Taking my seat at the table

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Alex Karsten

A s a Classics student, I get a lot of questions about my major. They range from “Can you actually speak Latin?” to “You mean like ‘Moby Dick?’”

The Classics, in an academic sense, is defined as the study of Greek and Latin. It covers the history, literature and culture of the ancient Greeks and Romans. But that’s a definition that deserves its own column, and will get it later.

For now, I want to focus on a question, complex in its simplicity, that I get asked more than any other: “Why?”

That question used to bother me. But as my senior year starts and retrospection sets in, I have begun to think I should have to justify the choices I have made with my education.

As I face questions throughout the year — sometimes about the basketball team and sometimes about the meaning of life — I’m going to turn to the Classics to help me answer them.

I’ve found there are few questions that haven’t already been addressed; that’s comforting to me. But there are even fewer questions that have been satisfactorily answered; that’s humbling.

Today, I’m going to cheat a little. A. E. Housman wasn’t an ancient, but he was a famous Classics scholar (yes, there is such a thing) and a poet I greatly admire.

Housman once said: “Curiosity, the desire to know things as they are, is a craving no less native to the being of man, no less universal in diffusion through mankind, than the craving for food and drink.”

I’m going to run with the food analogy because it works on many different levels.

Food is useful. Our current system of developing and distributing food is far from perfect. There are always new foods to discover, and it’s in my best interest to try them.

It’s also important for me not to judge other peoples’ tastes, as long as those tastes aren’t harmful. Believe me: I have tried to persuade my roommate that raisins are awful, but with no success.

Food is a basic need that we have, and yet we don’t settle for just meeting that need. If we were only interested in nutrition, we would probably have developed pills for that by now. Instead, we have IP3, Merritt’s, Ye Olde and home cooking.

Most importantly, it would be irresponsible (and, frankly, bad for me) to only ever eat. The same applies to learning. That doesn’t mean I think there is ever a point at which I should stop my education; I definitely don’t think there is a point at which I should stop eating.

In fact, the greatest eaters of the past seem to have been good cooks too. That’s why we have works like ‘Paradise Lost,’ ‘The Aeneid’ and The Republic. Each generation feeds its successors, and it’s my duty to do my best to give back what I’ve received.

Why am I majoring in the Classics? I think it’s my best way to fulfill one of my basic needs.

I see it as a seat at one of the best restaurants in town.

Thanks for reading.

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