The first hour of discussion was quite wide-ranging, but remained generally oriented towards the question "what does a 'classicist' need to know?" Henry Bender spoke forcefully in favor of a holistic approach to the study of ancient culture, but one that retained organized in large part around the central position of important texts. Using the Aeneid as an example, he argued that the text had to be understood in the context of the culture that produced it. This means that the student of the Heldenschau of Book 6 must also be a student of the sculptural program of the Forum of Augustus, and that the visit to Pallanteum in Book 8 must be informed by a knowledge of the topography of the Forum Romanum precinct, etc. Joe Farrell responded that he finds it more difficult to teach Vergil to students who have never read and are not interested in reading works such as Paradise Lost, noting that his position and Henry Bender's differ as do traditional definitions of comparative literature and Altertumswissenschaft, respectively, but share a bias in favor of studying the "monuments" of "high culture".
Numerous further contributions addressed the relative intellectual and institutional benefits and disadvantages of being in a classics department instead of a foreign languages department, a history department, an art history department, and so on; the amounts of breadth and depth that should be required of individuals and of departments or programs; the perennial problem of balancing teaching and research; et alia. Reference was made to the point brought up by Bridget Murnaghan at the APA Presidential Panel on Graduate Education in Classics concerning the way in which "change [in the way we train graduate students] tends to get redescribed as a form of accretion," with the result that students are asked to be as skilled as even in Greek and Latin, *and* to become experts in comparative literature, cultural studies, or some other field as well. Steve Dyson's opening statement made a similar point: "While it is nice to know everything, the reality is that in modern archaeology much has to be left to experts." The point might well be extended to other areas of classical studies.
Ralph Rosen called for more focus on the practical applications of the issues under discussion. He specified a need to address (1) the level of expertise that we should expect in PhDs who specialize in the study of language and literature (2) whether the field should be open to specialists in other areas with little or no expertise in Greek and Latin.
Jennifer Sheridan suggested that different levels of expertise were appropriate for students of language and literature than for students of history, philosophy, etc., and this met with general agreement--without, however, much effort to define precisely how this expertise should be instilled in students, measured, or enforced. Instead, the conversation turned to a consideration of the traditional notion that learning Greek and Latin is an intellectual and even moral discipline per se.
Lee Pearcy asked whether the study of Latin per se didn't have some specific value in training the mind, inculcating good work habits, vel sim. Joe Farrell opined that traditional methods of teaching the classics certainly do emphasize such values, but expressed doubt that the Latin (or Greek) languages *themselves* possess the ability to improve one's intelligence or moral sensibility. He expressed disapproval of one aspect of this traditional view of classical learning, namely, of the idea that Latin is inherently difficult to learn (and that Greek is even harder) as an idea that served the pedagogical ends in earlier times (citing Walter J. Ong, “Latin Language Study as a Renaissance Puberty Rite”, Studies in Philology 56 1959 103–124=Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture, 1971, ch. 5, pp. 113–41; cf. Paul F. Gehl, A Moral Art: Grammar, Society, and Culture in Trecento Florence, 1993), but had by now become little more than an obstacle to attracting students.
Julia Gaisser related the idea of difficulty to the idea of elitism, observing that people outside academics often confuse the difficulty of studying Greek and Latin--what she termed the intellectual elitism of the field--with social elitism, and so attacked classics as outmoded, aristocratic, undemocratic, snobbish, and so on. She offered that this perception is untrue and unfair, at least in this country, and that something should be done to combat it. She expressed the hope that worry about the perception of elitism would not prevent the field from maintaining rigorous intellectual standards, particularly in the teaching of languages, even as it integrated the study of language with the study of culture in a more general sense.
Josh Ober insisted that the challenge classics faces is one of making it clear to the world at large what the study of classics contributes to society as a whole. The goal should not be to find some way of maintaining our ability to do what we do in a solipsistic way, but of articulating the value realized by society when a certain number of its members and a certain amount of its resources are invested in the study of Greco-Roman antiquity. He noted that within the academy a healthy relationship had come into existence between the fields of classical studies and political science: so much important work in political science was being done in the area of ancient political theory that senior scholars had begun studying Greek in order to join that discussion. Such a situation comes about only when classicists are also (e.g.) political scientists, and the happy result is not only that classicists learn from colleagues in other fields, but make major interdisciplinary contributions themselves. If we cannot do this in other areas and to the benefit of society outside academe, he suggested, we would have no right to complain if society refused to support the study of classics in the future; but he expressed confidence that the case could be made.
On that note, the meeting was adjourned.
There was some spirited response to the meeting in the Internet discussion list.