In the fall of each year, usually in November, planning for the courses to be offered the following academic year began. In practice, the planning process consisted largely of making careful choices and designing useful sequences, as we will see; but underlying the selection of particular courses and the organization of them into a coherent program were important assumptions about what we should be doing. We discussed the assumptions from time to time, but usually informally and seldom systematically. We had inherited most of them from our predecessors, and they were consistent with the goals and mission of the university as a whole. Without going into great detail, we can outline some of the assumptions here.[1]

We considered it self-evident that the ancient world, in all its aspects, is worthy of, and will repay, careful study. There are reasons for this belief. Many of the creations and accomplishments of antiquity are among the highest achievements of human intelligence and imagination. I can cite Greek tragedy, the Pantheon in Rome, and the creation by Octavian Augustus of the Roman Empire as examples, but the list is virtually endless. To study these is to enrich one’s life. For most of our students, it is also to come to understand more fully their own world, for western civilization is in many fundamental respects descended from antiquity, above all Greece and Rome.

Moreover, such study is a challenge, and a challenge worth taking up. From the student’s point of view, the attempt to understand Homer’s Iliad involves observation, analysis, and evaluation. As students discover ways to approach such a work, their minds expand and their ability to articulate and communicate grows. But it is not just the masterpieces that are important here. Archaeology may reveal large sets of items that are, individually, trivial. But if the student (or scholar) observes and describes with care, analyses the materials, and provides a suitable context, such materials will have much to teach us. The recovery of an ancient shipwreck, or the excavation of a Roman farm in southern Italy, can contribute significantly to our understanding of the ancient economy, and thus of economies more generally. And in the process of bringing out the meaning of the finds, the student learns.

Our knowledge and understanding of antiquity–literature, history, society–is constantly evolving, and our conception of antiquity needs constant updating and revision. There are new discoveries.[2] Modern technology is constantly revealing things previously unknown.[3] New techniques of criticism explicate works of literature in unanticipated ways.[4] Our own language changes and evolves over time, making new translations and interpretations desirable or necessary.[5] As a result, one of the responsibilities of a department of classics is to train students to explore and reveal the ancient world for their own generation, and to provide them with all the skills they will need to do so.

When the time came to decide which courses would be offered in a specific semester, there were several practical matters to be considered. What courses did students need or want or both? Which instructors would be available? What classrooms and times (days and hours) would work best, given our students, their requirements, and our staff?

There were always undergraduates who wanted to learn Latin or Greek. A variety of reasons led them to the languages. Some were already deeply interested in the history of the ancient world or in mythology. Others had read Greek tragedies or other works in English and now wanted to read them in the original. Some, headed for seminary, needed to learn New Testament Greek. A certain number wanted to satisfy the university’s language or some other requirement.[6] And many had begun Latin in high school and wanted to move forward in it, at least for a year or two.

Similarly, there were always students who wanted to take courses in classical archaeology (CLAR). Most of these students were attracted by the art and architecture of the ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome, or wanted to learn about ancient material culture and ordinary life. Many were interested in the techniques of excavation and in the analysis and preservation of antiquities, although these were not major focuses of the archaeology program at Chapel Hill until the 1990s. Archaeology courses could also be used to satisfy the university’s Humanities and Fine Arts distribution requirement.[7]

In addition to offering Greek, Latin, and archaeology courses, it was the responsibility of the Department to offer a range of Classics courses taught entirely in English that would allow students to explore Greek and Latin literature (insofar as that can be done in English) and to learn about the history and cultures of the ancient world. In these Classics (CLAS) courses, students read all ancient texts in English translation. Like the archaeology courses, many CLAS courses satisfied the Humanities and Fine Arts distribution requirement. To serve our students, with their varied needs and interests, the department offered a wide range of courses.

Latin. The curriculum always included elementary Latin, and we offered Latin 1, 2, 3, and 4 every semester. Beyond the elementary level, the department needed to offer courses that would enable students to make the transition from grammar and introductory reading to the study and analysis of literature.[8] Latin 21 (Vergil) and 22 (Cicero) were aimed at students who had just completed the elementary program, either at UNC or in secondary school. More advanced students took classes at the 30 or 40 level. These were generally courses in one or two authors, for example the prose histories of Caesar and Sallust, or the comedies of Plautus and Terence, and ideally each semester’s offerings would include one course at each of those two levels. Above these, there were 100-level Latin courses, suitable for both advanced undergraduates and some graduate students. The chairman tried to schedule at least one 100-level Latin course each semester. Finally, graduate students needed advanced and specialized courses, so the department offered two or three 200-level graduate courses each semester, most of them on particular authors (Homer, Plato, Vergil, Tacitus, and others), genres (historical literature, comedy, lyric and elegiac poetry), or topics (Latin epigraphy, Italic dialects).[9] Graduate students also needed research seminars, because three seminars were required for the PhD. These could be in Greek or Latin or both or, if the student could do the work, archaeology. Whenever possible, the department offered one seminar in the languages and one in archaeology each semester.

Greek. The courses offered in Greek were organized in a manner similar to those in Latin, but there were fewer Greek courses, and they tended to move the student more quickly through the introductory levels. Greek 1 and 2 were offered every year, and an accelerated Greek 1-2 course was occasionally offered in the spring. Greek 3 and 4 were author courses (for example, Herodotus or Homer in Greek 3, Plato or Euripides in Greek 4), while Greek 21 (usually Homer) and 22 (often Greek tragedies) were the only regularly scheduled advanced Greek courses on the undergraduate level. Students wanting to move further in Greek could take 100-level courses along with graduate students. For graduate students in particular, a series of about fifteen 200-level courses were offered, two or three each semester, on a rotating but somewhat irregular basis. These included courses in individual authors (Sophocles, Thucydides, Demosthenes) or genres (lyric poetry, comedy, philosophical literature) and auxiliary disciplines such as Greek epigraphy. At least one research seminar was offered each year.

Archaeology. The introductory-level course in archaeology was CLAR 40, “Ancient Cities,” which introduced students to classical archaeology through study of a representative city from each century from the eighth BC to the third AD. “Ancient Cities” was offered every semester. More closely focused, but still introductory, were a rotating series of courses centered on specific periods or topics: Near Eastern art and architecture, Greek archaeology, the archaeology of Italy, classical Greek art, and Roman art. Upper-level courses, for advanced undergraduates and graduate students, were more specialized and offered only every second year: Greek architecture, Greek painting, and the architecture of Etruria and Rome, for example. About half a dozen 200-level courses, each offered every second year, were designed specifically for graduate students. These included Greek topography, Roman topography, Roman sculpture, Roman painting, and Etruscan art. As we have seen, the archaeologists also tried to offer a research seminar every semester.

Classics. For many years, Kenneth Reckford offered “Classical Motifs in World Literature” (later renamed “The Hero on a Journey”), a famous lecture course that introduced students to Homer and Vergil, among others. In addition, graduate students or various members of the faculty taught Greek mythology and “Word Formation and Etymology” each semester and, beginning about 1990, “The Greeks” and “The Romans”; all of these were large lecture courses. A series of courses with more limited enrollments–thirty or forty students–dealt with the history, literature, and art of certain specific periods, or with particular topics. The former (“Age of…” courses) included courses that dealt with the time of Pericles in Greece, with the establishment of the Roman Empire, or with the archaeology of Egypt; the latter (topics) included courses in ancient athletics, ancient technology, and the like. We offered the more general courses–lecture courses with eighty to 160 students or so–every semester, and the period and topic courses generally once a year or once every second year. In any given semester, there would be two or three of the large lecture courses plus three or four others, for a total of about half a dozen classics courses.[10] There were no research seminars in classics.

Since the Department was responsible for courses in the transmission of knowledge and culture from antiquity to modern times, it included a medievalist and, for part of our period, a Byzantinist. The former could help students master post-classical Latin and guide them through the vast Latin literature of the Middle Ages, and the latter offered courses in Byzantine culture and art. The department usually also had a linguist who cooperated closely with the Linguistics Department.

Settling upon the specific courses to be offered each semester, and organizing the curriculum, was the responsibility of the chairman of the department. The chair generally began by asking all faculty members if they would be on campus the following year (as opposed to being somewhere else carrying out a research project), and, assuming they would, which courses within their area(s) of expertise they thought should be offered, and which they would most enjoy teaching. Having gathered this information, the chair’s next task was to choose which courses would be offered in the following year, to design, that is, the curriculum. This required a merging of student needs and faculty wishes.

Different chairs developed different procedures to accomplish the task. Phil Stadter, after duly consulting with the faculty, would draw up a chart with the courses to be offered and the proposed instructor for each course. Rather than circulate this in paper form (this being pre-digital times, electronic distribution was not an option), he would put the chart on a blackboard in his office. Faculty were invited to come, look over the proposed schedule, and comment; changes they requested, recommended, or demanded could be readily effected with an eraser and chalk. Faculty might lobby for their own favorite courses, of course; but this was also an opportunity for the undergraduate major advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies to make sure that the courses needed by our majors and graduate students, in order to satisfy various requirements, were offered on a regular basis. Ken Sams, when he was chair, employed a curriculum committee of, as I recall, three faculty members and one graduate student. The committee would take into account the courses that majors needed, the requirements of the various graduate programs, and the need always for some large enrollment courses, combine those desiderata with what they understood to be the preferences of the faculty, and make recommendations to the chair, i.e. Ken. This was an excellent way to guarantee the representation of various points of view, but it was sometimes frustrating for the committee, which was usually not told (for reasons of confidentiality) which faculty were applying for outside funding or leaves of absence; those faculty, if they got funding, would not be on campus during one or both semesters of the following year, so including them in the schedule of courses could mean that substantial adjustments in the schedule would need to be made later on.

Graduate students tended to be deeply concerned with the following year’s schedule. There are obvious reasons for this. Graduate students (by which I mean here PhD candidates) usually took courses for about three years, then turned their attention primarily to writing a dissertation. During the three years or so when they were most active in courses, they needed to acquire a knowledge of ancient languages, history, and culture that was both broad and deep, or in the case of archaeologists knowledge of ancient culture in its broadest sense, everything from the fine arts to objects of everyday life, as well as the methodologies for studying them. Language students were expected to take, if at all possible, a certain number of more or less obligatory courses. These included Latin prose composition, Greek composition, an introductory linguistics course, and at least one archaeology course. Beyond this, they would be taking courses in specific authors. Here, naturally, they wanted to master the major authors: Homer, the Greek dramatists, Plato, and so on, on the Greek side; Cicero, Vergil, Livy, and others on the Latin side. These wonderful writers are, after all, the reasons why all or most of us have decided to work in classics in the first place. There was also, however, a practical reason for the intense interest of graduate students in the schedule: when they later tried to find a job, most colleges or universities would want them to have experience precisely with the great authors.

So our student wants a course on, say, the Roman historian Livy. How often is such a course likely to come up? Well, theoretically, every two or three years. But if it gets postponed for one year in favor of a seminar on, say, Petronius and the ancient novel, and if it then happens that, in the following year, the faculty member who offers Livy is on leave, it could be four years or more between Livy courses, and our student might miss Livy altogether. For this and various other reasons there was constant pressure to offer certain important courses on a predictable schedule. For some time, we worked from a regular rotation of courses that the faculty and graduate students worked out together and agreed on: Homer and Vergil in alternating years, as also Plato and Cicero and a number of other pairs; certain authors or topics (Tacitus, or Latin Epigraphy) on a three-year cycle; and so on. Some courses, like comets, came around only once every few years, but at least our students could more or less count on them showing up and so design a coherent program for themselves. “More or less,” though, is the qualifier that could cause problems.

Any number of things could and did disrupt the rotation schedule. Faculty members went on leave or were hired away. Some were not reappointed, or they retired. Illness might intervene. Administrative responsibilities could reduce the number of courses a given faculty member could handle. It was often possible to make adjustments for these problems, but not always, and first one course, then another, was put off, or offered twice in close succession, in both cases disrupting the carefully planned sequence of courses and authors. As a result, the rotation schedule became attenuated over the course of five or ten years and finally was more or less completely abandoned, at least as a formal plan. It did live on in the collective memory, with various faculty and graduate students keeping track of what ought to be offered and when it should be offered, and the remembered schedule continued, in this less formal way, to exert some influence on the scheduling of courses.

It may be useful to summarize this information about the selection and organization of courses by setting out a theoretical semester’s courses. So far as I know, the following does not represent any particular actual semester; it is rather my attempt, thinking back thirty years or so, to show the reader what a semester’s course offerings could have looked like in about 1980. Courses numbered below 100 were designed for undergraduates; 100-level courses were suitable for both advanced undergraduates and graduate students; and 200-level courses were aimed at graduate students. Courses numbered 300 were graduate-level research seminars.


Latin 1, 2, 3, 4. Elementary and intermediate Latin. The first four semesters of study.

(Latin 1 and 2 met for four hours each week.)

Latin 21. Vergil (usually two or more books of the Aeneid).

Latin 31. Caesar and Sallust.

Latin 53. Satire (Horace and Juvenal).

Latin 110. Introductory Latin composition.

Latin 113. Latin literature of the Empire.

Latin 130. Medieval Latin literature to the end of the Carolingian age.

Latin 225. Roman lyric and elegiac poetry.

Latin 301. Seminar. Topic this semester: the Roman imperial administrative system.


Greek 1. Elementary Greek. (Greek 1 and 3 were offered each fall, Greek 2 and 4 each spring.)

Greek 1-2. Accelerated introductory Greek. (Met six hours per week; spring only.)

Greek 3. Intermediate Greek. Herodotus, and review of fundamentals.

Greek 21. Homer.

Greek 51. Special readings in Greek literature (content determined by students’ needs).

Greek 109. Greek literature of the fifth century.

Greek 201. Greek epigraphy.

Greek 215. Greek rhetoric and oratory.


Classical archaeology (=CLAR) 40. Ancient cities.

CLAR 41. Greek archaeology.

CLAR 45. Archaeology of Italy.

CLAR 95. Etruscan civilization.

CLAR 96. Roman art.

CLAR 190. Greek architecture.

CLAR 193. Greek painting.

CLAR 296. Roman sculpture.

CLAR 298. Roman topography.

CLAR 310. Seminar. Topic this semester: Greece in the seventh century.


Classics (=CLAS) 26. Word Formation and etymology.

CLAS 30. Classical motifs in world literature.

CLAS 33. The Age of Pericles.

CLAS 36. The Age of Nero and his successors.

CLAS 61. Homer and the heroic age of Greece.

CLAS 64. The classical background of English literature.

CLAS 77. Greek mythology.

CLAS 118. Introduction to Byzantine civilization.


If we have designed our curriculum well, there will be attractive and useful options for our undergraduate majors, for MA and PhD candidates, and, importantly, for large numbers of undergraduate students who are not classicists at all, no matter what their majors, principal interests, and levels of ability may be.

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[1] In this section, I am largely speaking for myself. I think most of my colleagues would agree with much of what I say, but they might add and subtract some points, and they would almost certainly phrase things differently.

[2] A few examples: the Dyskolos, a play by the Greek Menander, first discovered in 1952; a long essay by the ancient physician Galen discovered in 2005; dozens of ancient boats and ships, often with their cargoes, recovered since the introduction of underwater archaeology in the 1950s. The list could be greatly extended.

[3] A potentially spectacular development: the ability to read ancient books that were carbonized in the eruption of Vesuvius, thanks to a new process called phase-contrast x-ray tomography. So far, only tiny bits of a few books have been read, but as the technology improves the importance of what it reveals is likely to increase greatly.

[4] When I was a graduate student in the 1960s, the “new criticism” that had revolutionized literary criticism in English in the previous generation was first being applied, to great effect, to Vergil’s Aeneid and other ancient poetry. Feminist literary criticism has had an enormous influence on the interpretation of Greek and Latin poetry since about 1970.

[5] One example: the first few lines of Homer’s Iliad, first in a translation by the great English poet Alexander Pope, published in 1796:

Achilles’ wrath, to Greece the direful spring

Of woes unnumber’d, heav’nly Goddess, sing!

That wrath which hurl’d to Pluto’s gloomy reign

The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain;

Whose limbs unbury’d on the naked shore,

Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore…

And second in a late twentieth-century translation by the classicist and poet Robert Fitzgerald (1975):

Anger be now your song, immortal one,

Akhilleus’ anger, doomed and ruinous,

that caused the Akhaians loss on bitter loss

and crowded brave souls into the undergloom,

leaving so many dead men–carrion

for dogs and birds…

Both are splendid. Both convey the essence of Homer’s lines. But they are very different, and in part that is due to the evolution of the English language and of poetic conventions. One would find it difficult to get most students to read Pope’s translation with full understanding.

[6] In the mid-1960s there were two university requirements that could lead a student to Greek or Latin. There was a language requirement: every student had to take a foreign language through the 21 level (i.e., fifth semester) if it was a continuation of a language the student had begun in high school, or through the fourth semester if it was a new language. There was also a “mathematics or substitute” requirement. To satisfy this requirement, students could take math, of course; but they could opt instead to take Latin, Greek, certain philosophy courses, or (later) certain computer and information science courses. (Historically, the mathematics option may have been introduced as a substitute for the Greek, which perhaps came first. Philip Stadter recalls many women transfer students taking Greek in the early 1960s.) Finally, many Latin and Greek courses above the introductory level could be used to satisfy the Humanities and Fine Arts distribution requirement.

[7] In many colleges and universities in this period archaeology courses were based in history or art departments, or in self-contained archaeology departments. In Chapel Hill, there were archaeologists in the Art Department, the Department of Anthropology, and the Department of Religious Studies, and the Department of Classics worked closely with them (especially the faculty in art), but classics was the principal home of the classical archaeology program.

[8] In the description of courses that follows, I do not attempt to describe the many variations of content and approach that were adopted over time. I give simply a kind of synopsis of the overall nature of our program.

[9] The 200-level courses could be taken by undergraduates with special permission.

[10] Many of the large lecture courses had two lectures and one discussion section each week. The discussion sections had twenty or so students and were taught by graduate teaching assistants.