What is Classics?
‘Classics’ refers to the study of the languages, literatures, material culture, and history of the societies of the ancient world, together with their influence on later periods and cultures right up to the present day. It is one of the most varied and interdisciplinary of all subjects and can include literature, history, philosophy, art and archaeology.
Within the UK school curriculum, the word ‘Classics’ is often used as an umbrella term that can refer to any one of four examined subjects:
Latin is the study of the language of the ancient Romans. By GCSE level, students could be reading original Latin literature by authors such as Virgil, Caesar or Catullus. Although this course focuses primarily on language and literature training, there are still opportunities to study the social and historical contexts in which texts were written.
Classical Greek is the study of the ancient Greek language. By GCSE level, students could be reading original Greek literature by authors such as Homer, Thucydides or Euripides. There are opportunities to study culture and history, but as with Latin, the focus of this subject is primarily linguistic. Although studying Ancient Greek may help students learn Modern Greek in the future, there are substantial differences between the two forms of the language.
Classical Civilisation involves the study of the literature, visual/material culture and thought of the classical world. There is no requirement to learn ancient languages. Topics for study at GCSE or A Level include diverse options such as ‘Life in the Mycenaean age’, ‘Myth and religion’, ‘The world of the hero’ and ‘The Invention of the Barbarian’.
Ancient History enables students to gain a greater understanding of the ancient world and how its legacy affects today’s society. Again, no language is required. Although there is some overlap between the topics covered in Classical Civilisation and Ancient History, the latter focuses more on military, political and social history, as opposed to literature and art.
All four classical subjects are suited to study at both primary and secondary level. They are also all offered as GCSE and A Level qualifications in the UK.
Classical subjects can benefit schools and students in a number of ways.