The first examination after you have come to Oxford is Honour Moderations in Classics. This is taken after five terms. Full details of the various Honour Mods. courses will be given to you when you arrive, but if you would like more detail now of your particular course, please see the Classics Faculty website. Each course has its specific requirements, but as far as possible all candidates for Honour Moderations are integrated in one programme of teaching.
The most important task for you before you come up in October is, so far as is possible, to advance your knowledge of Classical literature and Greek and/or Latin language.
Few students these days study ancient history at school. If you haven’t, you must at some stage acquire at least an outline knowledge of the 5th cent. BC in Athens, and the 1st cent. BC in Rome. History books are mentioned in the bibliography at the end.
You will take a philosophy paper for Mods, which you are likely to study in your third term at Balliol. You will be able to choose between a number of options. One that is well-integrated into the rest of the course (if you are learning Greek) is the Plato paper, which covers the Euthyphro and the Meno; other options involve studying either Book IV of Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura (if you are not learning Greek) or some issues in contemporary philosophy, with a focus on classical logic. Suggestions for introductory reading are found in the bibliography at the end.
Honour Moderations, Courses IA, IB, IC
We would like those reading Honour Moderations Course IA and IC to read the whole of the Iliad in translation before they come up. Richmond Lattimore’s translation is excellent, but others are more than acceptable. However, you must read at least four and preferably seven books of the Iliad in Greek before you come up: books 1-9 and 16-24 have to be read in Greek for Mods; Georg Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary is the standard tool. Please note that you will be tested on your ability to translate from Books 1, 6 and 9 when you come up. A good further tactic might be to tackle first those books which are most crucial for the plot of the poem: Books 16, 19, 22, 24. All of this will give you a sense of the action of the whole poem, and equip you to start your tutorial work on Homer.
Those reading for Honour Moderations Course IB should also read the whole of the Iliad in translation before they come up, and seek – by means of a summer school if possible – to acquire or improve a rudimentary grasp of Greek, and make some start on Book 1 of the Iliad in Greek (the books prescribed to be read in Greek for Course IB are 1, 9, 22, 24). You must also read at least two but preferably three books of Vergil’s Aeneid before you come up: Books 1-6 and 12 have to be read in Latin for Mods. You will be tested on your ability to translate from Books 2 and 4 when you come up. All of this will give you a sense of the action of the whole poem, and equip you to start your tutorial work on Vergil.
We would recommend that, if possible, you acquire the Oxford Classical Text of the Iliad (two volumes, ed. Monro & Allen) and also of Virgil (ed. Mynors). As well as being the set editions (other editions will have different readings of certain passages), they are probably the most economical option; both have been in print for many years and should be available second hand. The Virgil OCT also contains the Eclogues and Georgics, which you will probably study for Greats. There are good commentaries on individual books of the Iliad and Aeneid and on the whole poem; please ask if you’d like more advice on this.
Mods IA and IB candidates should also extend their reading of Latin: everyone has to take an interdisciplinary ‘Texts and Contexts’ paper; a prescribed book for one of the attractive options on this paper is Cicero’s pro Caelio. Mods IC candidates, besides reading Homer as prescribed above, should seek to acquire or improve a rudimentary grasp of Latin, just as IB candidates are encouraged to do with Greek, and should if possible make some start on a Latin text: try the pro Caelio and begin the Latin at chapter 30 sunt autem. We would also like you to read the whole of the Aeneid in translation before you study it in your second term – the summer vacation may be a better time to do this than the Christmas, when you will have other work to do. David West’s Penguin is solid, but Frederick Ahl’s new World’s Classics is more fun.
Courses IIA and IIB
Those reading Honour Moderations IIA (Beginners’ Latin) and Hon. Mods. IIB (Beginners’ Greek) should seek – by means of a summer school if possible – to acquire or improve a basic grasp of their respective ancient language.
Course IIB has, like Mods I above, a Homer focus, and students have to read Books 1, 6, 9, 22, and 24 by the time they take their Mods. To make some start here (on Book 1) is more than desirable, but it is absolutely essential that you read the whole of the Iliad in translation before you come up. Richmond Lattimore’s translation is fine, but there are many others just as serviceable. We would recommend that you acquire the Oxford Classical Text of the Iliad (2 vols., ed. T. W. Allen), which is the set text.
Course IIA has, in place of Homer, a Virgil Aeneid focus, and requires a number of books to be read in Latin (1, 2, 4, 6, 12); prospective students should make a start on Book 1. We would also like IIA students to read the whole Aeneid in translation before you come up. David West’s Penguin is solid, but Frederick Ahl’s new World’s Classics is more fun. We would recommend that, if possible, you acquire the Oxford Classical Text of Virgil (ed. Mynors). As well as being the set edition (other editions will have different readings of certain passages), it is probably the most economical option; it has been in print for many years and should be available second hand. It also contains the Eclogues and Georgics, which you will probably study for Greats. There are good commentaries on individual books of Aeneid and on the whole poem; please ask if you’d like more advice on this.
Tutorial teaching of Virgil (IIA) and Homer (IIB) will happen in your second term.
Suggested secondary reading
Again it should be stressed that nothing beats advancing your knowledge of the languages, and reading original texts (so far as this is possible), but here is some secondary reading:
- R. B. Rutherford, Homer (Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics, Oxford, 2nd Ed. 2013)
- J. Griffin, Homer on Life and Death (Oxford, 1980)
- O. Taplin, Homeric Soundings (Oxford, 1992)
- G. Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary (Duckworth, 1984) is a useful aid.
- R. Fowler, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Homer (Cambridge, 2004)
- W, Allan, Homer: the Iliad (Bristol, 2012)
- P. R. Hardie, Virgil (Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics, Oxford, 1998)
- W. A. Camps, An Introduction to Virgil’s Aeneid (paperback, Oxford 1969)
- R. O. A. M. Lyne, Further Voices in Vergil’s Aeneid (paperback, Oxford 1992)
- C. Martindale, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Virgil (Cambridge, 1997).
For an overview of the ancient world, see J. Boardman, J. Griffin and O. Murray (editors), The Oxford History of the Ancient World (Oxford 1986; a paperback version has subsequently been published in two volumes, Greek and Roman).
There are many, but you can pick up outlines of the relevant periods from, for example:
- H. H. Scullard, From the Gracchi to Nero: a history of Rome from 133 B.C. to A.D. 68. (this been published in many editions: the latest is by Routledge, 1998)
- O. Murray, Early Greece (Fontana, 2nd ed. 1993)
- J.K. Davies, Democracy and Classical Greece (Fontana, 2nd ed. 1993)
- Mary Beard, SPQR. A History of Ancient Rome (2015) - engaging, popular and very well written
Some suggestions for introductory reading are as follows. Do not try to read all or even many of them: one or two will suffice. Reading philosophy is hard; it is best to proceed very slowly and carefully, taking notes and pausing every few pages in order to be sure that you have understood the course of the argument. Typically, you will need to read something at least twice in order to understand it completely.
General introductions and logic:
- S. Blackburn, Think (Oxford 1999)
- D. Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (New York, 2013)
- J. Nagel, Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2014)
- E. Conee and T. Sider, Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics (Oxford, 2014)
- V. Halbach, The Logic Manual (Oxford, 2009) – This is the textbook used in the logic course
- W. Hodges, Logic (London, 2nd ed. 2001) – This covers roughly the same material as The Logic Manual. It is more elementary and differs from Halbach’s treatment in a few respects, but is less abstract and may be more helpful as a starting point.
If you are interested in Plato, it is best just to read some of his dialogues (in translation to begin with): you might start with the Euthyphro and Apology, and move on to the Phaedo or the Crito if you are eager for more. Further suggestions are as follows.
- T. Irwin, Classical Thought (Oxford, 1989) – A highly recommended introduction to ancient philosophy as a whole.
- J. Barnes, Aristotle: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000) – You will not study any Aristotle at Mods, but it might be interesting to read this for a taste of quite a different style of philosophy from Plato’s.
- T. O’Keefe, Epicureanism (Durham, 2010) – An introduction to Epicurean philosophy which would be useful for the Lucretius option.
The Oxford Classics degree throws a lot of text at you, and expects you to be able to translate it on sight. The preparation of your texts is therefore extremely important, and there are ways to do this correctly and ways to do this incorrectly. This note on preparing texts sets out the correct procedure, and warns you against various incorrect procedures. Please make sure you read it carefully, and refer to it during your first terms to get into good habits early on.
Rosalind Thomas, Fellow & Tutor in Ancient History
Adrian Kelly, Fellow & Tutor in Ancient Greek Literature
Matthew Robinson, Fellow & Tutor in Latin Literature
Alexander Bown, Fellow & Tutor in Ancient Philosophy