Ancient Connections to the Modern World

Photo by Kasey Henderson.

It’s clear that languages like Latin or ancient Greek can help us with our writing and spelling, and can give us leg up in subjects related to medicine and science in which words and meaning can help us learn, understand, and remember parts of the body or names of molecules. Stories and traditions from the past can also have an impact on our everyday lives, as well as our future actions and decisions. By understanding the past, we can both embrace traditions and address wrongs going forward. Through experience or simulation, we can almost feel what it was like and more effectively either embrace or alter our future.

At Germantown Friends School (GFS), we celebrate Classics Day each year because it’s important for students to engage with the language and traditions of archaic and classical Greece and Rome and explore contemporary connections. Classics Day provides education and growth through inquiry and understanding peoples and cultures and is a significant academic and personal experience for the students year after year. Whether it’s learning about the fashions and the significance of their colors, the role of women, exploring the significance of religion and mythology, examining the history of parades and public celebrations, or experiencing the importance of debate and elections, embracing Classics Day provides a look into the past that can help understand our world and help shape the future.

Photos by Scott B. Foley.

A little about this year’s celebration — students chose to dedicate the day to the god Jupiter, who is symbolized by an eagle in Roman mythology, and appropriately made the motto of the day, “Volate, Aquilae, Volate,” or Fly, Eagles, Fly. The day began with 8th grade students “taking the auspices,” a traditional activity Romans performed at the beginning of a ceremonial day to see if the gods approved of their celebration. Students draped themselves as augurs, a special designation of priests, and observed the flight of birds to determine the outcome. Fortunately, the result was “fas,” or permissible, allowing the students to proceed with their day.

The morning also included a Triumph through campus, which is a parade traditionally granted to a Roman general after a significant victory, and the sacrifice of a bull (portrayed by a student wearing a papier-mâché bull’s head) to Zeus. Students heard from Dr. Ellen Herscher, a well-known female archeologist, about her discoveries in Cyprus, and enjoyed a discussion with New York Times bestselling author Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles, about her creative weaving of stories from mythology.

Our Latin and Greek students love Classics Day, and we love celebrating their passion for the Classics. Henry Ruger, an 11th grade student, said, “Classics Day is really important. Since Latin and Ancient Greek aren’t spoken today, there isn’t always the chance to educate people on the history and significance of these languages.”

I can’t wait to see what theme the students pick next year!

by Julie Marren, Classics Department Head, Germantown Friends School

About Germantown Friends School

Founded in 1845, Germantown Friends School is a Quaker independent day school for students in grades ECP-12, located in the historic neighborhood of Germantown in Northwestern Philadelphia. Dedicated to reaching that of God in every person, our mission is to seek truth, challenge the intellect, honor differences, embrace the city, and nurture each student’s mind, body and spirit. For more information, visit

About the Classics Department at Germantown Friends School

The classics department at GFS offers Latin in grades 7–12 and Ancient Greek in grades 8–12. Classics teachers focus on training students to develop proficiency in the language and to become analytical readers of the literature. Students read a wide range of poetry and prose texts, and they learn about ancient philosophy, rhetoric, culture, and history. Classics Day embodies GFS’s philosophy of providing education and growth through experiences, inquiry, and understanding peoples and cultures. Follow the Germantown Friends Classics facebook page.

Reflections on teaching + learning. Catalyst to inspire equality, integrity & community in ed. Send in your ideas! Curated by Germantown Friends School.

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Reflections on teaching + learning. Catalyst to inspire equality, integrity & community in ed. Send in your ideas! Curated by Germantown Friends School.

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