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What is Liceo Classico?

The Italian “Liceo Classico” is a high school major in humanities: it is possibly the only high school in the world where pupils study both Latin and Ancient Greek and it’s internationally renowned for its advanced curricula in philosophy, literature and history.

How do you translate “Liceo Classico” in English?

The literal translation from Italian to English of “Liceo Classico” is “Classical Lyceum” but, as we anticipated above, it’s correctly translated as “humanistic secondary school” or “high school major in humanities”.

The “Liceo Classico” is the oldest and most prestigious secondary school in Italy and, up to 2012, was actually divided in two segments: the first two years – called "Ginnasio" or “Gymnasium” – trained the students for the second part – the real “Liceo” – which lasts three years.

Besides that, it was considered so prestigious that, up to 1969, you could not attend an Italian university of any kind if you hadn’t obtained a “Liceo Classico” diploma.

For this very reason many notable figures in Italian politics, business and art attended “Liceo Classico”: several Presidents of the Republic (Sergio Mattarella, Giorgio Napolitano, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Sandro Pertini and so on) and many Prime Ministers (Giulio Andreotti, Romano Prodi, Mario Monti and, yes, also Silvio Berlusconi and the current Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi).

What’s the “Liceo Classico” curriculum like?

The curriculum mainly focuses on literature and social sciences. These are the primary subjects you would have to study.

Italian Literature, from the twelfth century up to today. The curriculum consists of a general biographical and stylistic overview of the most significant Italian authors, followed by focused readings and, in some cases, by the reading of entire books which are then discussed in class (such as Alessandro Manzoni’s novel “The Bethroded”, Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” and Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Decameron”).

Philosophy, from Ancient Greece up to modern thinkers and philosophers: as a student at Liceo Classico you would have to learn the ideas of nearly a hundred philosophers, from Heraclitus of Ephesus to Plato, from Aristotle to Epicurus, from Seneca to Saint Augustine of Hippo, from William of Ockham to Anselm of Canterbury, from René Descartes to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, from Immanuel Kant to Arthur Schopenhauer, and many more.

History of the world. Unlike many other schools in fact, the curriculum of Liceo Classico includes the history of almost each and every civilization from the dawn of men up to the eighties and nineties: as a student there, you would have to study the history of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, Greece, of the Macedonian Empire, of the Roman Empire, of the Byzantine Empire, of Japan, of Mayans and Aztecs, of England, France, Germany, Spain, the U.S., the U.S.S.R., of Colonial South America, of Colonial India, Oceania and Africa. And, believe me, that’s a lot of data to remember!

Ancient Greek grammar, syntax and literature. Yes! You don’t just study Ancient Greek grammar and syntax at Liceo Classico and you don’t just translate ancient texts (which, by itself, it’s not easy). You also study a huge heap of authors and poets, their biography and their work: from Homer to Archilochus, from Plato to Aeschylus, from Aristophanes to Sappho, from Callimachus to Xenophon, from Pindar to Demosthenes, from Lysias to Tyrtaeus and so on.

Latin grammar, syntax and literature. Here again, not just grammar, syntax and translation, but also literature.

Besides that you have to study a significant amount of other subjects: Math (and in some schools quite a lot of it), Geography, English and English literature, Physics, Chemistry, and you also have a couple of hours a week of P.E.!

This is what makes Liceo Classico internationally renowned: there’s really a lot of hard things to learn, and this trains you extremely well for University and for life in general!




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