Vivian Holliday has taught Greek and Latin language and history for 37 years at the College of Wooster in Ohio. She can remember when there were just one or two students majoring in the "classics."
And there were a few years when there were none.
But recently she and others say the "dead languages" - Greek and Latin - are looking a lot less moribund as students jostle to attend classics classes. Even the numbers of classics majors is reviving. "We've had an increase in double majors and students taking a lot of work in the languages," Professor Holliday reports. She says the number of classics majors - six - is not huge, but is still better than none.
The classical uptick is happening elsewhere across the country - especially in regions where Latin is still taught in high schools. The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., has 50 classics majors in a student body of 2,700. St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., reports a "bumper crop" of 1996 and 1997 grads with Greek, Latin, Latin education, and Classics degrees.
The growing interest is attributed to a rise in courses connecting the classical period to the current world scene, along with a trend in the liberal arts to look at the origins of ideas. Some mathematics departments, for example, now offer ancient Greek mathematics and the development of mathematical thought. Philosophy and political science departments are coming up with similar offerings.
Furman University in Greenville, S.C., had a 50 percent increase last year in the number of freshmen who took the Latin placement test. Three years ago there were only enough classics students to support two faculty members, says Chris Blackwell, assistant professor of classical and modern languages. Now there are three.
Sophomore Joseph Wrightson, a classics major, was pretty worried about getting a job - until he decided to create an independent major combining classics with education. Now he figures he can teach Latin in high school if his plan to write novels based on classical mythology does not pan out.