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  • Writer's pictureAna Martin

Pythius and Sagae Thessalae: how can you learn the Prose set text for OCR GCSE Latin?

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

Those sitting their papers in 2023 and 2024 are in luck because the OCR set texts are both fun and exciting to read. Who does not like a story about witches and scammers? Believe me when I say it:


you will find it easy to answer that 10-marker when it asks you

what makes the story exciting?!


sagae thessalae
etiam muscas induunt!


sagae Thessalae animalia induunt.

Can you name in Latin any of the animals the witches take the form of? I am sure you know at least one!







So, what is stopping you from enjoying the texts and getting a top grade? Here are some common problems I see with my GCSE students:


- There are new words you have not seen before – and are not on your vocabulary list

- The word order is driving you crazy

- It feels like there are lines and lines… and lines! to learn


I have good news for you. With enough familiarity with the text in Latin, you can get a much better understanding of it. Here are my main tips for revising set texts. Make sure you remind yourself often of this:


There are ways to help you memorise the set text


Infographic with rules to follow when revising set texts for OCR GCSE examination
Do's and Don'ts of Latin set text learning



It can be very tempting to memorise a translation you have been given in Latin, but cutting corners will not help you understand the text: you learn Latin, by looking at the Latin, using the Latin and analysing the Latin. You must embrace the Latin.


Have I said the word Latin enough? The key is indeed in the Latin, and below I have provided you with tips, activities (including a Kahoot!) and tools to learn it.




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.




So, we have now established that you will be learning to read in Latin rather than just memorising the English text. You may think that this is easier said than done, but there are actually many ways to bring the Latin to life.

First, you should have a strong vocabulary and grammar foundation. This means understanding actively the words used in the story, and seeing how they fit together.

For example, and you can play this Kahoot to see how well you can think about the answers in Latin:


The GCSE set texts, the structure of the exam and tools to get ready


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 exam structure below or compare it to the verse one in my blog post about Virgil. The exam will test you on both these texts:


OCR Prose set text for 2023 and 2024

OCR GCSE prescribed text for the Prose Literature B:

Cambridge Latin Anthology

sagae Thessalae

lines 1–96, (iuvenis ... obtexi)

personae non gratae: Pythius


Introducing Apuleius and Cicero for GCSE

Before getting started with the original Latin, it is quite standard to start by spending time looking at who the author was and their context. I do this for Virgil, but I find it is much less relevant when it comes to Prose for 2 reasons:


1. The texts are adapted and abridged versions, not the original

2. There are two different authors to cover, and a very general idea suffices


That does not mean that you should not learn a bit about the authors and their time – you need context! But a general overview tends to be enough to get you started. You can then delve deeper into it once you have a good amount of lines under your belt.


Apuleius: the author and the context of this work


Apuleius lived in the 2nd century AD, in the times of the Roman Empire. He wrote in Latin, and was from the Roman province of Numidia in Northern Africa. However, he considered himself "half Numidian, half Gaetulian", ie Berber. He seems to have travelled quite a lot in his lifetime, including to the Greek parts of the Roman empire, and had an interest in Philosophy and mysteric cults. He had studied rhetoric and was an experienced and skilled speaker in the law courts – he even had to defend himself against an accusation of using magic!



Blue sky, rocky mountain and green area
The Mountains of Thessaly

The story that we are going to read happens in what today is modern-day Greece and was at the time Macedonia, a province in the Roman Empire. The area was known for being a bit wild, and there were many stories that circulated about it involving witches and mysteries.






We are reading a separate story within the story (a digression). Wikipedia has a very good overview of the plot, and I have taken the most relevant parts here:


The Golden Ass (Asinus Aureus) or Metamorphoses is the only Latin novel that has survived in its entirety. It is an imaginative, irreverent, and amusing work that relates the ludicrous adventures Lucius […]. Lucius experiments with magic and is accidentally turned into an ass. In this guise, he hears and sees many unusual things, until escaping from his predicament in a rather unexpected way. […]

The Metamorphoses ends with the (once again human) hero, Lucius, eager to be initiated into the mystery cult of Isis; he abstains from forbidden foods, bathes, and purifies himself. He is introduced to the Navigium Isidis. Then the secrets of the cult's books are explained to him, and further secrets are revealed before he goes through the process of initiation, which involves a trial by the elements on a journey to the underworld.


Apuleius: available resources


The text is part of the Cambridge Latin Anthology by Ashley Carter and Phillip Parr. I highly recommend you use a copy of the book to revise: the vocabulary given on the facing side excludes words in the GCSE vocabulary list, and will help you deal with difficult turns of phrase, while allowing you to concentrate on the Latin without distractions.


The CLC website also has a great tool to help you test your understanding of the text: you can find the whole text of sagae thessalae with a clickable hyperlinked glossary specifically relevant for this context. It also has a vast selections of links to learn about the author and the context that you can explore depending on your interests.


If you like the story so much that you would like to read some more by the author, Oxford University Press has a great translation with introduction that is widely available. If you prefer audiobooks, it is also available to listen in Audible.


If you are studying the text independently, the ZigZag notes can be a good guide, but note that these target teachers rather than students and the price reflects the fact that they are photocopiable.


personae non gratae: Pythius, a fun snapshot from Cicero


Cicero lived in the first century BC, and he was the greatest orator in the Late Republic. You may have heard about his famous speeches, which are still influential today, notably the Catilinarians.


The text you will read for your GCSE exam is a very short extract from his more philosophical work De Officiis, and it has been abridged and adapted. It is one of the many stories he prepared to help his readers learn about honesty, moral conduct and, ultimately, the best way to live a purposeful and honourable life.



Two fish looing at each other with big eyes.
Roman mosaic depicting fish

personae non gratae: available resources


I could speak about Cicero forever, but this is really beyond what you need at this point! I leave here some additional resources to help you learn more about him.


First, as I said above about sagae, your best tool is the Cambridge Latin Antology by Ashley Carter and Phillip Parr. I highly recommend you use a copy of the book to revise: the vocabulary given on the facing side excludes words in the GCSE vocabulary list, and will help you deal with difficult phrases.


The CLC website also has a great tool to help you test your understanding of the text: you can find the whole texts of Pythius with a linked glossary specifically relevant for this context. It also has a vast selections of links to learn about the author and the context that you can explore depending on your interests.


If you love historical fiction, I cannot recommend enough Robert Harris' trilogy about Cicero. Even reading only the first one will help you understand the man and his times very well.


For a more practical summary, the Encyclopedia Britannica has a good summary of Cicero's life and works and you can also use the many links in the CLC website.


Additional resources online that you might find useful:


Massolit:

You can ask your school if they have a Massolit subscription. If your school does not have a subscription, you could check it out by starting with a 7 day free trial. The lectures there are designed for A-Level students, but you will find that the introductory parts are very useful. There is plenty of material for Cicero, and also a short course on another story from Apuleius, Cupido and Psyche, which is well interesting to read alongside sagae!


So remember: you are learning based on the Latin, not the English, and you will need to be able to read the text fluently understanding what every individual word means.


If you need some more tricks to help you learn the vocabulary, you can download here my best techniques:



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