Interview with Classics Major Jacob Wyder

jacob sitting in a garden

Please give us some information about yourself.

My name is Jakob Wyder.  I was born here in Missoula but when I was five years old my family moved to Maine, where I grew up.  I was drawn back to Montana mostly because of the mountains and the wilderness and the great memories of visiting family here as a kid.  I managed to spend some good time in the mountains while working for the Montana Conservation Corps for two amazing but brutal seasons of trail work.  I then spent a summer working on a wilderness trail crew in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Tahoe.  After those shenanigans I decided to return to school, "for real this time."  I still love the wilderness but do not get out as much as I used to, although I love trail running on Mount Sentinel.  I have always loved languages and have my mom to thank for speaking French to me as a child, although I don't think I enjoyed it at the time.  She is from Belgium and taught middle school French and German.  My dad is also a teacher; he teaches high school biology and is a UM grad!  Yes, I had both my parents as teachers growing up.  No, I didn't like it.  After High school I spent one year in Argentina to learn Spanish and experience Argentine culture.  It was amazing.  I am very interested in Religion and am a practicing Catholic. Please don't let that scare you ;)

What lead you to declaring a major in Classics?

I was originally majoring in geography with the idea of pursuing urban planning or landscape architecture, but it eventually became clear that those were not the fields for me.  During this time I was taking an Ancient Greek class, somewhat on a whim, and the professor (Matt Semanoff) presented the idea of majoring in Classics to our class.  I was very intrigued, firstly because I have always loved languages and secondly because during this time I was diving deeper into my Roman Catholic faith than ever before.  The idea of being able to approach Sacred Texts in their original languages sounded awesome.  The opportunity to learn about the socio-cultural background of the Ancient Mediterranean also drew me in.  Then, Prof. Semanoff said that there was a scholarship opportunity in the Classics department and that sealed the deal!  No looking back since!

Have you had a prior education or interest in Classics?

I never envisioned myself "majoring in Classics," but looking back it does make sense that things wound up this way.  I have always been very interested in philosophy and learning about the origins of Western philosophy greatly appealed to me.  There was even a time when I considered going to a "Great Books" school, attracted by the idea of building such a strong foundation of understanding of Western thought.  I am a total language geek and Greek and Latin have allowed me to delve quite deeply into that as well!

What is the most challenging aspect of majoring in Classics?

Both Greek and Latin require a lot of time to study.  It can seem like there are so many conjugations and declensions to recognize!  The language work can't be done in a hurry, at least I can't do it that way, because in order to really engage with the language and retain anything it just takes time.

a multi panel cartoon in latin

What is the most enjoyable aspect of majoring in Classics?

Funnily enough, the languages!  Studying them is a labor of love, and all the time spent studying is definitely worth it, especially in those 'click' moments where you finally understand some usage of some tense that you had never understood before, or manage to read a sentence of Xenophon's Anabasis without looking any of the words up!  Also seeing how strongly English and so many other modern languages are influenced by Greek and Latin is fascinating. Finding Greek and Latin roots in English words is like looking at the word with x-ray vision and seeing what its bones look like.  I love it.

Why would you recommend other students to major in Classics?

The study of Classics really opens up understandings across disciplines and in all aspects of life.  Having a sense of where things come from, whether its the etymology of the word "justice" or the origins of theater itself, allows us to see the bigger picture, and to better understand our place in that picture.  Classics is not just useless, outdated facts about the past; Classics illuminates truths that persist through time and through their illumination it allows us to make better decisions here and now.

Do you intend to pursue your studies in Classics after graduation?

In a way, yes.  I am discerning a religious vocation, possibly to monastic life.  I would have lots of opportunities to read Greek and Latin if this happens!

Any final thoughts?

"If you do not expect the unexpected you will not discover it; for it is hard to track down and difficult to approach." -Heraclitus