Published: July 1, 2015

Christian Kopff was a bit of a troublemaker in seventh and eighth grades. It was nothing serious, just the antics of a bright student who was cocky and bored in class.

On the advice of the school’s guidance counselor, Kopff’s parents sent him to a prep school in New York State where the wayward lad would be more academically challenged. The school had a Latin requirement and the teacher met with Kopff before morning chapel to teach him Greek as well.

To his surprise, Kopff fell in love with both languages, which ignited a lifelong passion for studying the classics and for sharing his enthusiasm with students.

An associate professor of classics, Kopff teaches Honors Program courses on the ancient world, including Greek, Latin and Hebrew, and is the founding faculty member of the CU-Boulder Honors Journal. He also works with the classics department of the University of Urbino, Italy, on ancient Greek lyric poetry.

“Our key institutions today—political, scientific and philosophical—go back to the ancient world,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough that there are still students that are enthusiastic about what I teach.”

A classicist committed to the study of the importance of the ancient world and its impact on modern society, Kopff views research and teaching as the ideal approach of a university professor. His role model as a teacher is Socrates, the Greek philosopher Kopff considers “the most important role model for teachers in the humanities.”

Kopff’s scholarly work involves studying the texts and traditions that emerged in the ancient world and which remain influential today. This work takes him abroad to spend extended periods of time exploring Europe. Over the past 35 years, he has spent an accumulated total of nearly six years in Rome. There he immerses himself in the culture, past and present. His first son was born in Rome.

“Travel fills my soul because it makes sense out of my work,” he said. “I can study ancient manuscripts in the Vatican library and then drink a modern cappuccino when I take a break.”

Part of his daily routine in Boulder is taking time out to go for walks on campus with his wife, Carmen Grace, a senior instructor in the Department of French and Italian. In their work, the couple interacts with the same bright students, but from different perspectives.

“Going for a walk with my wife makes it a richer and more fun walk,” he said. “Intellectual accomplishment and beauty are for me a unity. She absolutely embodies that. She’s my Beatrice if I were Dante.”

The power of the classics, according to Kopff, is the potential to broaden students’ view of the world and make them articulate, intelligent, and critical creative thinkers. His ability to present material to students in a way they can readily grasp has garnered glowing comments that include “phenomenal,” “completely brilliant” and “extremely knowledgeable.”

“What students are responding to is enthusiasm,” he said. “If you aren’t enthusiastic, the knowledge just sits there. Students get interested because they see that I am interested.”

Kopff consults regularly with private, public and charter schools that use a classical curriculum to keep in touch with K-12 schools and educators and to excite their students about subjects that will lead to success in demanding universities.

“A classical curriculum educated the people who created the modern world in art, literature, politics and science, like Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Jefferson and Newton,” said Kopff. “Classically educated K-12 students are extremely well prepared to profit from all that a flagship university like CU offers.

“The past still matters,” he said. “The past is not dead. It’s not even past, as Faulkner said. It’s still very much alive.”