Virgil’s Aeneid is a great choice for the verse option of both OCR GCSE and iGCSE papers, and it is always the one I recommend to my students. By reading Virgil, you get to experience beautiful literary Latin and learn about the shift from Republic to Empire: all of this while discovering one of the foundational stories of literary history.
This module weighs 25% of your GCSE grade and will be examined with a 50 marks paper that lasts 1 hour. You can read more about the structure of the exam below.
Read on to find tools and tips to help you succeed with the current OCR set text. Please note that this blogpost is still a work in progress and the accompanying Kahoot and downloadable resources will be published by the end of this week.
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OCR Virgil set text for 2023 and 2024
OCR GCSE prescribed text for the Verse Literature B:
Oxford Classical Text Virgil, Aeneid, 6.295–316, 384–416, 679–712, 752–759, 788–800
Introducing Virgil for GCSE
Before getting started with the original Latin, you will want to have a general idea of the author and his time. I highly recommend the choice of lectures on Massolit (below), but there are also some very useful resources that are freely available:
A great starting point is this in Our Time podcast: In Our Time: the Aeneid.
To learn more about the Aeneid, you could also take this free OU introductory course online. These Open University courses are rigorous and very engaging, and you can even earn a certificate!
For a deeper understanding of the text itself, I highly recommend Stanford University's full podcast on the Aeneid. In this set of lectures from Susanna Braund's course, "Virgil's Aeneid: Anatomy of a Classic", you will gain an excellent understanding of both text and context. If you want to stay focused on the OCR syllabus, then start with the introduction and the commentary to book 6.
You can ask your school if they have a Massolit subscription. If your school does not have a subscription, I highly recommend you take a look at it and consider the investment - you can start with a 7 day free trial. Once you are all set up, here are the 2 main courses you should cover:
Virgil: Aeneid Book 6 by Philip Hardie of Cambridge University
Virgil: Aeneid by Prof. Llewelyn Morgan of Oxford University
Working on the set text
Once you are ready for the course itself, these are the books you are going to need:
- An appealing translation of the Aeneid
There are plenty of free available translations online (e.gr. in Poetry in Translation or through Perseus for Dryden and Williams), but I recommend the Penguin edition which comes as well with a useful introduction
- A good edition of the Latin text. I recommend using the Bristol texts, which come with handy notes for translation as well as a useful vocabulary section and help with scansion and style. Keith McLennan's edition of Aeneid 6 is perfect for this. Of course, it is always a good idea to invest in a beautiful Oxford Classical Text (OCT) edition, but it is not essential for GCSE-level students.
In order to work with the texts online, you might find it useful to use a version of the Latin which is hyperlinked to a dictionary. Perseus is my go-to tool for this: you can work with the notes and translation side by side, and by clicking on the words you can access the relevant dictionary entries. Please BE AWARE that the parsing is automatically generated and, whereas it will provide you with some clues, it is not the final word.
The structure of the examination paper
The structure of this paper is the same as for the Prose set text. You will have a combination of shorter and longer questions to test your understanding of text and context. Make yourself familiar with past papers to see how marks get generally allocated. They are generally very evident questions, but you should take special care when organising your answers for the following:
Tips to learn the verse set text
There will be a 5 marker to test your translation skills in particular. However, knowledge of the set text is required for the whole of the paper, and you DO NOT NEED TO learn the English verbatim. This is what you should do instead:
Check your knowledge at regular intervals by reading the Latin, translating, then checking against the model translation. You should be able to pick out phrases and individual words, as well as have a very good grasp of the overall meaning. To check that you understand all words individually, you can either use a glossary or a tool like Perseus. Perseus has the advantage of showing you alternative meanings, which can be very helpful if for some reason you are finding the translation you did in class tricky to understand.
If you would like some more detailed informtion on how to tackle revision for set text Latin examinations, there is more information in my blogpost on the sagae prose set text.
Additional resources online that you might find useful:
In Our Time: the Augustan Age https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ktfmw
Natalie Haynes on Virgil (for fun once all work done): https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b03zy1c6
Would you like to take a look at some free resources to learn Latin? You can access some of my resources here.