to learn and comprehend the scriptures, you’ll need to gird up your intellectual loins. However, mental effort leads to a strengthening and discipline of the mind, which has ramifications in other areas of your life.
One of the reasons I read classics is because they act as a mental sharpening stone, keeping my mind sharp and alert.
7. It’s enjoyable!
Reading the classics is one of my favorite pastimes since it never gets old. The stories and characters have a timeless appeal. This year, I completed The Odyssey for the umpteenth time, and it was much more entertaining than the first time I read it many years ago. I’ve resumed my study of Cicero’s treatises, and I’m having a great time with them. He was a witty individual.
The great thing about classics is that the more you read them, the more you will appreciate them. As your understanding of the classics expands, you’ll be better able to spot and interpret references between writers. Furthermore, the influence of classical literature on you will shift as you go through life. I identified more with Achilles when I was a young, unmarried guy full of vitality; but, now that I am a married parent, I identify more with Hector and Odysseus. I’m interested to see how my reading of classics evolves as I get older.
8. Makes you feel thumos.
Reason, Appetites, and Thumos were regarded to be the three components of a man’s soul or psyche by the ancient Greeks. Thumos symbolized man’s “fire in the belly” – his zeal, battle, drive for greatness, and desire to do great things.
In our current languages, there is no term that relates to the Greek idea of thumos. And with good reason: the ancients considered life to be considerably more epic and heroic than we do. Studying the classics, on the other hand, might help us rediscover our feeling of thumos and the vigor with which we live.
For Henry David Thoreau, this was undoubtedly the case. Throughout his life, he was a voracious reader of the classics, studying the history, literature, and philosophy of authors like as Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Xenophon, Demosthenes, Sophocles, Homer, Seneca, Virgil, Plato, and others in their original Greek and Latin. Because Thoreau felt that the same forces of life and nature that existed thousands of years ago continued in his day, as his biographer Robert D. Richardson Jr. argues, he saw “the classics as the still-vital articulation of the actual world in a living language.” The Iliad’s universe belonged to him as much as it did to Homer.” As a result, reading the classics taught Thoreau that he could live heroically in this century just as he might in any other:
“He already sensed what he would later write in Walden to be true. ‘The heroic works will always be in a language dead to corrupt times, even if written in the character of our own tongue.’ The classics were heroic novels that were constantly alive for those who were living…
Thoreau’s understanding of the nature of classical accomplishment was divided into two parts. The first is a declaration of nature’s significance and inevitability. Reading Virgil in November… The paragraphs describing the buds expanding on the vines and fruit spread beneath the branches touched Thoreau. The key was that ‘it was the same reality,’ he assured himself. His second remark came as a logical extension of the first. ‘The same men inhabited there,’ if Virgil’s world was the same as ours. From Virgil’s day to ours, neither nature nor human nature had altered fundamentally. The Stoics and Zeno both taught the same idea. ‘Zeno the stoic stood in exactly the same relation to the universe that I do now,’ Thoreau wrote in early February 1838. Reading Homer brought the same concept home again again. ‘Three thousand years and the world has altered so little!—’ Thoreau wrote in his diary in early March. The Iliad seems to be a natural sound that has echoed down through the ages.’
Because of his perspective on history, the classics were not a burden…but a promise of what he might do… We come to what is perhaps the single most important set of convictions for the young Thoreau in enunciating this belief in the permanence of human nature and the equivalence of all eras—that is, any age is a heroic age to the heroic individual—in enunciating this belief in the permanence of human nature and the equivalence of all eras… Because we are the same men and women who admired the Greeks and Romans, we can do what they achieved if we put our minds to it… ‘This sorrow for a golden period is merely a lament for golden men,’ Thoreau famously stated.
Reading the classics inspires me with vitality and the urge to live more courageously in my own time, just as Thoreau did. When I read The Iliad’s epic conflicts or consider Cato’s rousing defense of republicanism, my “blood flows hot with thumos,” as the Greeks put it, and I’m ready to go out and achieve great things.
What Is the Best Way to Begin Studying the Classics?
It is not difficult to begin studying the classics. Simply begin reading them! I’d suggest starting with the Greeks and working your way up to the Romans, since they expanded on their Hellenistic forefathers’ cultural legacies.
The majority of classical literature are available for free online. To get you started, here’s a recommended reading list. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s a start.
Greeks of antiquity
- Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey
- Aeschylus’ Tragedies
- Sophocles’ Tragedies
- Euripides’ Tragedies
- Herodotus’ Histories
- Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War
- Plato’s Dialogues
- Aristotle’s works
- Epicurus’ Letter to Herodotus and Letter to Menoecus
The Romans of antiquity
- Cicero’s Treatises
- Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things
- Virgil’s Aeneid
- Horace’s works
- Livy’s Roman History
- Ovid’s Metamorphoses
- Plutarch’s Parallel Lives and Moralia
- Tacitus’ Germania and Oratory Dialogue
- Epictetus’ Enchiridion and Discourses
- Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations
- Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic
I heartily suggest two lecture series from my favorite college professor, Dr. J. Rufus Fears: Famous Greeks and Famous Romans, if you’re searching for a large picture tour of ancient civilization. When Kate and I were at the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Fears brought classical culture to life for us. He was a balding, elderly guy with a potbelly who was a brilliant storyteller with an infectious liveliness. He’d take a staff around campus and bring it into class with him. He’d pretend his staff was a sword and stroll around the lecture hall slicing the throats of his pupils while portraying the vivid blood that would be gushing from their necks while retelling the brutal war scenes in The Iliad. It was fantastic.
Dr. Fears expertly drew connections between occurrences in ancient Greece and Rome and those that have occurred in modern history and are still occurring now. Dr. Fears, like Herodotus and Plutarch, thought that history should be used to teach morals and virtue.
Dr. Fears passed away a few years ago, but his lectures on Greek and Roman history are available at The Great Courses Company. Make it happen. You will not be sorry.
Start plunging into the worlds of Homer and Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, whether via audio lectures, books, or both – it’ll make you a better man and a more active citizen.
The “must own books” are the most important books for every man to study. They will provide a better understanding of life, and help you become a more well-rounded person.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is it important to study classical civilizations?
A: Classifying and understanding ancient societies helps us understand the world around us and how it has evolved. It can also teach you about our own culture in relation to other cultures that have existed. Studying history is a great way for beginners to get started into learning more about human civilization, while also being very interesting from an academic perspective.
What is the point of classical Studies?
A: Classical studies are sometimes referred to as The humanities and is an educational discipline with ancient roots in the development of Western society. They include literature, philosophy, history, art history, archaeology and linguistics.
What is classical culture?
- great books list classical education
- great books of the eastern world
- liberal arts reading list
- great books course syllabus
- great texts