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Preparing for a Brilliant Classical Civilisation and Latin A-Level experience? Try this.

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

Are you going to start Latin or Classical Civilisation A-Level, or moving from AS to A2 Latin, and looking for activities to have fun but also to start preparing for your Level exams, but don't know where to start? I have prepared a reading list and some links to great resources to help you along the journey.

Many students end up in a rather uninspiring rut moving between the OCR vocabulary list, practising their endings and finding past papers. Sure, that is very useful, and I have given you the links. But what if I gave you a list of other random activities that could help you get fit for a stellar start to your Classics journey?

I have compiled an extensive list of other stuff you could be doing to improve your general knowledge of Classics. I have even included a fortune wheel at the bottom of the page to tell you what you can get started on – it does not require a haruspex, but the Romans would surely have approved!

A note of caution: as happens with many lists, this one is in nature unfair and, I will not hide it, based on my personal taste. Please just use this blog post to jump into the endless pool of resources waiting for you out there!

Things to watch: movies and documentaries

This post contains affiliate links, which help me keep producing free resources at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, but I only ever recommend products that I use and believe are worthwhile.

There are plenty of excellent quality documentaries and classically inspired movies. Just please, please, please check the age rating first!

The BBC is a good source, and so is channel 4, but availability varies. My favourite documentaries are by Mary Beard, Michael Scott and Bettany Hughes. I would keep an eye out on eye player and 4OD, as well as on any streaming or TV service that is available to you.

Below are some examples that you can currently purchase but, as I mentioned, keep an eye out for what becomes available online:

Eight Days that Made Rome with Bettany Hughes

Meet the Romans, with Mary Beard

Top 10 Treasures of Pompeii, with Bettany Hughes

As for movies, I suggest exploring some old-school ones. Here are some of my favourite ones:

You could also revisit some modern classics like the following:

And do not forget the series, but please again do check the age rating:

I, Claudius is an excellent series and widely available!

Rome by HBO

Barbarians, on Netflix

Things to make and do

The following actions will give you some inspiration:

1. Create a personal timeline of the ancient world, to place the events that are relevant to what you are studying

2. Go to the SPQR App or Perseus and create flashcards to start working on the vocabulary for your prose and verse unseen authors

3. Make visual compilations of the ancient world (Pinterest is a good tool!). You can check out my boards here

4. Write summaries of myths - yes, I do believe that Wikipedia is perfectly fine at this stage, and it comes with great images!

5. Think about ways to store your growing vocabulary lists: by semantic field, by stem, by part of speech, etc. The possibilities are pretty much endless! You can read more about my vocabulary learning recommendations here.

Things to read

This will really depend on your interests, but I suggest reading at least one (or sections of several) from each of these categories as a starting point:

The big names, in no particular order

Homer: do not feel that you need to tackle the Iliad or Odyssey from start to end. Bearing the story in mind, just choose the books you might find more interesting for a start. There is something to suit all tastes: war, love, the supernatural, death, adventures, politics, philosophy… You name it!

Virgil: obviously the Aeneid, but why not look at his other works? The Georgics are surprisingly delightful.

Thucydides and Herodotus: again, you can pick on the index the passages that you are most interested in, e.g. the plague of Athens or the travels of the Fish-Eaters.

Catullus: the rock star of the Republican era. You could accompany a reading of Catullus with some Propertius and Tibullus to get a good idea of the course of elegiac poetry before Ovid.

Ovid: any of the works will be a pleasure to read and you will open a door to the rich social, political and religious – but not so pious! world of the Romans. It is also, perhaps ironically, the most accessible gateway to Greek mythology. I would start with the Metamorphoses, but there is plenty of fun to be had with the Art of Love, The Cures for Love and Treatments for the Feminine Face - this particular edition is also a joy to hold in your hands!

Tacitus: marvel at his skill and get immersed in a world of political turmoil, dark motives and moral decline. The Annals are a must-read, but they are not the easiest to read in one go. I suggest you choose your episodes according to what interests you or choose instead one of the shorter works, such as Agricola and Germania.

Horace: carpe diem! Find it out from the man himself.

Greek Tragedy: explore the human soul through reworkings of myths by the great three playwrights: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The best starting points are probably Sophocles’ Oedipus King and Euripides’ Medea, but do not be afraid to look through the extant plays and choose one that appeals to your interests, including the much-feared Aeschylus.

Not so big names, still monumental works:

Hesiod’s Theogony: origins of the universe and the gods, along with most foundational myths, you could not ask for more!

ApuleiusThe Golden Ass: let yourself be surprised with this very unusual early novel where the protagonist gets himself turned into an ass and experiences one of the most surreal odysseys that Antiquity has left for us to enjoy.

Lucian of Samosata: you will be surprised at how contemporary his writing sounds. In his True Stories you will find the very first account of a trip to the Moon, Star Wars included. Other works, for example the Dialogue of the Dead, cannot be read without loud laughter.

A note on translations: some are more beautiful, some are more accessible, some are more accurate, some are works of literature in themselves… The best way to choose a translation is to browse through a few (Amazon is very good for that these days, you can download a free sample). Some publishing houses have good reputation and rightly so, as is the case with Penguin, OUP or CUP. For all the links provided, I have chosen a translation I personally like; the options, however, are many!

Background works:

This is an ever-growing list that spans from very popular history books to more specialised academic works. Choose what works best for you and make sure you take some notes as you read along.

· OUP Very Short Introductions have very rigorous and amenable introductions to most topics of interest for a classicist. Some examples: Classical Mythology, Roman Britain, The Classics, Ancient Greece, The Roman Empire, Archaeology, Classical Literature. I also highly recommend Homer, for which I recently wrote a review in the Classics for All website.

· Look for the great champions who are bringing scholarship to readers of all levels and create highly enjoyable books: Mary Beard (SPQR), Paul Cartledge (The Spartans), Helen Morales (Antigone Rising), Tom Holland (Rubicon), Robin Lane Fox (The Classical World), Charlotte Higgins (It's all Greek to Me), etc

· Delve into one of the larger, more academic works of reference: the Cambridge Companions (Ovid, Virgil, etc), Zanker’s The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, Harrison’s Companion to Latin Literature, etc. Your local library or the school’s library will have a good selection to match your interests.

Historical novels

Below are some personal favourites of mine that I find match some of the topics covered in A-Level Latin and Classical Civilisation courses. Keep posted for the ultimate list of historical novels for A-Level which I am just about to publish!

· David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life (and what a great work of postcolonial genius this is too!) and Ransom

· Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships

· Robert Graves’ I Claudius and Claudius the God

· Robert Harris’ Pompeii and Cicero Trilogy

· Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian

Things to do after lockdown, in London or online

· A stroll in the British Museum to take a look at the material reality of the Greek and Roman world. The collection is stunning and will colour your understanding of the period

· A visit to the National Gallery to gain a better understanding of the reception of classical literature in art

· Play around any of your local museums to find out more about Antiquity

· Look around for smaller galleries and collections, which often have real gems, e.g. the Roman amphitheatre at the Guildhall (just next to what is probably the best picture of Clytemnestra ever painted!), the Wallace Collection, etc

· Visit one of the many archaeological sites that are dotted around you. For example, if you are based in English, English Heritage is a great starting point.

Things to browse (and listen to!)

Go with an open mind to any of the websites below, and you will discover the most unexpected information about classical Antiquity: for all things mythological to deepen your understanding of language change In Our Time – Ancient Rome programmes

You can also join one of the many free courses available online. The quality of some of them is superb. Not all are available at all times, but it is worth checking what resources are available. Here are some examples: (scroll down to find an introduction to Virgil among other relevant courses, all free)

Still not sure any of this is for you? Relax with a spot of Roman cooking and enjoy the flavours of the past!

Confused? Let the wheel of fortune choose your next adventure!

If you would like to fit in some guided translation, do not hesitate to contact me for a free consultation.

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