To relax in his spare time this summer, Dr. Nicholas Capozzoli, an Anne Arundel County neurologist, is reading 300 or 400 pages a week of such works as the Histories of Herodotus, the Annals of Tactitus and Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

It is, says Dr. Capozzoli, "a very good diversion. It gives me an opportunity to think about things other than medicine.

Wade Dorsey, an Annapolis tobacco store manager, and Capozzoli are part of a tiny but enthusiastic corps of amateur scholars who have forsaken beaches, parks and mountain this summer to form an academic community that finds its identity in total immersion in the likes of Aristole and Sophocles.

For eight weeks this summer they are gathered on the campus of St. John's College for the first annual Graduate Institute of Liberal Education, a program of seminars and discussions centered around the great books of history.

Under the stately trees of St. John's centuries -old campus, they pass the August hours engrossed in such weighty debates as whether Tactitus or Gibbons wrote truer history and which portrayal of Richard II is more accurate, Shakespeare's or the one in Holinshed's Chronicles.

More than half of the group are teachers, but there are also a librarian, a nurse, and an engineer for a recording company. Some, like Dorsey and study during off hours. Others live on campus and study during virtually all of their waking hours.

Bruce Eberwein, who teaches fourth grade at Prince George's County's Mount Rainier Elementary School, said that the classical literature studied at St. John's a welcome change of pace from more recent literature.

"People tend to read a lot of trash today," he said. "They get caught up in a lot of drivel, but they can't hold on to an idea for more than a minute. Things go in and out of fashion.

"These books are not fashionable, but they have meaning, and they last."

Grace McNeley, a Navajo Indian from Shiprock. N.M., is at St. John's this summer on a scholarship from the Navajo Higher Education Department. "Before I came here, I thought since I was going to be in the East, I would have a chance to visit Washington and some other places," said McNeley, who teaches at Navajo Community College. "But there is not time. I study all day."

Those enrolled in the Graduate Institute at St. John's are in many ways reflective of broader trend in recent years: the increasing number of adults returning to the classroom.

In an era that has seen such courses as yoga, wine, tasting and auto mechanics proliferate at campuses across the nation. St. John's remains one of the few surviving bastions of classical learning.

Its curriculum, says Geoffrey Comber, who directs the summer program here, is centered exclusively around a reading of the "great books" of history, supplemented by seminars and discussions.

"We read them because they are, indeed, great books," says Comber.

"Thucydides makes the claim that he writes for all time and when you read him, you realize that he's right. Everybody ought to read Thucydides' Pelopennisian Wars. Everybody ought to read Gibbon. Very few people do, of course, and we recognize this, but we get a lot out of it so we've not about to change.

While enrollment at the Graduate Institute can lead to a master's degree "Felopennisian Wars," St. Augustine's "City of God," and the writings of [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

"Since it is my summer vacation, I of the few opportunities people have to enlarge their own thoughts."

For Dr. Capozzoli, the neurologist, it is purely a matter of indulging what he says is his "natural inclination for literature and philosophy. What this offers me is a bit more structure and stimulus to do the reading, which I probably wouldn't do on my own."

Wade Dorsey says he signed up to compensate for the fact that he had "no concrete feeling of history." Besides he adds "understanding the books helps me understand people and that helps me run the tobacco store." He is studying Thucydides' "Pelopponeian War," St. Augustine's "City of God," and the Writtings of Plutarch.

For Mark Faller, a high school mathematics teacher and wrestling coach from Port Jervis, N.Y., the St. John's studies are a novel way of spending his summer vacation.

"Sincuhit is my summer cvacation, I can devote full time to the readings,"said Faller. "Studying authors like Hegel, Aristotle and Nietzche is one of the few opportunities people have to enlarge their own thoughts."