Since early June, I have been enjoying the enriching experience of a summer internship at the Center for Hellenic Studies (CHS) in Washington, DC. On a daily basis I engage with visiting scholars, research fellows, staff members, and other undergraduates, and I quickly became familiar with two questions: 1) Why Classics? and 2) What are your post-grad plans? The answers to both of these unfolded almost serendipitously as the weeks progressed.
In regards to the first question, I have always been confident and steadfast in my choice of discipline from the day I stepped into my first Latin class in the 6th grade. It is, however, the people I have interacted with at the CHS who have both reinforced those original ideals and revealed new ones, reminding me that Classics, in its simplest form, means thinking about what we were and what we are becoming; it is considering the bigger picture. I desire to understand a most colorful picture of my life, and the pursuit of Classics allows me to spread out the spectrum of our humanity and extract each color from its rich collection, analyzing it in a unique and fundamental context.
At the CHS I am reminded that to read Ancient Greek is to walk the dusty battlefields of Troy, to vote as one of the demos, to watch a tragic play unfold before your eyes under the relentless Athenian heat. And, it is to understand the nature of these ancient people and the ideas with which they wrestled. In our modern era with an academic hierarchy dominated by STEM, the argument now is that Troy is simply a collection of ruins, a direct participatory democracy is an antiquated ideal, and no longer do whole cities sit before a dramatic festival from sunrise to sunset.
It is ignorant to assume that Classical Studies has to be rooted in its ancient past, though. It is a mobile body of knowledge which can be brought into the present, exposing the same principles of humanity manifested in today’s world. The 21st century citizen doesn’t have to feel distanced from Orestes when reading Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Rather, we can learn from and relate to a protagonist who is simply a man struggling under the weight of his conflicting duties. Human nature is unchanging, so, in a valuable, timeless, and almost-perfected way, this discipline can help us as moderns.
The CHS recognizes this continued relevance and makes great efforts to invite the public to interact with the ancient past. For example, at the beginning of August, the CHS is holding a workshop for students with an interest in civic participation and leadership, focusing on the legacy of Athenian democracy. Programs like these are important because they use the past to prepare for the future––an invaluable way to educate any student.
Now more than ever, Classics belongs in the forefront of our minds. It does not matter that the steps of the Acropolis crumble as the sharp Aegean wind whips around its corners. All that matters is that we continue to sit on those steps and look out across the land, indulging in the ancient ideas that have sprung forth from the rocky soil of Athens millenniums ago. In order to keep moving forward, we must always remember to travel backwards. The CHS bears that task on its Herculean shoulder, and for that I am forever grateful.
Returning to the second question, which deals with my dauntingly unpredictable future, I no longer feel like I am hesitantly dancing on the edge of the gap that exists between college and the real world. Instead, it feels more like I am comfortably strolling along that divide, eyeing the other side with excitement, not apprehension. I still do not know what I will be doing after graduation, whether it be pursuing graduate school or working in a corporate environment, but I leave this internship better equipped to tackle those decisions.
At the CHS I am surrounded by people whose journeys I can and should learn from. As I eat lunch with great mentors and scholars like Greg Nagy and Kenny Morrell, I am reminded of the importance of utilizing the wealth of knowledge that surrounds me. When I ask them to share a story, it is more than an engaging anecdote, it is small piece of information that helps me imagine the bigger picture of my future. The Classics community is a vibrant one––one that wants to see the next generation succeed. The CHS has given me a foothold into a community which will continue to aid me as my educational and professional careers progress.
Additionally, my time here has provided a detailed look into the lives of post-doctorates. At the 2015 Sunoikisis Course Development Seminar, where professors from around the country collaborated and crafted syllabi for Latin and Greek courses to be taught in the fall, I experienced firsthand the work of professors. I watched diligently as they created lectures, reading and writing assignments, and had countless intellectual debates.
The seminar also focused on discussing the state of the discipline. Particularly striking was an article by Gregory Crane discussing the intersection of Classics and Digital Humanities for PhD candidates. Before this internship I was unaware of such a field, and even less aware of how it ties so perfectly into Classics. At the seminar, Dr. Monica Berti from the University of Leipzig gave a presentation on her work in Digital Humanities. She discussed how the rise of digital technologies is an opportunity to re-assess and re-establish how the humanities can advance the understanding of the past and support a dialogue among civilizations. The life of a post-doc, which I once considered an intangible concept, has become readily accessible due to the such experiences.
This summer internship has been a lesson in γνῶθι σεαυτόν, or know thyself, for every experience I had seemed to increase self-awareness about my pursuit of Classics and my future in general. I leave the Center for Hellenic Studies greatly inspired and invigorated.
I’d like to extend many thanks to Allie Marbry, Lanah Koelle, Kenny Morrell, Greg Nagy, and all of the other wonderful individuals who mentored and guided me this summer.
Whether you’re a Latinist or a philhellene like myself, it is truly in every Classicists’ best interest to get involved with the CHS. For more information about the summer programs offered through the Center for Hellenic Studies, you can visit our page here.