Because ancient texts are indivisibly social and aesthetic, because ancient texts are both forms of communication and formal objects, we read them with the help of a number of approaches. At Stanford, these range from traditional philology (including the rigorous analysis of manuscript and papyrus sources, language, meter, rhetoric and style) to performance and reception studies, translation theory and practice, social anthropology and folkloristics, and a wide range of contemporary literary theories. Equally, history, art and archaeology, epigraphy, and ancient philosophy--long-standing strengths in the Stanford program--are integral to our literary study, in mutually illuminating ways.
No single approach predominates; a commitment to deep and shared understanding unites us. It's not unusual for discussion in a single seminar session on epic to range from the significance of a Greek verb tense and the violations of Hermann's Bridge to Bakhtin's ideas on genre or analogues from the study of pop culture. A seminar on Athenian culture of the classical period would be open to discussing Periclean building programs, the archaeology of cult, the utility of Geertz's analysis of culture, and the economics of theatrical production, as well as literary analysis of Euripidean choral odes and the Platonic view of tragic mimesis. Such a course might even be team-taught, by a historian and philologist or philosopher, as are an increasing number of our seminars.
A course on Catullus might involve discussion of Roman sexuality as illuminated by his poems; the idea of lyric in, before, and after Catullus; the process of transmission of the physical text from antiquity through the advent of printing to the present day; the tensions between Catullus' embeddedness in the discourse of elite life at Rome and his unprecedented assertion of a personal and private world; the connections with contemporary philosophical views on the emotions; the question of whether Catullus' Lesbia is to be identified with the Clodia attacked by Cicero; and the tyranny of the canon in deciding which poems of Catullus represent the "real" Catullus: how can this love poet have authored those crude and obscene poems attacking such politicians as Julius Caesar?
The close reading of texts in the original languages is complemented by a wide range of departmental courses in translation, placing literature in the broader study of ancient Mediterranean and even contemporary cultures. The various options for undergraduate majors and minors provide flexibility for students who wish to combine an in-depth study of literature with other fields. At the graduate level, the departmental reading lists for translation and Ph.D. qualifying exams reflect our belief that Classicists must master a substantial core of Greek and Latin prose and poetry. We also encourage students to explore non-canonical, neglected or obscure texts, often in a comparative mode, working with faculty in a tutorial setting. Passionate, informed, and innovative interpretation is what we teach and expect.