When Markus Dubischar discusses teaching about classical civilizations, he uses exclamation points—lots of them.
For him, ancient Greece and Rome are not just old texts or museum relics, but are alive in modern times. Making that connection is often eye-opening for students.
“My enthusiasm in teaching classics is grounded in my conviction that knowledge about the ancient world can be deeply meaningful—even transformative—for students,” says Dubischar, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures and coordinator of the Classical Civilizations Program. “I know this to be true because I see it happening every semester in my classes.”
Classical culture is special, Dubischar explains, because it is where some foundations of the Western world are rooted. Ancient Greece’s legacy can be found in thriving democracies worldwide—theater, logical proof, and the Olympic Games, to name just a few. Ancient Rome’s division of government power among the consul, senate, and popular assemblies was the model for the United States’ constitutional powers of the President, Senate, and House of Representatives. The planners of Washington, D.C., even copied Rome by placing Capitol Hill at the city’s center.
The classical civilization minor at Lafayette has grown leaps and bounds over the last five years, with increasing enrollment, growing course offerings, and several students each year who graduate with self-designed majors or minors in the field. For Dubischar, the best way to teach about the ancient world is to help students discover connections between classical civilization and their own lives.
“Studying classics is, in many ways, like an extended study-abroad experience—one that just so happens to be in a culture of the past, a culture so rich and vibrant that it is well worth traveling to,” he says. “The tragedies of Euripides, for instance, or Plato’s dialogues were not written in a bubble. Instead, they are closely connected to their time and circumstances of creation. Moreover, because we are all human, our 21st century existences are on many levels inherently connected with life in classical Athens. As students begin to see these connections, the ancient world speaks to them ever more clearly and meaningfully.”
Dubischar, a recipient of the Delta Upsilon Distinguished Mentoring and Teaching Award, specializes in two research areas: Greek tragedy, especially the plays of Euripides and Sophocles, and the preservation and transformation of scientific knowledge throughout classical antiquity. He is revising a book manuscript on ancient commentaries, readers’ digests, and anthologies, titled Antike Auxiliartexte: Praxis und Theorie einer Textfunktion im antiken literarischen Feld (Ancient Auxiliary Texts: Practice and Theory of a Textual Function in the Ancient Literary Space), for publication in 2014 with De Gruyter Publishers, Berlin. His first book, Die Agonszenen bei Euripides (Stuttgart/Weimar: Metzler 2001), based on his prize-winning dissertation, explored the structure, function, and interpretation of debate scenes in Euripidean drama.
Working with students on his research is a natural progression of his devotion to the classroom: “Teaching energizes my research, research energizes my teaching—I would not want to do one without the other,” he says. “I meet the students where they are, but I take them far, farther perhaps than they may have known was possible.”
Physics major Hannah Weaver ’14 (Whitefish, Mont.), who is completing a minor in classical civilizations, is working with Dubischar through the EXCEL Scholars undergraduate research program on a project about the Euripidean tragedy Heracles for the prestigious international collaboration Brill’s Companion to Euripides. She is helping to analyze how the play’s compositional structure gives valuable clues for its notoriously difficult interpretation.
Previously, Dubischar worked with Thomas “T.J.” Bolt ’12, a graduate in English and classics; Andreas Lezis ’12, a history and international affairs graduate; and John “Cal” Parks ’14 (Rockville, Md.), a double major in history and self-designed classics, on other projects relating to Greek tragedy through the EXCEL Scholars undergraduate research program.
Dubischar sees the same transformation in his research students that he sees in the classroom. The chance to delve into classical literature while gaining practical experience in literary scholarship is invaluable, especially for those students planning to pursue graduate studies in the field. Bolt, for example, is in his second year as a graduate student in classics at Oxford University.
“They get to engage with works of world literature at levels of depth and intensity that exceed what they had expected. This can be a truly transformative experience for them given the intellectual profundity and poetic beauty of the works we study,” says Dubischar. “It is very gratifying to see how doing research as undergraduates has helped students achieve their aspirations. T.J. Bolt most probably would not be at Oxford today had he not been involved in, and learned much from, our work on Sophocles and Euripides.”