What is Classical Civilisation about?
Classical Civilisation is one of the most wide-ranging and progressive subjects available in the Sixth Form. The range of potential topics is considerable and in fact making a choice is very hard. However, we aim to give you the opportunity to study some of the key aspects which will whet your appetite for more. The questions below will give you a flavour :
What does the Odyssey tell us about the world of Homer, its author?
What might the ancient Romans have been able to see and do in their towns?
What can archaeology tell us about the lives of the people of Pompeii?
Was Virgil anything other than a court poet for the emperor Augustus?
What did the Romans do for us in Britain?
These are just a few of the questions that you will consider if you decide to study Classical Civilisation. As said the range of potential material is huge: archaeology, mythology, literature, history, society, art and architecture all come into the discussion. In this subject you will be expected to make an informed and reasoned answer to such questions, together with a more personal response to more open ended questions, such as the one on Virgil.
By studying Classical Civilisation you will develop your skills of analysis, evaluation and interpretation, and will speculate about perennial questions such as these. Classical Civilisation, therefore, provides the opportunity for learning important skills such as essay writing and analysis of sources of information in combination with examining the ideas and attitudes of cultures which still influence modern-day thinking.
What does the course consist of?
You will have an opportunity to look at both Greek and Roman cultures. In the AS there is Homer's Odyssey, an epic poem composed 2,700 years ago about events 500 years before that: the late Bronze Age with the Trojan War and its aftermath. You will read the poem and investigate the myth and the reality behind the poem, in particular the society of the Odyssey and its values. Then for the second unit in the AS, you will explore the ancient cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia through the medium of archaeology and the written record. Like Time Team, we will use the evidence to build up a picture of the people and their lives.
At A Level, there is an opportunity to get under the skin of the people of Roman Britain. What was life like before, during and after the Romans came to Britain? In short, what did they do for us? Archaeology and the written record, such as the wooden tablets from Vindolanda, provide some of the answers. You will have your chance to offer your own interpretation of the evidence. The final unit is the epic poem, the Aeneid by Virgil, with some of Homer's Iliad. You will compare the two poems, since Virgil largely derived from Homer, but you will also look at the extra dimensions added to the poem by Virgil. What do they mean? Was Virgil simply mythologizing Augustus and his regime? Who was Aeneas, the central character? How did a Phrygian from Turkey become the founder of the Roman people? So here there is history and politics as well as literature.
The subject therefore involves:
- Developing an interest and enthusiasm for the Classical world;
- Developing your knowledge and understanding of this world;
- Being aware of the influence of the ancient world upon later times and its continuing influence;
- Developing and applying your analytical and evaluative skills;
- Understanding some aspects of the ancient world, how the people lived and what they valued.
The portrayal of Greek society in the Odyssey suggests that women were not important. How far do you agree or disagree with this statement?
Does the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum in ad 79 and the preservation of the archaeological remains that happened as a result make them better sources of information about town life in Roman Italy than the remains at Ostia?
'The heroes in epic are concerned first and foremost with their own reputation.' Consider to what extent this is true both of the Iliad and the Aeneid.
For these sorts of questions you need a thorough knowledge of the topics and an ability to weigh up the evidence whether it is based on archaeology or literature.
Whom does the subject suit?
You do not need any previous knowledge to study AS or A Level Classical Civilisation; it is a subject which can be studied from scratch with no problems. An enquiring mind and a liking for reading are important. An ability to discuss and develop a line of argument will be essential.
Classical Civilisation is an enormously rewarding subject to study. You should come into it with an open mind, prepared to have your horizons broadened. You will go out of it (if you have given the course your best) with a valuable body of skills, and knowledge that will have changed your outlook on the world.
How is Classical Civilisation taught at d'Overbroeck's?
First, the smaller classes and less formal atmosphere make for a more congenial working atmosphere. Lessons are focused but at the same time you will have the chance to ask questions and to air your own opinion. Being able to defend a point of view is an important skill whether it is in the classroom or in the world outside. You will never be bored; no student has ever said Class Civ is boring; quite the opposite: many are surprised at how interesting and relevant it can be even in this day and age.
What books can I read to get a sense of the subject?
Start with Homer and Virgil; or watch a film such as Troy. It will give you a flavour, though Hollywood rarely gets everything right!
- The Odyssey, Homer (Penguin Classic)
- The Iliad, Homer (Penguin Classic)
- Pompeii, Peter Connolly (Oxford)
- Roman Britain, H H Scullard (Thames & Hudson)
- The Aeneid, Virgil (Penguin Classic)
- Oxford History of the Classical World, Boardman, Griffin & Murray (Oxford)
What websites are there to look at?
City Life in Roman Italy
Who will teach me?
Currently the department consists of Jane Nimmo-Smith and David Mackie.
Jane is Head of Department and teaches Classical Civilisation, Latin and Greek. An Oxford graduate, she has been an assistant examiner and assessor for OCR Classics for several years. She is also currently a scrutineer for Ancient History. Jane is fascinated by the cultures of the past, not just the Greeks and Romans, but the Persians and Egyptians too.
David, another Oxford graduate, specialises in Latin and Greek, as well as Roman Civilisation. He combines this with teaching Philosophy in the Sixth Form. He joined the department at the start of 2010.
What might the subject lead onto?
Classical Civilisation is a good choice for any student wishing to take Classics, Classical Studies or Archaeology; it is also a useful A level in combination with any arts subject such as English Literature. It can be a valuable adjunct to any of the sciences considering the current emphasis on improving the written communication skills of non-arts students. Recent students have gone on to study classics & drama, archaeology, anthropology, PPE, law and modern languages at Nottingham, Oxford, Durham and King's College London. One recent student who went to Royal Holloway to study Classics and Drama found the Classics side so fascinating that she dropped drama and has just graduated with a First in Classics! Her dissertation on Helen in ancient literature makes for captivating reading.
Studying Classical Civilisation will not put you into a compartment: quite the opposite. Look around you in public life and the media, business and publishing (to name a few) and you will not have to look for long before you can spot someone who has had the benefit of studying classics – a subject that makes you a clear and original thinker.
Do I need to have studied the GCSE before?
No, it is not necessary. The majority of people who study this subject have not done so before. You do not need any previous knowledge or background. However any previous knowledge will prove useful so if you have done the GCSE you may find there is some overlap depending on the topics you studied. But the approach at A Level is completely different to that of the GCSE as the material will be examined in a very different way.
Are there grades in specific GCSE subjects I should have achieved?
Not really, though if you took the GCSE in Classical Civilisation a C grade would indicate that you have the skills required. Ideally C or higher in English and/or History will be helpful since the subject requires a good deal of reading and analysis of literary texts and historical sources.
What skills should I have?
As indicated above, it helps to have good reading and comprehension skills. For the literature part of the subject you will need to supply evidence to support your point of view; so an ability to debate and argue both sides is an important skill. For the culture part of the subject you need to be able to interpret evidence and offer your view on the available evidence - much like a detective using evidence and clues to solve a problem. A head for details will also be an asset.
What else should I consider before choosing?
Civilisation is an excellent companion subject to English or History; but in fact it combines very well with any subject.
Anything else I should consider?
Not really – but you might consider some background reading. Please ask for a list if you are interested.