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A work of the highest class, or so exemplary as to be studied as a model in classrooms. A literary classic is a work admired in both these senses, and usually one that is deemed to have stood the test of time and outlasted changes in critical taste; such works may be of relatively recent date, and so regarded as ‘modern classics’. Classics as an academic subject, however, is the study of ancient Greek and Latin language and literature, often with aspects of Greek and Roman civilization such as mythology and philosophy. The adjective classical is in most literary contexts also strongly associated with the works of the greatest Greek and Roman writers or with the periods in which they lived (as with ‘classical civilization’, ‘classical mythology’, and so forth). By extension, it may apply to works of later periods that are inspired by or modelled upon the Greek or Roman traditions, so that one may refer to a classical tendency in modern literature, often opposed to a romantic tendency (see classicism). There are, however, some uses of the term that apply to later periods in which some branch of literary art has flourished: thus one may refer to the 17th century as the classical period of French drama, or to the 19th as the classical period of the Western novel; these are loosely equivalent to the usages found in ‘classical’ music, ballet, economics, etc. For an extended account, consult Frank Kermode, The Classic (1975).

Subjects: Literature.

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