Why Classical Studies?

Join the Ranks of Successful People

Our majors are success stories. After graduating, some of our students have gone on to be a:

  • Rhodes Scholar, University of Oxford
  • PhD candidate, Medieval Latin, Harvard University
  • PhD candidate in Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of Chicago
  • Rubenstein scholar, University of Chicago Law School
  • Research fellow, National Institutes of Health, developing medical software
  • Medical Student, Lousiana State Medical School
  • Law student, University of Virginia
  • Intern working in the New York District Attorney’s office, prior to law school
  • Investment consultant, Rothschild Group
  • Foreign Intelligence Officer
  • State Department Foreign Service Officer for South Korea


We’re a “universal donor” of interesting intellectual artifacts, gobsmacking connections between antiquity and modernity. Interested in global health? Worldwide urban planning? International trade? Learn about the Roman Empire. Sanitation, urban population density, food supplies in developing metropolises—say, contemporary Mumbai—resemble Rome’s more closely than New York City’s. Interested in economics, architecture, law, literature, history, gender, religion? We have courses on all these topics. Take three Literature courses and you may find no points of contact with your PubPol/Econ double major. Take three courses in Classical Studies and it would be shocking if you didn't.


Classical Studies offers a completely alien world that is neutral ground, perfect for finding weird and wondrous similarities (and differences) with which to think about the world we live in now.

  • Athens is the model for modern democracies both in Europe and the United States, explicitly referenced by France, Germany and the US when they formulated their unification as modern, free nation-states. But Athens was a democracy only if a democratic state is one in which but 10% of the population was eligible either to debate or vote on civic matters, and of that decile, but 10% actively participated. Athens ruled by the One Percenters? How can an example be so powerful, yet so alien to contemporary ideas of democracy?
  • Rome was the biggest slave state in history; slaves were cheaper than at anytime in history, owing to Rome’s constant wars of conquest and its enslaving the survivors. Romans thought slaves so untrustworthy that courts only admitted their testimony if obtained under torture. Yet Rome granted freed slaves instant full citizenship status. Even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation didn’t contemplate that. How do we think about such extremes of oppression and open acceptance in a single culture?

Critical Thinking

The ancient world is full of paradox (see above)—as is the modern world.  Confronting those contradictions prepares you to address the complex problems of modernity. We teach you to think critically, and to expect nuanced answers; to be open to new information and new perspectives; to be able to evaluate judiciously sources of data.


Most Duke undergraduates say they want to make the world a different and better place. But to imagine a future entirely different from the present, you have to be able to imagine an entirely different past. That’s classical antiquity. Antiquity’s startlingly different constructions of gender, sexuality, race, class allow us to see that human subjectivity is not a function of some eternal, unchanging human nature. Rather, structures of power and desire realized in social institutions fashion humans. As those structures change historically, so do the beings they shape. Bottom line: we change. We can even change ourselves. Therein lies any hope for a better future.

Thinking Through Writing

Want to Graduate with Distinction? Clever you, because writing a thesis hones transferrable skills. Working closely with a professor,  you will identify: a research question, the database(s) necessary to answer that question, significant patterns in those databases, an argument that will explain patterns cogently, and then write it all up in clear prose understandable to the non-specialist. These are all skills attractive to law schools, medical schools, business schools (good reasons why our majors succeed professionally).


Want to ask questions and express your thoughts in class, talk to the professor outside of class, etc? Our low majors-to-professors ratio guarantees you’ll get a lot of individual attention. The average class size is small (advanced language classes average 5-10 persons; civilization courses, 10-20). 


6,000 Duke undergrads can't all be your BFFs. Our majors get to know each other pretty well—in classes, at CLST events, and through the Classics Collegium. (The Collegium is a club for people interested in antiquity—majors, minors, or just fellow-travelers). Classical Studies majors can talk, share their discoveries, brainstorm over solutions to problems, with a cohort of people engaged in the same intellectual interests.