Classics is the study of the Greeks, the Romans and their neighbours, and the modern reception of their culture. It is the most broad-ranging of humanities degrees: you can study literature, language, philosophy, history, art, archaeology, linguistics and much more (although you are not of course compelled to take all of those options). Our students go on to all sorts of careers, including journalism, IT, finance, the civil service, law and teaching.
St John's has a long and enviable tradition in Classics. In the seventeenth century, Richard Bentley, the most famous British classicist of all time, studied here; today also you will find St John’s graduates in lectureships and professorships in many universities (including in Cambridge). We teach our students to be thoughtful, energetic, engaged, innovative and progressive, while maintaining a strong grounding in fundamental knowledge. There is no particular mould for John’s Classicists: we just want dynamic, passionate, intelligent people who are willing to push themselves – and their teachers too. We typically admit four or five undergraduates each year.
We are fortunate in having four Fellows: Professor Tim Whitmarsh, Professor Emily Gowers, Professor Geoff Horrocks and Professor Malcolm Schofield who teach different aspects of the subject. Much of the supervision for Parts IA and IB, the first two years of the degree, is organised within the College. Part II courses tend to be more specialised, and the supervision teaching is often co-ordinated centrally by the relevant Course Directors (appointed by the Faculty of Classics).
The Faculty arranges lectures and classes, and houses its own library and the Museum of Classical Archaeology, but the College also provides excellent facilities for those studying the subject. The library is well stocked with the books and periodicals recommended by the Faculty for its courses, and the College provides a generous book grant to enable you to purchase the essential texts.
St John’s has an active College Classical Society that organises talks and social events, and there are also a number of College prizes for Classicists. We have recently introduced a new series, the annual Newell Classics Event, to bring interesting figures in the public eye to Cambridge and get them to share their enthusiasm. The inaugural event in April 2016 featured the prize-winning novelist Ali Smith in conversation with the Guardian’s Chief Culture Writer Charlotte Higgins.
Anyone can study Classics at Cambridge: there are no subject-specific A-level requirements. There are two pathways: the three-year option (for people who have at least one classical language up to A-level standard) and the four-year option (for people who do not). In addition, you can study Classics jointly with Modern Languages.
The three-year option
The three-year Classical Tripos (the syllabus and examination set by the University) is for applicants who are doing Latin A Level (or equivalent). This course has two parts: Part I is studied over the first and second years, with Part II usually at the end of your third year (though a small number of students opt for a two-year Part II). Part I is split into Part IA, with an exam at the start of the Easter term so that you (and we) can gauge your progress since coming to Cambridge, and Part IB, taken at the end of the second year. There are special Intensive Greek courses for the large number of applicants who are accepted without A Level or equivalent, and for these students the Faculty provides weekly reading and grammar classes throughout the Part 1A year, backed up by teaching in the College. All students have the option of attending language support classes in Greek and/or Latin in their Part 1A and 1B years.
Classics is the study not just of the Classical languages but also of two whole civilisations, and in the two years leading up to Part IB students are introduced to all aspects of the ancient world. You can then select from a huge range of options in Part II and concentrate on those subjects in which you have a special interest.
Further details of courses and syllabuses can be found on the Faculty website, but a brief summary of the first year course may be helpful here.
The integrating focus is a group of central texts in each language. Classes and supervisions on these help you to develop a number of related linguistic skills. There is a new-style Part IA exam for 2014-15, consisting of three compulsory papers: Greek Language and Texts, Latin Language and Texts and Classical Questions. The first two papers (which have different versions for Intensive Greek and Intensive Latin students) require you a) to translate unseen passages of Greek or Latin and b) to give detailed literary and stylistic analysis of a passage from the target texts. The Classical Questions paper is divided into sections: Section A is a selection of general essay questions on the target texts; Section B contains questions on Philosophy, History, Art & Archaeology and Linguistics/ Philology. You must answer three questions, at least one from each section. Further papers, in prose and verse composition in Greek and Latin, are optional.
Part IA students will have an integrated lecture programme centred on the target texts and designed to provide a focused introduction to all aspects of antiquity: Greek and Roman literature, history, philosophy, religion, art and archaeology, and the techniques of modern linguistics as applied to Greek and Latin. It is hoped that students will sample a wide selection of courses, to provide themselves not only with a good general knowledge but also with a sound basis for making subject choices in their second year.
Work for Part IB will begin in the Easter Term of the first year, following exams at the start of that term. At the end of your second year, you will take translation papers in Greek and Latin, which will consist of unseen and seen (set text) translation. Two literature papers, Greek and Latin, remain compulsory, and you are asked to choose two more papers out of Philosophy, History, Art & Archaeology and Linguistics/Philology. Again, there are further optional papers, in prose and verse composition in Greek and Latin.
The four-year option
This option is designed for those applicants who have not had the opportunity to study Latin to A Level at school. All students accepted for the course will be asked to attend the JACT Latin Summer School in the summer before they arrive in Cambridge. In the first year you will concentrate on Latin language, and Roman literature and culture through the study of original Latin texts, with a Preliminary exam in the summer including two papers and a portfolio of essays. Much of the teaching will take place in Faculty-based classes, but there will also be College supervisions. In the second year you will join those taking the three-year degree without A-level Greek in the Intensive Greek programme, and take appropriate options in Parts IA and IB and Part II.
UCAS Code: Q800
3-year course: A-level Latin or equivalent; 4-year course (with a first Intensive Latin year) is available for those with neither Latin nor Greek A-Level. There are no other subject requirements. English Literature, History and/or modern languages may be helpful, but are by no means necessary.
Application / interview procedure:
In advance of interview you will be asked to submit two pieces of written work (essays or translations, including if possible an essay on a Classical subject). In addition at the time of interview there is a written translation test in Latin or Greek (as appropriate) for those applying for the three-year option, and for four-year candidates a language assessment process conducted by the Faculty’s Language Teaching Officers. Those who are invited to attend for interview will have two interviews at St John’s. Your first interview will be with the Tutor for the subject, and the second with two of the Fellows in Classics. There is usually a further interview at another College to ensure that, if your application is pooled, there is the best possible chance of being taken by another College.
The aim of the interviews, which last up to 30 minutes each, is to find out from you at first hand about your motivation and aptitude for the course you have chosen. We conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner: we appreciate that you will probably be feeling quite nervous, and will do our best to help you settle comfortably into conversation with us. The General interview will be likely to explore others of your enthusiasms as well as your academic interests, while Subject interviews will focus mainly on your knowledge and ambitions in the field of Classics. Here the discussion is likely to take as its starting points the written work you have submitted, the language test you have taken, and the information about your interests and experience in Classics that you have included in the application. We would hope that conversation will range quite widely, offering you plenty of opportunity to show us your strengths – even if time won’t allow us to go into all the things you would like to have told us about yourself.
Discussion may get quite detailed at some points, particularly where the focus is on written work or texts you have been studying for examination. But the interview is not a test of memory or of detailed factual knowledge – there will emphatically be no attempt to ‘catch you out’, and no special preparation is necessary or indeed desirable. We are more concerned with exploring your sense of intellectual curiosity, and your ability to think your way clearly and critically through and around some particular problem or question emerging from the subjects you are studying or the reading you have been doing. There will be a chance at the end of the interview for you to ask us questions or to draw our attention to anything relevant to your interest in Classics not so far touched on in the conversation.
If you are invited to interview you will also sit the University’s At-Interview Assessment for Classics. More information can be found on the University’s Admissions Assessments page.
Further information about the course and about attending the various open days organised by the Faculty is available here, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a hard-copy prospectus (Classics at Cambridge), copies of which can be obtained at open days or from The Secretary, Faculty of Classics, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge CB3 9DA.
The Classics Fellows of St John’s are very happy to visit schools to talk about Classical topics, and to give further information about the course and the College. If you are interested, please ask your Head of Department to email one of the Directors of Studies (Professor Emily Gowers at email@example.com or Professor Whitmarsh firstname.lastname@example.org).