a photograph of classics books on a shelf, spines facing outwards.

June 7, 2020, by Hannah O'Regan

What to do while you wait for university: Classics Part I

If your A-levels have been cancelled, and you’re planning to start university in September, you might be feeling a bit at a loose end right now.  Helen Lovatt has put together some suggestions for things to do that will give you a head start for a degree in Classics, Classical Civilisation, Ancient History or Joint Honours with Archaeology (for archaeology-specific advice see Will’s blog post here).

These are suggestions not requirements: some students will arrive already having studied an A-level in a Classical subject; others will have very little prior experience of the subject. Our courses are designed to give you the background you need and help you get going and pursue your interests. So pick and choose and enjoy learning.

There’s something for everyone, so this post focusses on general principles, the next will cater to specific interests.

1. Read, read, read! The most useful thing you can do is read about the ancient world. Start with primary material and follow your own interests. For Greece: If you’ve already read the Iliad and the Odyssey, branch out with Apollonius’ Argonautica (another fun epic journey), or Quintus of Smyrna’s Posthomerica (does the bits in between). If you loved Herodotus, try some Greek novels (Heliodorus’ Aethiopica) or maybe some Xenophon (the Cyropaedia, about the education of Cyrus is weird and interesting). For Rome: if Roman culture is more your thing, how about the poetry of Catullus (very varied, excellent translation by Guy Lee in Oxford World’s Classics) or Horace (his spring and death poems in the Odes feel apposite right now)? For something a bit more way out, try Apuleius’ Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses) about a curious traveller who turns into a donkey after encountering a witch. Suetonius Twelve Caesars is also a lot of fun: biographies of emperors including all the gossip. Many ancient texts are available free online through Perseus: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/ or Poetry in Translation or the Internet Archive.

2. Books by scholars and historians: it’s especially useful to reflect on what it means to study the ancient world, so Mary Beard and John Henderson’s Classics: A very short introduction is a great place to start. In fact many books in the Very Short Introduction series are great, such as Paul Cartledge (2011) Ancient Greece, Hugh Bowden (2014) Alexander the Great, or Chris Kelly (2006) The Roman Empire. Or you could get familiar with narrative histories of the period: such as Simon Hornblower (2000) The Greek World, 479-323 BC (London) or R. M. Errington’s (2008) A History of the Hellenistic World (Oxford) or Boatwright’s (2012) The Romans: From Village to Empire (Oxford). Helen Morales’ work on Greek myth is excellent: Classical Mythology: A very short introduction and her most recent book Antigone Rising. The Subversive Power of the Ancient Myths.

3. Take an online course: There are Openlearn courses on classical topics at the Open University ( https://www.open.edu/openlearn/), or do Matthew Nicholls’ MOOC about reconstructing the City of Rome https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/rome or Helen King’s course on ancient medicine: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/ancient-health

4. Follow up your interests using other media: TV documentaries (Mary Beard’s Meet the Romans is being re-broadcast on BBC4); podcasts (https://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Classical_Studies_podcasts); radio (Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics is on BBC Sounds and Audible); In Our Time (BBC Radio 4) has had many classical episodes, catalogued here by Tony Keen: https://keenerclassics.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/in-our-time-classics-podcasts/. Youtube videos (many interesting interviews by Classics Confidential); computer games (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is my family’s favourite, although they also like Mario Odyssey – not much Classical content there, though).

5. Learn an ancient language: Latin is on Duolingo. You can also get hold of coursebooks and answer keys and just get on with it. The Cambridge Latin Course is well set-up for independent learning. For Greek, an intensive but good course is Donald Mastronarde’s Introduction to Attic Greek; we usually use Athenaze with our beginners. If you’re feeling really enthusiastic you could do an online course, such as the JACT Latin summer school (https://latincamp.co.uk/) which this year is online.

6. Get into receptions of the ancient world: films (Gladiator; Troy; Jason and the Argonauts – the 1963 version with the classic skeletons! Alexander (2004) featuring Robin Lane Fox, the historical consultant riding in a cavalry charge); TV series (Plebs, HBO Rome); comics (Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze); plays (if your school subscribes to DigitalTheatre+ you could watch Antigone or Julius Caesar); opera (The Royal Opera House had Acis and Galatea free on Youtube – watch out for others); novels (Lindsey Davies’ Falco series; Robert Graves’ I, Claudius; Mary Renault’s The King Must Die (about Theseus) or The Persian Boy (about Alexander).

7. Explore museums through their online collections: the J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles and the Vatican Museum both have fabulous online collections, with lots of Greek and Roman material and receptions of it! The British Museum is also great for ancient art and artefacts, and the National Gallery has many important receptions such as Turner’s Dido Building Carthage. Links at: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/mar/23/10-of-the-worlds-best-virtual-museum-and-art-gallery-tours

8. Plan a virtual holiday: Design a visit to Greece or Italy or Turkey or North Africa. Read up in the guide books, look up images of the sites or blogs of other people’s experiences. Give yourself a budget and work out what you’d do every day. Have a go at cooking the food you would have eaten! Set up a café for your family. Virtually as good as the real thing, and so much cheaper.

9. Do something creative: write fan fiction; create a board game; make ancient jewellery; reconstruct a catapult; put on a play starring your pets. Research an aspect of the ancient world that fascinates you and base your creative project around it! This would be amazing practice for our Communicating the Past module.

So there are some ideas, in Part II we’ll look at the specifics of language, literature, and history. See you there!

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