Classics

Joe Stephenson

I'd always really liked mythology since watching the Disney Hercules movie (no joke), and then I got the chance to study Latin for GCSE and really loved the texts I read.

The people who do my course are brilliant, and we’ve got to know one another well over the past two years. I obviously really enjoy the subject as well, but the one thing that makes 9am Greek sessions every day worthwhile is the fact that the people in my class became some of my best friends — not to mention my teacher, who was (and is) absolutely amazing!

In the Classics course, you sit exams in your second year called Mods, which are supposed to be about the 5th hardest exam series in the world — there’s nothing quite like it for bragging rights.

Joe, Christ Church, 4th year

I chose Classics because I felt at home with the comforting rigidity of Latin and Greek; only at Oxford have I started to appreciate how wonderfully colourful and versatile they really are. I’ve become more versatile too. ‘Educare’ means ‘draw out’: that’s exactly how studying here works. When I got here, I’d never written an essay. Ever. Now I can write coherent arguments on texts I enjoy so much that I go on about them for hours afterwards. Imagine studying Game of Thrones, but in languages that are supposed to be dead (they’re far from it).

My favourite experience so far has been seeing Professor David Raeburn’s new translation/production of the ‘Bacchae’ after studying it in Greek. It was a true privilege. It felt spookily familiar - that’s how brilliantly it evoked the original - but I was equally fascinated by his own marvellous stylistic flairs, e.g. matching Greek and English rhythms, and his approach to the controversial parts of the text.

Olivia, Corpus Christi, student from 2011

In the first five terms, you study the core modules for classics, honing the skills that you’ll need for the course. You study central literary texts (the Iliad and the Aeneid), take a thematic approach to various texts and artefacts, and choose two modules (one philosophy paper, and one historical/archaeological paper). You also have centrally-organised language classes. If you studied your chosen languages for A-level, then you have refresher classes once a week; otherwise, you have intensive language classes every day for the first two terms. After your first exams (Mods) in fifth term, you get to choose all your modules, and there is a huge variety of options so you can tailor the course to whatever you’re interested in (history, philosophy, literature, philology or archaeology).

What makes Oxford different?

Lots of things set Oxford apart from other universities in classics: the tutors are all excellent, but the tutorial system in general means that you develop your key skills really quickly. The course at Oxford also has a good focus on language, which means that you get to spend a lot of time with the texts in the original languages.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Joe Stephenson

The British Museum! Full of great exhibits and antiquities, and it's free.

If there’s an author you particularly like in a subject you’re doing for A-level, then I’d suggest reading some of their other work (for me, that was Ovid). Try as many Penguin Classics as you can get your hands on, particularly if they allow you to discover what topics you’re passionate about: if you have read a Greek tragedy that you enjoyed, try reading some others by the same playwright; if you liked a Greek epic, maybe try some Latin epic and see how the genre develops over time.

Otherwise, because Classics is such a broad degree, you shouldn't be intimidated by reading something that’s not in your wheelhouse — for me, I’d never read any philosophy before I applied, so I read a short work by Plato (The Symposium) and it showed me what else Classics has to offer.

As for watching things, try a Mary Beard programme — they tend to be well pitched and quite fun.

Joe, Christ Church, 4th year

Tell us about your interview?

The first interview I had was a philosophy interview in which I was given a set of syllogisms and asked to talk them through and work out whether they made sense logically and work out any logical fallacies. I found this interview difficult and it was mainly about thinking through what was in front of me and trying to work it out.

The second interview focused on my personal statement and I was asked questions relating to books, plays, speeches and so on I had mentioned in my personal statement, so focusing on ancient history and literature.

student from 2012 LMH student

Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Classics interviews for more information.

Find out more

Course length: 4 years
Students per year: 110
Typical weekly contact time in first year: 3 hours lectures, 1 hour tutorial, language classes (per language: 1 hour if learned at A-level or 5 hours for new languages)

Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.

If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.

You might also find it helpful to hear from students studying CAAH, Classics and English, Classics and Modern Languages, Classics and Oriental Studies, AMH or History (or even consider applying for those courses!).