Classics or classical studies is the study of classical antiquity. It encompasses the study of the Greco-Roman world, particularly of its languages and literature (Ancient Greek and Classical Latin) but also of Greco-Roman philosophy, history, and archaeology. Traditionally in the West, the study of the Greek and Roman classics was considered one of the cornerstones of the humanities and a fundamental element of a rounded education. The study of Classics has therefore traditionally been a cornerstone of a typical elite education. Study encompasses specifically a time-period of history from the mid-2nd millennium BC to the 6th century AD
Philology is the study of language preserved in written sources; classical philology is thus concerned with understanding any texts from the classical period written in the classical languages of Latin and Greek. The roots of classical philology lie in the Renaissance, as humanist intellectuals attempted to return to the Latin of the classical period, especially of Cicero, and as scholars attempted to produce more accurate editions of ancient texts. Some of the principles of philology still used today developed during this period. For instance, the observation that if a manuscript could be shown to be a copy of an earlier extant manuscript, then it provides no further evidence of the original text, was made as early as 1489 by Angelo Poliziano. Other philological tools took longer to be developed: the first statement, for instance, of the principle that a more difficult reading should be preferred over a simpler one, was in 1697 by Jean Le Clerc.
Classical archaeology is the oldest branch of archaeology, with its roots going back to J.J. Winckelmann's work on Herculaneum in the 1760s. It was not until the last decades of the 19th century, however, that classical archaeology became part of the tradition of Western classical scholarship. It was included as part of Cambridge University's Classical Tripos for the first time after the reforms of the 1880s, though it did not become part of Oxford's Greats until much later.
Some art historians focus their study on the development of art in the classical world. Indeed, the art and architecture of Ancient Rome and Greece is very well regarded and remains at the heart of much of our art today. For example, Ancient Greek architecture gave us the Classical Orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. The Parthenon is still the architectural symbol of the classical world.
In Ancient history, with philology, archaeology, and art history, scholars seek understanding of the history and culture of a civilization, through critical study of the extant literary and physical artifacts, in order to compose and establish a continual historic narrative of the Ancient World and its peoples. The task is difficult due to a dearth of physical evidence: for example, Sparta was a leading Greek city-state, yet little evidence of it survives to study, and what is available comes from Athens, Sparta's principal rival; likewise, the Roman Empire destroyed most evidence (cultural artefacts) of earlier, conquered civilizations, such as that of the Etruscans.
The English word "philosophy" comes from the Greek word φιλοσοφία, meaning "love of wisdom", probably coined by Pythagoras. Along with the word itself, the discipline of philosophy as we know it today has its roots in ancient Greek thought, and according to Martin West "philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation". Ancient philosophy was traditionally divided into three branches: logic, physics, and ethics. However, not all of the works of ancient philosophers fit neatly into one of these three branches. For instance, Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poeticshave been traditionally classified in the West as "ethics", but in the Arabic world were grouped with logic; in reality, they do not fit neatly into either category.
A relatively recent new discipline within the classics is "reception studies", which developed in the 1960s at the University of Konstanz. Reception studies is concerned with how students of classical texts have understood and interpreted them. As such, reception studies is interested in a two-way interaction between reader and text, taking place within a historical context.