Grappling with the Greeks

Hey folks! I’m Canaan, a rising Senior majoring in Linguistics & Languages with focus languages in Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew, and I’m one of the admissions summer tour guides and bloggers. You can read more about me and the other bloggers here.

The class that has had the most recent impact on my course of study at Swarthmore and shaped as a student, human being, and budding academic, is the Greek Drama honors seminar (GREK 114) that I took this past spring. The class was a deep dive into the myths surrounding the House of Atreus, one of the mythological lineages whose stories and characters run long and rich throughout course of Greek mythology. It was also my first real dive into the complex and beautiful world of Greek poetic verse. As we were making our way through piles and piles of articles on the theory, history, cultural import, and a thousand other facets of Greek tragedy, we were also reading through some of the greatest hits of the ancient tragic style: Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Electra, and Euripides’ Orestes.

Almost as soon as we started reading the first play, which Professor Grace Ledbetter sent to the class during winter break so that we could come prepared to the first class, I was drawn into the ornately layered and haunting world of the mythology, and immersed in a challenging, intimate, dynamic seminar environment. Over the course of the semester, working deeply on the text, theory, and context of the three plays with three other students alongside the professor, I saw for the first time the possibility of Classics, and Greek drama in particular, as something that was an expansive enough subject for me to feel that I could explore it meaningfully and productively in my planned further academic pursuits. I had previously intended on going to grad school to pursue a PhD in Theoretical  Linguistics, but now I had found an exciting new possibility.

Coming out of that class, I felt anchored in the department, and in my larger academic life at Swarthmore, in ways that I had not previously experienced. I enjoyed developing a casual and close relationship with the professor, who continues to be an critical mentor figure to me as I move through my academic process at the College. More importantly, I felt that I had been exposed to enough theory, text, and critical discussion in the seminar to gain some sort of mastery, so that I came away with a firm faith in my own capability to do real, meaningfully critical and analytical work in the discipline. This feeling of mastery is one I believe to be the natural outcome of many classes at Swarthmore, where the students  gain not only an enriched and deepened knowledge of the subject, but also arising from this, a sense of control and thorough, nuanced understanding of the topic. This is immensely gratifying and speaks to a deep commitment on the part of both faculty and students to pursue excellence. I felt that a huge advantage I gained from this very small, intense style of seminar is that the class not only taught the material well, but also gave me an increased understanding of the sort of discussion and theories that are on the cutting edge of research in the field.The class exposed me to an environment where I had the opportunity to look at the material, formulate my own conclusions and arguments, and defend my theories in a rigorous environment without any established “right answers” or “wrong questions” to hold me back, an experience which has been a highlight, but not an exception, among the classes I’ve taken at Swarthmore.

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