The branch of humanities known as Classics or classical studies is the study of the languages, art, literature and history of the ancient Mediterranean, and more specifically Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome in the two time periods from - it is convenient to say - 500 BCE to 200 BCE in Greece, and 100 BCE to 200 CE in Rome. . The word classics itself is derived from the Latin word classicus which means "belonging to the highest class of citizens" and the word was taken on to mean superiority and perfection. For nearly 2000 years, the Classics (along with Hebrew, less studied because less European, and therefore more alien and difficult) were taken to be the highest form of learning that existed. On New Year's Day 1901, for example, the Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) said of the nineteenth century, and specifically the Industrial Revolution: "it has reaped the fruit of of three previous centuries of an intellectual activity superior to that of any previous epoch, excepting the best period of classical antiquity" (AWE's emphasis).
By analogy, the term the classics can be applied to the period perceived in other cultures as the best in their own histories. It is also used to make a convenient grouping of highly regarded practitioners in particular artistic disciplines. For example, the classics of Western orchestral music include Bach, Beethoven and Mozart; the classics of English poetry include Keats, Wordsworth and Pope. But beware of usage: the adjective classical can also be used to describe a particular style. Pope, in the list above, is also a classical writer: Keats and Wordsworth are not (they fall into the contrasting style of Romantic literature).
- In Greek, some of the classics still read - and still highly influential - include: the poet Homer; the philosophers Plato and Aristotle; the playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides (tragedians) and Aristophanes (who wrote comedies); the historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon; and the orator Demosthenes. The work of the mathematicians Pythagoras and Euclid is still fundamental.
- In Latin, some key names are: the poets Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Catullus and Lucretius; the historians Livy and Tacitus (and the general and statesman Julius Caesar); the orator Cicero; the philosopher and playwright Seneca, and the writers of comedies Terence and Plautus; Apuleius, Suetonius and Pliny
- There are many others. Because of the time that has passed, much has been lost, much survives only in fragmentary form, and all texts have suffered to some extent from imperfect copying.