From ancient Greek literature to the architectural marvels of Rome’s past, the classics have a pull that to some is very hard to ignore. Luckily, for students whose interest is piqued, the University of Mississippi is home to one of the country’s oldest active chapters of the classics honor society, Eta Sigma Phi.
Eta Sigma Phi seeks to develop and promote interest in classical study and to stimulate interest in the history, art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome.
According to Molly Pasco-Pranger, assistant professor of classics and student advisor to the organization, the UM chapter of Eta Sigma Phi dates to the mid-1920s. “Our chapter’s charter predates 1927, and the chapter is one of the largest, too. After this spring’s initiation, we have just over 100 active members, all of whom have achieved As or Bs in ancient Greek and/or Latin classes.”
One such student is senior Hannah Penley, a classics and English double major from Dallas. “I’ve been a classics major since I started as a freshman. I began taking Latin courses in the third grade at a classical elementary school and continued through high school and here at Ole Miss,” Penley said. Although Latin originally drew her to the classics department, she quickly found herself interested in the classical civilizations side of the major.
That interest led her to Eta Sigma Phi, where she strives to educate younger students in the classics through the group’s outreach activities. “We go to Oxford High School about once a year and participate in a reading of the Aeneid to raise interest in the classics,” Penley said.
The annual reading is just one of the many activities the honor society offers. In past years, the group has also organized trips to see exhibits and performances relevant to ancient Greece and Rome, including trips to Nashville to see the replica of the Parthenon in Centennial Park.
Just in the past year, Eta Sigma Phi has held or hosted numerous events including a monthly to bi-monthly film night, a Classics game night with special versions of RISK and Scrabble and an initiation event followed by a Mediterranean feast for honorees and their guests.
Other activities include public readings and lectures. In October and May, the organization hosted “Taste of Classics” events with readings of Greek and Latin poetry on the steps of Bryant Hall and free samples of Mediterranean food. They also hosted a public lecture by classics professor Aileen Ajootian.
“I have really appreciated the opportunities to go to the lectures hosted by the Classics department,” said Susan Price, a senior classics and English double major.
“I saw that there was a class in ancient Greek open, and I signed up because I had always found it interesting when pastors used pieces of scripture in the original Greek as part of their sermons,” she said. “I ended up doing a lot better than I expected in my Greek classes.” In fact, Susan won the First Year Prize for Excellence in Ancient Greek in 2009. That spring she became a member of Eta Sigma Phi. “I’ve greatly benefited from the contact it has given me with other classics students and professors.”
“This honor society is more than just a ‘feather in the cap’ for classics students, said Pasco-Pranger. “It not only helps our students connect their studies to the world outside the classroom, but also builds community within the department as our students share their enthusiasm for classics with one another. And it gets better every year!”