Over 36 weeks, students study in an intimate group, working cumulatively through the alphabet, morphology, grammar, and syntax of classical languages, all the while attending to overarching questions of rhetoric and poetics, translation, and reception history. Unique to the BISR model, Language Courses are paired with an eclectic Lecture Series that brings scholars from a variety of disciplinary and linguistic backgrounds into lively and generative conversation, providing a wide view of the ancient world for a modern community of learners.
Language acquisition is only the beginning. BISR Language Learning and Critique fosters and sustains the skills and curiosities of new readers in ancient languages through an ongoing series of Reading Groups. With the guidance of faculty, students put their new knowledge to work reading classical literature in original languages—from ancient epic and drama to poetic fragments, philosophical dialogues, writings in natural philosophy, ethics, politics, and more. Our aim is not only to learn a language, but also to learn how to read—and to ask how original sources can teach us to read anew.
Current 2023 offerings include Language Courses in Ancient Greek and Sanskrit, as well as a Reading Group dedicated to Plato’s dialogues. In 2024, we anticipate offering courses in Classical Arabic, Biblical Hebrew, and Latin, and new Reading Groups for all five languages.
Designed with the needs of working adults in mind, our year-long intensive language courses meet weekly over 36 weeks. Beginning with the alphabet and basic morphology, students proceed, via a combination of textbook exercises and readings drawn from canonical texts, to the study of complex grammatical and syntactical forms—including their historical appearance and development as well as their poetical and rhetorical values and applications. Capped at 12 students, our language courses cultivate an intimate learning environment ideally suited for students who wish to pursue broader questions pertaining to their interests in classical literature—from philology to translation, philosophical concepts, political theory, gender and sexuality, psychoanalysis, and more. By program’s end, students are equipped to read in works of classical literature; to produce savvy and informed translations; and to continue their study in Reading Groups.
Alongside the in-class language-learning component, our multilingual, interdisciplinary lecture series brings scholars doing critical work at the cutting edge of classics into conversation. From comparative explorations of myth and genre, to ancient poetics and contemporary performance, to studies in critical reception—from the Frankfurt School to contemporary queer, feminist, and critical race theory—the series investigates the myriad uses the present has made, and continues to make, of the ancient past. What kinds of throughlines can we draw, not only between the philosophical and poetic traditions of ancient regions, but between a distant past and the ways we live and think today? Designed as a space of integrated critical inquiry, students enrolled in all language courses come together to participate in up to 12 lectures over 36 weeks, with continuing access for alumni and students enrolled in Reading Groups.
A space of practice and continuing study, Reading Groups not only put new language skills to work through reading works of classical literature in original languages. They also serve, seminar style, to open up foundational texts to critical insights arrived at through close reading. In intimate groups of up to 8, with the guidance of faculty, students spend 8 weeks in concentrated study of individual texts and excerpts of larger works, from Sanskrit Vedas to Socratic dialogues. More than simply fine-tuning and enriching our fluency in classical languages, Reading Groups prompt us to ask: How do linguistic structures produce a particular poetics? How do keywords evolve into concepts that take on new lives and dimensions in historically specific contexts?
Program Head: Bruce King
Bruce M. King‘s teaching and research focuses on the ancient Greek and Roman world. He is especially engaged by anthropological, psychoanalytic, queer, comparative, and materialist appraches to the ancient world. He has published articles on Homer, the pre-Socratics, Sophocles, and Plato, as well as on reception history. He recently co-authored an article on the queer reception of Achilles and Patroclus, including in the tv show Hannibal and the video game “Hades.” Forthcoming work includes a book on the Iliad, entitled Achilles Unheroic, and a co-edited volume on radical materialism and the archaic Greek world. Bruce has a PhD in Classics from the University of Chicago; he has been a Fellow of the Center for Hellenic Studies (Washington DC) and of the Reid Hall Center for Scholars in Paris, as well as the Blegen Fellow at Vassar College.
Bruce King: Critical Ancient Greek
Arti Mehta: Critical Sanskrit
Erin Petrella: Critical Latin
Ginan Rauf: Critical Classical Arabic
James Redfield: Critical Ancient Hebrew
BISR Language Learning and Critique
BISR Language Learning and Critique is not simply a language learning program. Drawing on faculty and guest lecturers working in an array of disciplines—from philosophy to literature, political theory to psychoanalysis—BISR Language Learning and Critique integrates intensive formal language acquisition with the critical exploration of the historical and ever-evolving cultural contexts in which languages and texts are read, interpreted, and applied.