Congratulations on your offer to study in the Department of Classics and Ancient History.
Below is some information about resources and reading you may wish to look at, and which we hope you will find helpful.
N.B.: none of this is compulsory preparation. These are optional suggestions for students who want to do some preliminary exploration of things they'll be studying next year. We will write to you in September, once your place at Durham is confirmed, with specific instructions on what you need to do to prepare for your modules. If you have questions before then, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
You might know for certain that you will be studying Latin or Greek at Durham, or you might be trying to decide whether these modules are for you. In either case, here are some resources which might be useful, whether you are a complete beginner, or want to keep working on your language skills before you join us. All the resources listed below are available freely online.
First of all: some reassurance! Latin and Greek are not the most straightforward languages to learn independently. If you would rather wait until you arrive in Durham to get started on the language(s), then that is absolutely fine (we always teach our Beginners Language modules on the assumption that you are ‘real’ beginners). However, if you would like to start exploring either language before you join us, here are some resources which might be useful.
It is easier to get to grips with both Greek and Latin language learning if you are familiar with key grammatical terminology. If you would like to refresh your understanding of some essential grammatical terms, then this English grammar guide is a useful resource.
The Open University's Taster Course in Latin is a very good place to start: it introduces some key concepts and methods (including grammatical terminology), and will get you started on the basics of the Latin language.
For something a bit different: the ‘Cambridge Latin Course’ is a classic text, and for good reasons. It is aimed at people learning Latin at school (rather than University), so you’ll have to be a little bit patient at times, but it is a great introduction to the language. The textbooks, together with a rich set of supporting resources, are all freely available on the Cambridge Schools Latin Project website. Start here (with Volume 1), and you can also explore other Cambridge Latin Course resources.
The standard textbook for learning Greek (Reading Greek, 2nd Edition) is, unfortunately, not freely available online at present. If you are committed to learning Greek, then it would be worth investing in a copy (since it’s the textbook we use at Durham; but you will be able to access an online copy via our library once you arrive); in that case, you can also make use of the OU’s online self-testing tools for Reading Greek (which you'll find towards the bottom of the linked page).
If you have an A-Level (or equivalent), then you will join our Intermediate language classes. These classes have two distinct, but related, objectives: (1) consolidation of language knowledge; (2) set-text reading. If you would like to keep your languages ticking over before you start your university course, then it would be sensible to devote some time to both of these areas.
For both Greek and Latin, the Perseus Website is an excellent place to go if you’re reading texts independently: click on a word if you need help with translating or parsing it, and make use of the translations and commentaries as needed as well. The Diogenes Application, a computer program and web app for mobile and tablet that allows you to read and search Latin and Greek texts for free from anywhere, is a project of our Department and is an amazing resource.
• Consolidation. Your first port of call should, of course, be the resources you have been using at school or college – at this stage, it is best to stick to what’s familiar. The University of Texas’ online Latin course has a good set of further resources on the lower part of this page (nb that US conventions for setting out grammar tables differ from those of the UK – but the content is the same!). You will also find links to many online grammars, textbooks, etc on the Lexicity Latin Resources Pages.
• Reading. Various options are open to you. One possibility would be to continue to read your A-level (or equivalent) set-texts: go beyond the prescription, and find out what happens next… Alternatively (or additionally), you could broaden your reading of ancient authors. The Cambridge Latin Anthology has a good selection (both prose and verse), together with supporting materials.
• Consolidation. As for Latin, stick with the textbook(s) with which you’re familiar, if you can. If you’ve been using Reading Greek, then you might find the Open University's Reading Greek tools (at the bottom of the linked page) useful for identifying and fixing any gaps in your knowledge. The Lexicity Greek Resources Pages have links to many other online grammars and resources (be careful not to get side-tracked into New Testament Greek, though!); Helma Dik’s ‘Nifty Greek Handouts’ are especially recommended. And why not look through the fabulous Ancient Greek resources that were produced for the JACT 2020 online Ancient Greek summer school at Bryanston? This range of resources can help you refresh your skills and push them further before you join us in the Autumn.
• Reading. As with Latin, you could continue to read more of your A-level (or equivalent) set-texts. For something completely different, why not try a bit of Xenophon of Ephesus’ Ephesian Tale (a story of love, adventure, pirates, etc)? It’s available here with running vocabulary and grammar help.
Resources for Classics & Ancient History
You might want to read up on and around topics in Classics & Ancient History over the next few months. We have assembled here some resources, all freely available online,* which we think are particularly interesting, or useful, or relevant (or, indeed, all three!) to things you might be studying in the first year of your degree.
N.b.: none of this is compulsory preparation, and we certainly don’t expect you to read every item listed below: feel free to be selective, and to follow up the lines of enquiry which interest you most. We will write to you in September, once your place at Durham is confirmed, with specific instructions on what you need to do to prepare for your modules. If you have questions before then, do get in touch.
(*Some of the links require you to have an account with archive.org: you can set one up for free.)
The Perseus Website is an (almost) comprehensive library of Greek and Latin texts, with translations and (in many cases) supporting materials. If you’ve ever wanted to read a particular ancient author, you should find it on this site. The Diogenes Application is a computer program and web app for mobile and tablet that allows you to read and search Latin and Greek texts for free from anywhere. Diogenes is a project of our Department and is an amazing resource.
The Loeb Classical Library is another treasure-trove of Greek and Latin texts, in the original and with facing translation. It requires a subscription, so check if your school or college has access. If not, don't worry: you can find plenty to read on the Perseus website.
Ostraka, the blog of the Durham University Classics Society, is packed full of interesting classical and classically-inspired articles, some inspired directly by modules taught here at Durham, some rather more free-form…
Many, many other Classical resources are available online. The Institute of Classical Studies has collated a list of the most important ones: feel free to see where your interests take you.
Resources for Core First-Year Durham Modules
All first-year students (on all of our programmes) take ‘Introduction to the Greek World’ and ‘Monuments and Memory in the Age of Augustus’. The other modules listed below are compulsory for some programmes, but available as options for all our students. (Guidance on our Greek and Latin Language modules is available above).
Introduction to the Greek World
This module (as its title suggests) provides an introduction to the history, society and culture of the Greek world, from ‘Homeric’ times down to the fourth century BCE. A particular goal of the module is to explore the question of Greek identity: who did the Greeks think that they were? What made them different from their neighbours? And how did these ideas of identity and difference shape their approach to politics, literature and art?
We will use both literary and material sources in this module. A good way to prepare for it, therefore, is to start to get familiar with those sources. In particular, we’d suggest looking at:
• Herodotus, Histories: the first extant work of western historiography; a fantastic read in its own right, but particularly important for its presentation of Greek and non-Greek identities. A full text is available here (but you can read it in any translation).
• Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War: Herodotus’ near-contemporary, but writing in a very different style (his account of the early history of Greece, at the start of Book 1, is particularly striking, especially when compared with Herodotus’). Full text available here (but, once more, feel free to use any translation available to you).
• British Museum, Ancient Greek Collections: start in the Parthenon Gallery, and explore the resources there (things to think about: why did the Athenians create these things? What is the significance of the images and symbols which they use? Who would have seen or used these artefacts?) Clicking on the ‘Highlights’ will take you to further information about particular objects; following the ‘You may also be interested in…’ links will take you to other relevant galleries.
• If you haven’t studied the Greek world before (or perhaps even if you have!), a stimulating and accessible introduction to some of the key questions we’ll be asking is Paul Cartledge’s The Greeks: A Portrait of Self and Others. An e-version of this book is available here. A more challenging read, Robin Osborne’s Classical Landscape with Figures, is available here.
Monuments & Memory in the Age of Augustus
This module (MMAA) serves as an introduction to the history, literature and art of ancient Rome during the reign of Augustus: the pivotal period in which the Roman Republic was transformed into an empire ruled by one man. The module will explore the way in which the Roman past and the new institutions of the Roman present were memorialized in the age of the first emperor, at a time when revolution passed under the guise of restoration. The module will use literary texts (poetry, history, biography), inscriptions, and material sources (coins, sculptures, archaeology).
A good way to prepare for MMAA is to familiarise yourself with some of the source material. Most of the textual sources are available on a website called Lacus Curtius where you will find many other interesting and relevant links. Here are some specific suggestions:
• The Res Gestae, Augustus’s ‘list of achievements’, known from inscriptions (in Latin or Greek) found in what is now Turkey.
• Suetonius published his twelve biographies of the Caesars (starting with Julius Caesar and reaching the reign of Domitian) in Latin in the first half of the second century AD. The second of the biographies concerns the Life of Augustus.
• Cassius Dio, a high-ranking Roman Senator who lived through the reign of Commodus (of “Gladiator” fame!) published his Roman History, written in Greek in eighty books, in the first half of the third century AD. (Books 45-56 cover the Augustan age.)
• Velleius Paterculus made his career under Augustus and under Tiberius (Augustus’ first successor, stepson and adopted son) and therefore provides a unique ‘voice of the regime’ in his Roman History, written in Latin, which has earned him the reputation of sycophant. The relevant sections are in book II, chapters 59-124 (the remaining chapters 125-131 cover part of the reign of Tiberius).
Language, Translation, Interpretation
This module (which is compulsory for our Classical Civilisation students, and available as an option to everyone else) introduces students to the cultural, anthropological and literary implications of translation. Translation plays a major role in allowing modern readers to access the classical world. Translation of Latin or Greek into English is still a major part of many Classics courses, and it would be easy to take translation for granted, and assume that it is a simple matter of decoding words from one language to another with the use of a dictionary. Translation is, however, far more complex, interesting, and creative than this. Literary translations and adaptations classical texts play a key role in modern literature, and major contemporary literary figures such as Anne Carson, Seamus Heaney, Pat Barker, Margaret Atwood and Ali Smith engage with classical translations in their work. Classical translations are, above all, interpretations of classical texts and the classical past, and they help readers both to understand the ancient world, and to gain a clearer idea of our own relationship with that world.
In this module, students discuss a variety of translations and adaptations of classical literature in modern poetry, prose, film, art and the stage. We compare and contrast different translations with a view to discovering what these translations tell us about themselves and about the text(s) which they translate. As part of the assessment for this module, students produce their own versions of texts (with the help of dictionaries, commentaries and other translations), and are encouraged both to experiment with different media and forms of translation, and to reflect on their practice and priorities as translators.
In order to prepare you for this module, and to get you thinking about translation and its possibilities, some online resources are suggested below.
• Translating Homer: the ultimate classic
Compare the thoughts on translations of Homer into English of eminent Victorian, Matthew Arnold, with the recent translation of Homer’s Odyssey by classicist Emily Wilson (2017) – often (mis)described as the first translation of the Odyssey by a woman, it is a thoughtful translation that translates Homer for modern times and doesn’t dodge difficult issues such as the vocabulary of slavery, and misogynistic language used by male translators.
The publishers have not yet made Wilson’s translation available online (although you can listen to Claire Danes reading it on Audible for free), but Wilson has spoken extensively about her translation choices and practice as a translator in a series of thoughtful interviews and in tweets that should be required reading for any classicist interested in translation (follow her @EmilyRCWilson; her threads on translation are available here).
Virginia Woolf’s ‘On Not Knowing Greek’ (1925) is a meditation on the practice of translation, and the spaces between different cultures. This is a great starting point for thinking about an encounter with translation (this need not be a translation of a Classical text) of your own: it could be a mutual failure to understand, a misunderstanding, an accident with Google Translate, a sudden insight into another culture through the meaning of a word, etc.