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If I had a dime for every time someone asked me why I do Classics, I would be a rich man. Being at a university where the large majority of students study Computer Science and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors, it can be tough to justify a Humanities major, let alone one so niche as Classics. I have been studying Classics now for over 10 years and although I have doubted my choice of subjects in the past, I have never felt more confident in my major than I have now.
Recently I was in Rome on a Classics trip organised by my university. I had been to the city before relatively recently over the summer. However, this time was somehow different. Having spent the preceding quarter studying the transformations of ancient Rome, both physical and cultural, seeing it again in the flesh was extraordinary. It is one thing to look at pictures of buildings in dusty old textbooks, it is quite another to stand directly in front of them and see all the detail and care that went in to their construction. The scale at which the ancient Romans built was extraordinary. Their skill in engineering allowed them to create simply magnificent structures. Merely being in their presence was staggering.
But the trip took on a deeper resonance that just simple awe. Having studied Rome for so long, to see it all in front of me was unlike anything else I had ever experienced in my life. I felt a connection to a world long since gone but at the same time so vividly alive. Walking through the streets of the ancient Roman Forum and seeing the remains of different buildings, I felt a serious link to the past. Staring at the statue of the Prima Porta Augustus in the Vatican Museums, it felt like it was going to start moving at any second. I cannot properly articulate the experience of being in Rome since it simply defies words.
Not only did I feel a strong connection but I felt a sense of ownership as well. Thanks to a particularly eloquent and passionate tour guide, I, along with the rest of my Classics cohort, was able to experience the city and its history in a way that had previously been inaccessible to me. These were my streets, my buildings and my history. Because I had devoted myself to Rome, because I had given myself to it, it gave itself to me. It was almost like being home again after a long time away. Everything I loved about the excitement of a foreign country, everything I loved about the grandeur of the Roman Empire, everything I loved about learning, presented itself to me all at once.
What was better yet was that I was not alone. The other people in my group felt the exact same way. We were all Classicists, we were all students of Cicero and Caesar, and we were in the home of our teachers. To experience such a profound joy and not only that but to be able to share it and know that someone else understands exactly how you feel and exactly what you are trying to say, is an experience that I have never felt before. After two particularly taxing and draining trimesters, to revel in the beauty of this city, was the exactly the break I needed. It was the ultimate reinvigorating and restorative experience!
Now when people ask me why I study Classics I tell them I study it because I love it. I am bonded to it, it is as much a part of me as an arm or a foot. One day I will leave school and may no longer study Classics, but simply having that experience and knowing that this world is still there and still waiting for me, will more than make up for that.
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