Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.06.17

Announcement: Johns Hopkins University Graduate Program

With permission of Professor Giulia Sissa, we are making available a "Vision Statement" and a description of the innovative program that she and Marcel Detienne have introduced at Johns Hopkins University since their arrival last year. This is being distributed as part of the ongoing conversation on the future of graduate education in classics initiated by the Department of Classical Studies of the University of Pennsylvania. See also BMCR 4.3.2 (May 1993), for Dan Hooley's description of the new program in place at the University of Missouri (gopher browsers can test their skill by searching BMCR for the string "Hooley"). Both programs implicitly speak against the unspoken consensus that all graduate programs in classics need to resemble each other, like Tolstoy's happy families (or Nabokov's unhappy ones?). If there are other venturesome programs that would be enlightening to see described, BMCR will gladly circulate them.


The mission of the Johns Hopkins University has always included both teaching and research. In this context, the Department of Classics has, since its foundation, played an outstanding role. Just a few words on the past before speaking of the future: as is the case for other important fields in the humanities and social sciences, in Classics as well, The Johns Hopkins University organised one of the first 'modern' departments. And this institution of a science of Antiquity was inspired by the most effective model of scholarship: the German seminar, which is precisely both teaching and research.

Now, what can we do today with this prestigious tradition and with the current department? The first particularity of this field, 'classics', is its broadness both in terms of length of time and in terms of specialised approaches. The history of ancient societies covers several centuries (from the eight century, BC, to the fourth century, AD); the comprehension of these societies requires multiple skills, from epigraphy to philosophy, from numismatics to the history of science. In the XIXth century conception of culture, a wide and virtually complete competence was expected from one scholar: the perfect philologist. And a classics department was supposed to encompass the entire set of disciplines in order to form perfect philologists.

Today, a department of classics must choose a main area and a main orientation. Everywhere, indeed, the classical branches have become too specialised for only one person to master them all. But above all, the study of Antiquity has been influenced by the most important transformations in methods and criticism. This is why we intend to give greater importance to certain approaches, which we consider to be the most appropriate to our time. On the one hand, comparison between the Greeks and other living or ancient societies (African, Indian, Egyptian etc); on the other hand, interaction between the Greek treatment of questions or objects and the modern or contemporary approaches to the same objects and questions.

In sum: we would like to combine a very strong formation in languages with an engagement with other scholars such as anthropologists, philosophers or historians, in order to give a comparative impulse to our work. But what kind of comparison? Not the research of analogies, not the description of typologies, but rather the analysis of concepts, categories, and issues as they appear, if they appear, in different societies. It seems that the Greeks are an excellent point of departure from which to ask questions about political thought, religion, mythology, gender, ethics, and sciences.


Since anthropological knowledge was first officially institutionalized at the end of the nineteenth century, it has always turned toward Greece. The first anthropologists posed their questions to the Greeks, who seemed to them both similar to ancient societies which had been discovered by ethnologists, and, at the same time, very different with respect to the modernity of the forms of rationality which were produced between the eighth century, B.C., and the fourth century, A.D. At first, under the influence of Marcel Mauss (from 1910 to 1940), anthropologists together with a few Hellenists -- for example, Louis Gernet -- tried to recognize in the historical unconscious of these societies the basic frameworks of thought. They attempted to analyze the principal schemas which gave these institutions form, oriented their procedures and gestures, and established social relationships during the course of a long history. For example, shouldn't the laws of mental activity be sought in the "mythology," which so many archaic societies shared as a form of thought?

With respect to ancient societies, anthropological analysis addresses itself to the analysis of the great subterranean institutions which make up the armature of thought, and of Greek and Roman culture. These investigations have permitted the recognition, for example, of the central role played by sacrifice throughout the history of culture as an operative model, and as a religious, social, and political phenomenon. A comparison with India and Africa has yielded important results. And it is also to anthropology, particularly in its Lévi-Straussian formulation, that we owe the first structural analyses of Greek mythology, as well as a series of works which, in the United States, and particularly at Harvard and Princeton, resounded in new ways, and inspired convergent projects.

There are several reasons for this anthropological orientation of historians of ancient societies. In the first place, anthropologists were the first to compare cultural productions and forms of thought. Anthropology was, so to speak, born comparative, whereas comparative history generally appeared with great difficulty. Second, anthropology, whose object was the variability of human cultures, invited historians and ethnologists working on similar objects to join the construction of the best "comparables." This perspective requires that each scholar deepen the understanding of his or her own field. Historians and ethnologists, comparing several cultures, could "put to the test" configurations limited to just a few variables in objects, which are easy to isolate and observe in their various states.

We think that we will be able to undertake a real anthropological study along with the experimental riches offered by a culture which is as complex as is the culture of Greece throughout the course of an entire millennium.


Besides this anthropological orientation, the department will choose another major line of development: maintaining a constant 'dialogue' with contemporary issues. From the point of view of today's culture and intellectual debate, ancient societies can be especially relevant interlocutors, in different ways. First of all, from our standpoint, we can ask new questions about those societies. Political models, for instance, or problems concerning gender, sexuality and ethics in general can be better under stood and even discovered as problems in Greece and in Rome, if we take them seriously in our societies. In recent decades, many young scholars have reevaluated the richness of ancient thought through the possibility of finding in it anticipations of current and sometimes burning discussions. In the same perspective, but taking the opposite point of view, we can say also that antiquity offers very often a remarkable background to our debates. For instance, we appreciate the richness of the postmodern concern with the power or the weakness of reason, if we don't forget the analogous questions posed by ancient skepticism. We can put our cultural situation in perspective if we compare it to that of late antiquity, when the competition among different philosophical systems offered the spectacle of a crisis of theoretical models.

A more traditional, but not less interesting way of confronting antiquity as a living society is to pay attention to the contemporary thinkers who appropriate and incorporate Greek thought in their own theories. While philosophers like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida 'go back' to Greece, while psychoanalysis draws models of subjective complexity from Sophocles or Aristotle, classicists should not just ignore or despise this, but rather challenge and criticize the uses and abuses of what they are supposed to know better than anyone else. With a conference scheduled in September 1993 on 'Apollo versus Dionysos. Genealogy of a fascination', the department will perform an experiment: a reflection on the destiny of an ancient theme - the antithesis between two major divinities in theological and philosophical terms - not only in ancient times, but also in the painting of the Renaissance and in the culture of the nineteenth century. The Johns Hopkins University offers, furthermore, an extraordinary opportunity to work in the field of the history of science and more particularly in the history of medicine. The Classics Department would like to become a reference point, in addition to and in collaboration with the Department of the History of Medicine, Science and Technology, for all the students who, from different backgrounds, are interested in an historical approach to contemporary scientific questions. Why can such an approach be useful? Because if we place the debate on the origin of life, for instance, in the perspective of the controversy on the spontaneity of generation, we can analyze the arguments involved not only as a positive and purely factual way of confronting the issue, but also as a way of repeating or displacing already existing 'patterns' of arguments. Being aware of this recurrence allows us to predict the obstacles which prevent mutual persuasion today. More generally, if we assume that western life sciences have developed in constant dialogue with the ancients - a dialogue which means either fidelity or criticism - we will probably encounter those patterns of arguments and of explanations every time we try to understand why the terms of a certain question came to be what they are. The 'viscosity' of Greek ways of thinking, their capacity to undertake transformations and to adjust to experiments explains, for instance, why the modern comprehension of sexual difference is accepted in terms of homology plus inferiority.


The graduate program prepares students for teaching and research in classics. One of its most distinctive features is its breadth. In addition to a thorough knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages, courses and examinations in five fields are require d: Greek literature, Roman literature, Ancient History, Linguistics and Archaeology. Instruction in ancillary disciplines such as palaeography, epigraphy, and numismatics, is offered either as part of regular courses or, from time to time, in seminars devoted to these subjects. While the Department, in keeping with its traditions, emphasizes careful preparation in the fundamentals of classical scholarship, related courses in such Departments as Anthropology, History, Philosophy, History of Art, Near Easter n Studies, and the Humanities Center are available. Graduate students in Classics have often taken courses in these Departments and have thus followed an interdisciplinary approach to the humanities which is also traditional at Hopkins.


The Department has excellent facilities. The most important of these is the classical collection in the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, which contains about 45,000 volumes. The Library receives 350 serial titles in classics, not including monographic series. The Thomas G. Machen Collection of incunabula and Fine Printed Books in Eisenhower Library includes the first printed edition of Herodotus (Venice, 1474), an exceptionally fine copy of Homer (Florence, 1488), and a very good copy of Pliny's Historia Naturalis (Florence, 1472), considered the finest example of the work of Nicolas Jenson. Eisenhower also has several dozen papyrus fragments. Hopkins has two other Special Collections containing important Greek and Latin incunabula, the Garrett Library in Evergreen House and the George Peabody Library in Mt. Vernon Place. The latter also has about 3300 classical texts, including the complete Loeb Library. The Department also has a small seminar library, the basis of which is the personal library of the Swiss classicist Walter Wili (1900-1975). He bequeathed it to his former student and colleague Georg Luck, who in turn donated it to the Department along with a collection of his own books. In recent years, graduate students have raised money for an endowment for the library. New books are added periodically. The Department owns the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and has implemented the Harvard search programs on the Departmental Macintosh computers. In addition, the Department has ready access to the University mainframe computers. The Department operates its own Archaeological Museum which has recently (1989) been renovated. Although the collection is used primarily for teaching purposes, many objects merit permanent display. The Attic red-figured kylikes by Oltos, Phintias, Epiktetos, and Douris are justly renowned. Ellen Reeder Williams' The Archaeological Collection of The Johns Hopkins University (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984) provides a fine survey of the collection.


The Department is one of the smallest of the major Classics departments in the United States. It can best serve the strongly motivated student who has well-defined interests. For such a student, the breadth of the program provides an opportunity to round out preparation for teaching and research. He or she can also use the Department as a base from which to seek opportunities for study and research in other places. In the academic year 1987-88, three Hopkins graduate students were affiliated with the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. The Department also maintains a membership in the American Academy in Rome. Although a separate degree in Classical Archaeology is no longer awarded, the Hopkins tradition in this field continues. In recent y ears, graduate students have participated in excavations at Morgantina (Sicily), Kourion (Cyprus), Sotira (Cyprus), and Kommos (Crete). The recently established Hopkins-USC Exchange Program in Classics makes it possible for Hopkins graduate students to spend one or two semesters at USC, where the strengths of the Department of Classics complement those of Hopkins' Department. Cross-registration at UCLA is possible, as is utilization of the resources of The Getty Museum. The Department also has an exchange relationship with the Classics Department at Catholic University, which is especially strong in patristics and palaeography. The Departments of Classics and of Near Eastern Studies sponsor Ancient Studies Colloquia once or twice each year. These Colloquia, which have recently been devoted to such themes as folklore, anthropological approaches to ancient studies, and ancient law, bring together scholars from Hopkins and other universities. Readings are distributed in advance, and the format of the colloquia is designed to encourage participation by graduate students. The Johns Hopkins University Press is a center of publication in classics. It publishes the American Journal of Philology, founded in 1880, the oldest classical journal in the United States, and AJP Monographs in Classical Philology. It also has a distinguished list in classics. The Humanities Editor, Eric Halpern, did graduate work in classics at Oxford.


First-year students who appear to be unusually well qualified and who have had teaching experience can be appointed to a Teaching Assistantship, which carries a full tuition scholarship and a stipend of $7,000. Scholarships of up to $5,000 in addition to full tuition are also available. There is also an internal competition for special Dean's fellowships. The Department enters its most promising applicants in this competition. Graduate students are encouraged to apply for national and international fellowships, and, in recent years, have had considerable success. The Department awards Robinson Travel Grants annually. They support summer study, research and field work in Europe.