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Paper 5: Classical Questions

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce the linguistic, literary, material, and intellectual culture of Greek and Roman antiquity.
  2. To develop the practice of interpretation across the whole range of classical study through close study of texts and artefacts.
  3. To introduce the variety of critical methodologies possible in the study of classical antiquity and major current trends in scholarship.
  4. To develop a sense of the importance of classical antiquity and its study for the modern world.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2016–17

This paper will be divided into two sections. Section A will contain about eight questions that will require knowledge of the ‘target texts’. Many of these questions will be ‘literary’, but some will require knowledge of archaeological, historical, or philosophical or philological matters that have been covered in the lectures on the texts and in other lecture courses. The questions will often be general and undergraduates are encouraged to deploy their knowledge of more than one text in answering them. For example, a question on ancient marital and sexual ethics and practices may allow you to deploy information acquired in reading e.g. Lysias 1, Medea, Ars Amatoria 1, Pro Caelio, and Lucretius 4.  Section B will contain about twelve questions that require knowledge of subjects studied in the introductory lectures to Ancient History, Classical Art and Archaeology, Philology and Linguistics, and Ancient Philosophy. Candidates will be required to answer three questions, one from Section (a); one from section (b); and one from either section.


Course descriptions

Greek Literature


(4 L: Michaelmas, weeks 1–4)

This course of lectures is designed to place the Target Texts in context and to serve as a more general introduction to the study of Greek literature. The structure of the lectures will be broadly chronological, but the focus will be on the cultural and social contexts in which literature was produced and on the varieties of critical approach which Greek literature invites. No preliminary reading is necessary, but a first orientation to the whole subject may be found in O. Taplin (ed.), Literature in the Greek & Roman Worlds (Oxford, 2000) or T. Whitmarsh, Ancient Greek Literature (Cambridge, 2004).


Latin Literature


(4 L: Michaelmas, weeks 1–4)

These lectures will set the Part IA Target Texts in the context of half a millennium of Latin literature. History, culture and genre will all make an appearance, as will texts from the Part IB and Part II schedules and more. For introductory reading, try Susanna Braund, Latin Literature (2002), or dip into Stephen Harrison’s Blackwell Companion to Latin Literature (2005).


Greek and Roman Philosophy


(8 L: Michaelmas; 8 L: Lent)

This set of lectures provides an introduction to Ancient Philosophy by focusing initially on the figure of Socrates, who was of seminal importance for most subsequent developments in Greek thought. We will look mainly at Plato’s presentation of this enigmatic figure, a presentation that is often inseparable from Plato’s own philosophical views. The lectures will consider how to read and interpret Plato’s ‘Socratic conversations’ philosophically and show how they can be a provocation to further philosophical inquiry.  The main texts will be Plato’s Apology, Euthyphro, Laches, Protagoras, Gorgias, Meno, Phaedo and Republic. Those attending the course are encouraged to read as much as possible of these in advance. A convenient translation, all in one volume, is John Cooper ed. Plato: the complete works (Hackett: Indianapolis, 1997). In the Lent Term, this introductory course will include a block of lectures devoted particularly to ‘methods and themes in Ancient Philosophy’, aimed primarily at Classicists who are thinking of taking Ancient Philosophy options at Part 1B and beyond.



(8 L: Lent)

How can we be happy? Should our goal in life be to maximise our pleasures and minimise our pains, or should we focus on our souls and virtue, disregarding anything to do with the body? We shall explore the rival solutions to these problems, as well as some of their implications for social values and inter-personal relationships. We will often find ourselves accessing the thought of the Hellenistic schools indirectly, through the eyes of Roman thinkers such as Cicero and Seneca, and we will be asking what they contributed to the debate. The sourcebook for this course is Long and Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (2 vols. Cambridge, 1987) – see especially the sections on ‘Ethics’ under ‘Epicureanism’ and ‘Stoicism’.

See also ‘Cicero: Ethics and Politics’ under Part 1B, Paper 6.


Ancient History


(8 L: Michaelmas)

The course will introduce a key period in Greek and Athenian history, from the Persian invasion of Greece in the early fifth century BC to the defeat of Athens in the war with Sparta, close to its end. The title of the course encapsulates its overarching theme: how crucial aspects of Athens, including its democracy can best be understood in terms of the acquisition, exploitation and eventual loss of imperial power. Along the way will be explored Athenian identity, the city’s buildings and topography, and its people. This will involve the study of a range of types of ancient testimony, including literature of various genres, inscriptions and archaeology.

Introductory Reading: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, R. Osborne (ed.), Short History of Europe, vol I Classical Greece (2000).



(8 L: Michaelmas)

The story of Rome under the Republic (c. 509-31 BC) and the rule of Augustus, the first emperor (31 BC-AD 14) can be narrated either as an account of the expansion of Roman power first within and then beyond Italy, or as one of intensifying political competition and eventual crisis within the Roman state, resolved by the establishment of one-man rule. The course will pursue both of these themes, and aims to show how they inter-relate. Topics to be covered include motivations for, and mechanisms of Roman imperialism, and its cultural and economic consequences; the institutions of Roman politics and how they were subverted in the late Republic; and how far Augustus succeeded in providing a solution to the crisis. The final lecture will explore how these changes were reflected in the physical layout and appearance of the City of Rome. The course will also provide some historical contextualization for Cicero’s Pro Caelio, Augustus’ Res Gestae, and the first chapters of Tacitus Annals 1, which students will be reading as target texts.

Suggested preliminary reading: M. Beard & M. Crawford, Rome in the late Republic (2nd edn, 1999). W. Eck, The Age of Augustus (2003).



(8 L: Lent)

This course aims to introduce students to several key aspects of life in the ancient world, and various possible approaches to their study. It will focus on the rituals, rules, and behaviours associated with the key moments and stages in the life-cycle—that is birth and childhood, marriage and family formation, death and commemoration—in both Classical Greece and late Republican/early Imperial Rome, and as both similar to and distinct from each other. The intention is also to promote a broader understanding of the texture and structure of ancient life, and a familiarity with the range of types of evidence, and methodological approaches, which can be used to gain such an understanding. 

You might like to look in advance at some of the following: J. Evans-Grubbs and T. Parkin (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World (Oxford, 2013); R. Garland, The Greek Way of Death (London, 1985); M. Harlow and R. Laurence (eds), A Cultural History of Childhood and Family in Antiquity (London, 2013);

M. Harlow and L. Larsson Lovén (eds), Families in the Roman and Late Antique World (London, 2012); V. Hope, Roman Death (London, 2009); R. Laurence and A. Strömberg (eds), Families in the Greco-Roman World (London 2012); B. Rawson (ed.), A Companion to Families in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Oxford, 2011).


Classical Art and Archaeology


(8 L: Michaelmas; 16 L: Lent)

This course provides an introduction to the scope and potential of the art and archaeology of the Greek and Roman worlds, from the Minoan and Mycenaean societies to Late Antiquity. Lectures in the Michaelmas Term offer an overview of the questions, methods, and themes of classical 'art' and archaeology and introduce the importance and inter-relationship of these strands of knowledge for studying the Greek and Roman worlds. The Lent lectures familiarise students with the range of material culture produced by different peoples across the chronological and geographical span of Classical Antiquity. The focus of these lectures is on key sites, issues and approaches, especially of classical Athens and Augustan Rome.

Suggested reading: S. Alcock and R. Osborne, Classical Archaeology, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 2011); A. Schnapp, The Discovery of the Past (1996); C. Shelmerdine (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age (Cambridge, 2008); I. Morris (ed.) Classical Greece: Ancient Histories and Modern Archaeologies (Cambridge, 1994); R. Osborne, Archaic and Classical Greek Art (Oxford, 1998); N.J. Spivey, Greek Sculpture (Cambridge, 2013); A.W. Lawrence (revised by R.A. Tomlinson), Greek Architecture (London, 1983); M. Beard and J. Henderson, Classical Art from Greece to Rome (Oxford, 2001); N.J. Spivey and M.J. Squire, Panorama of the Classical World (2004); E.J. Owens, The City in the Greek and Roman World (London, 1991); T.W. Potter, Roman Italy (London, 1987); M. Beard, Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town (London, 2008); J. Elsner, Imperial Rome and Christian triumph: the Art of the Roman Empire A.D.100–450 (Oxford, 1998); P. Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus (Michigan, 1988); M. Thorpe, Roman Architecture (London, 1995); C. Renfrew and P. Bahn, Archaeology - Theories, Methods and Practice (London, several editions); M.H. Johnson, Archaeological Theory: an Introduction (Chichester, 2010).


Classical and Comparative Philology and Linguistics

The course is designed for those interested in the systematic study of language in general and of the classical languages in particular. It provides an introduction both to the concepts and techniques of modern descriptive and theoretical linguistics and to the ways in which these can be fruitfully applied to the analysis of Greek and Latin. There will be discussion of selected testimonia from ancient authors and analysis of passages and examples taken from mainstream authors on the Part IA literature schedules. An advanced knowledge of Greek and Latin is not presupposed, and indeed, many of those taking the Intensive language courses have found this option a very useful complement to their language learning efforts.

Students may find the following introductory text-books to linguistics helpful as introductory or follow-up reading for many of the concepts introduced throughout the whole first-year course: R.L. Trask, Language: The Basics (Routledge 1999 (2nd edn.)), R. Fasold and J. Connor-Linton (eds), An Introduction to Language and Linguistics (Cambridge, 2006); V. Fromkin (ed.), An introduction to Linguistic Theory (Blackwell, 2000); E.J. Bakker (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language (Blackwell, 2010); J.P.T. Clackson (ed.), A Companion to the Latin Language (Blackwell, 2011).

Subject to Directors of Studies’ approval, supervisions will be organised centrally to complement the lectures.

Those who plan to offer one or more of the Group E papers (Historical and Comparative Linguistics) in Part II of the Tripos are advised to attend at least some of the lectures for linguistics in Part IA, even if they do not intend to answer linguistics questions in Paper 5 of Part IA, or to take Paper 10 in Part IB.


(11 L, 1 C: Michaelmas)

Ancient Greek and Latin are “dead” languages, meaning that we only have written evidence for these languages. In this course, we are first of all going to explore how we can know what they sounded like. To this end, the concept of “sound” as an element of the language will be explained before discussing the sounds of Greek and Latin individually and as systems. The relationship between speech and writing is then explored: exactly how do the Greek and Latin alphabets work, and how do they come to look like they do? In this part of the course, we will look at the origin, development and spread of the alphabet and discuss how it is used by putting it in a linguistic, historical and cultural context. We will then read a number of primary sources (inscriptions) and literary texts in order to see how all of this works in practice.

Students are strongly encouraged to bring pen and paper to these lectures.

Recommended introductory reading:

J. Clark, C. Yallop and J. Fletcher, An Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology, Blackwell 2006

R. Lass, Phonology, Cambridge 1984

W.S. Allen, Vox Graeca, Cambridge 1987

W.S. Allen Vox Latina, Cambridge 1978

P. Daniels and W. Bright, The World's Writing Systems New York 1996

F. Coulmas, Writing Systems, Cambridge 2003

A. Robinson, The Story of Writing, London 1996

J.T. Hooker, Ancient writing from cuneiform to the alphabet, London 1990

A. E. Cooley, The Cambridge Manual of Latin Epigraphy Cambridge 2012

A.G. Woodhead, A Study of Greek Inscriptions, 2nd ed., Cambridge 1981



(5 L, 1 C: Lent)

An introduction to some of the many ways in which people spoke and wrote Greek and Latin. These lectures will give examples (taken mainly from familiar authors) of the varieties of Greek and Latin used in different areas, by different social classes and by different genders. They will also discuss how this variation can be quantified, and what it might tell us about Greek and Roman society.

Recommended introductory reading:

Natalie Schilling-Estes, ‘Dialect Variation’, in R.W. Fasold and J. Connor-Linton (eds.), An Introduction to Language and Linguistics (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 311–341

J. Clackson, ‘The Social Dialects of Latin’, in J. Clackson (ed.), A Companion to the Latin Language (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011) 505–526.

J. Clackson, Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Cambridge University Press, 2015)



(5 L, 1 C: Lent)

Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics concerned with language in context: how people do things with words; how words can be used to mean different things in different situations; how sections of text relate to one another and how they highlight or introduce information. Subjects covered will include implicature, speech acts, presupposition, textual coherence and cohesion, topic and focus.

Recommended introductory reading:

E.J. Bakker, ‘Pragmatics: Speech and Text’, in E.J. Bakker (ed.), A Companion to the Ancient Greek Language (Wiley-Blackwell 2010), 151–167.

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