Clare College Cambridge


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Beyond what you can find in the University Prospectus and on the Classics Faculty’s website, you will find the most comprehensive information about Classics at Cambridge in the Faculty’s Undergraduate Handbook. This hefty document, however, remains a mystery even to enrolled undergraduates and their instructors, so we offer a brief overview of the Classics course here, with more information about Classics at Clare in particular where appropriate.

Course structure: an overview

The course can be taken in two versions:

1) a Four-Year version, for those WITHOUT an A-level in Latin (though you can have an AS or the equivalent) and with no or only very little Greek, and

2) a Three-Year version, for those WITH an A-level (or the equivalent) in Latin or Greek. Students with an A-level in only Latin or Greek study the other language “intensively”, as we say; if you have A-levels in both languages you are a “non-intensive” student.

(If you want to combine Classics with a modern language, you need to apply for Modern and Medieval Languages - their webpage has the details.)

Four-Year students have their own separate set of exams at the end of their first year and then they join the Three-Year course (with Intensive Greek, obviously) for their second year. Intensive Greek or Latin students have slightly easier language exams (and centralized instruction) for the first part of their course, but the majority of their exams are the same as the Non-Intensive students. In the last year of the course all exams are the same for everyone and there is no language requirement—more on this below.

The four possible years of the course are labelled accordingly:

1. “Preliminary to Part IA”—for those taking the first year of the Four-Year course (“Prelims”, as we call them)

2. “Part IA”—the first year of the Three-Year version

3. “Part IB”—the second year of the Three-Year version

4. “Part II”—the last year of the course for everyone, no matter where you started

The subject of Classics itself at Cambridge falls into five major divisions, or “Caucuses”, and it will be convenient to mention these here:

A Caucus: Literature

B Caucus: Philosophy

C Caucus: History

D Caucus: Art and Archaeology

E Caucus: Linguistics and Philology

Each Lecturer within the Faculty is assigned to one or more of these Caucuses, and these Caucuses organize the lectures that take place in the Faculty throughout the year, and they are generally responsible for offering appropriate exams in their subject for each year of study within the course.

As far as instruction goes, that is left to the Colleges. Each College has a Director of Studies in Classics and this person is responsible for arranging appropriate instruction—mainly in the form of “supervision”, as we call it: one-on-one or small group tuition that meets for one hour to discuss work submitted in advance. A “DoS” is frequently a Faculty or College Lecturer, but not necessarily so.

Specific years within the course: a breakdown

1. “Prelims” students study Latin intensely in this year. Each student receives 4 hours per week of Faculty instruction in Latin and attends 3 or 4 lectures per week on subjects across all the Caucuses.

The texts for 2016–17 are Cicero In Catilinam 1, Ovid Metamorphoses 4, Caesar Gallic War 4.20-36 and 5.8-23 (D. A. S. John edition) and Catullus (shorter poems in J. Godwin edition). The exams are mainly language- and text-based but students must also submit two 4000 word essays at the end of the year: one on Catullus and one on Caesar's Gallic War. Supervisions are up to the Colleges: at Clare we normally have one essay per week on a subject within the Caucuses plus 2 or 3 hours of Latin per week, normally focusing on translation from and into Latin.

2. Part IA students study Greek and Latin throughout the year; Intensivists get between 2 and 4 hours per week of Faculty instruction and all students attend up to some 12 lectures per week on subjects across all the Caucuses. The texts for 2016–2017 are as follows:

for Non-Intensive Greek: Pseudo-Xenophon Athenaion politeia (or the 'Old Oligarch'); Herodotus 1.1-92; Plato Crito; Euripides Medea; Augustus Res gestae (in Greek).

for Intensive Greek: Lysias 1; Pseudo-Xenophon Athenaion politeia (or the 'Old Oligarch') 1-2; Herodotus 1.29-46; Plato Crito (speech of The Laws); Euripides Medea (trimeters only).

for Non-Intensive Latin: Ovid Ars amatoria 1; Cicero Pro Caelio; Augustus Res gestae (in Latin); Tacitus Annals 1; Lucretius 3.830-1094 and 4.1037-1287.

for Intensive Latin: Ovid Ars amatoria 1; Augustus Res gestae (in Latin); Tacitus Annals 1; Lucretius 3.830-1094.  

The exams are largely language- and text-based but one exam gathers questions across the Caucuses and requires essays on at least two different Caucus subjects: you get to choose what those are. There are also two optional papers in prose and verse composition.

Supervisions, again, are up to the Colleges: at Clare we normally have one essay per week on a subject within the Caucuses plus 2 hours of Latin per week and 2 hours of Greek per week, normally focusing on translation from and into the target languages. We also offer supervision in verse composition.

3. Part IB students continue studying Greek and Latin and can expect a pair of required language exams at the end of the year, but the majority of their exams will reflect Caucus choices they have made during the year: after a year of broad exposure at IA, this is the year that students begin to focus more sharply on what they want to do within Classics. For Greek literature in 2016–17 we offer courses on Ancient Greek Epic, Greek drama, Persians and Greeks, Greek lyric poetry and the Greek novel. For Latin literature we offer courses on Latin Epic, Roman Comedy, Seneca, Cicero & Caesar and a course on the representation of youth at Rome (readings in Catullus, Statius and Apuleius). The last two out of the six exams then cover whatever Caucus choices you have made: you must choose two topics on offer from the B to E Caucuses (the subtopics on offer normally change yearly: details are available in the Handbook). There are optional papers on prose and verse composition again. College supervisions are organized accordingly.

4. Part II students have the most choice of all. From the five Caucuses, you must choose four Papers: at least two must come from the same Caucus, but no more. So you can spread yourself wide across the Caucuses or focus sharply on one particular Caucus. You can even offer a Thesis instead of a Paper, and there are many Papers available from other Faculties this year: you can take Papers on offer from MML, for instance, and there are several interdisciplinary Papers on offer this year. Recent Clare students, for instance, have taken Papers on Homer’s Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, Horace, Plato, Aristotle, the notion of pleasure, Hellenistic Athens, the rise of Christianity, the “Poetics of Art” (a popular Archaeology topic), death in antiquity, sexual ethics in antiquity...the range of subjects and the depth of study here is impressive and a fantastic way of rounding off your undergraduate degree. Most supervisions for these more specialized courses are arranged centrally within the Faculty; in most cases you will have access to a real expert in the field.

Classics at Clare

As you can guess from all of the above, a great deal of your experience as a Classicist at Cambridge is shaped by your experience within the Faculty. It will be your intellectual focal point and to some degree your social focal point as well. But what about Classics at Clare in particular? Overall I believe we aim to make your undergraduate experience with Classics as rewarding as possible by paying close attention to you as an individual. As a Language Teaching Officer for the Faculty you can normally find me in the Faculty in my office at any time and as your Director of Studies I work closely with you and your supervisors to make sure you are getting what you need: if you feel you require extra supervision, for instance, Clare is generous with its supervision system and we will find you the right help.

Within Classics we have no particular subject focus or bias at Clare and we want to encourage students to study what they find most interesting. At Part I, however, we do emphasize the importance of linguistic facility, and supervision in advanced grammar and prose composition is the norm (see my teaching website for a hint of what work is like: Yet we do not expect you to know how to do these things on application—instead we make it our goal to teach you what you do not know, and take you on at whatever level you find yourself.

At the moment we have a tight-knit body of language instructors that comprises myself and one or two recent Clare Classics alums; for Caucus work we have good working relationships with expert supervisors across the Faculty. We also emphasize the importance of writing well, and to that end I normally advise closely on any Thesis work (and the College has a special scheme for this as well); first year students are given explicit instruction and feedback on mechanics and style—subjects not normally taught, at least explicitly.

Beyond our very convenient location for the Faculty and for the University Library, we have a strong Classics holding in our College Library, the Forbes Mellon Library; every incoming student gets a range of critical reference books for long-term loan and the stock is updated after any innovations in the Faculty syllabus.

There is an optional reading week away from Cambridge in Easter vacation for Clare Classicists, funded by the College: as you can gather from the lists above, there is a great deal to read and we want to make this experience as enjoyable and rewarding as possible.

Finally, we have a lively Classics social life at Clare: the College is again generous with funding for entertainment so we get together for drinks at least every term, we have a proactive subject representative every year, a Classically-themed movie night two times a term, and we round our year off with a specially prepared subject meal in May in the College’s beautiful Small Hall.

Applying to read Classics at Clare

At Clare we are currently expecting to offer about 5 spaces a year and for the past 3 or 4 years we have had 12 to 15 applicants per year. We are therefore slightly more competitive than the University average yet we make very good use of the University-wide “pool” system: when a candidate applies to Clare but doesn’t get in, he or she may get an offer from another college. We have no typical applicant to Clare. We have no ideal profile or background, educational or otherwise—we currently have Four Year and Three Year course students, Intensive and Non-Intensive alike—we only expect you to be enthusiastic, open-minded, and diligent. Above all we expect you to be willing to learn: our “mutual understanding”, as it were, is that we all will work hard at what we enjoy doing, teaching and learning alike. A typical offer to study Classics at Clare would be A*AA at A-level or 7,7,6 (40+ overall) in the IB or the equivalent from other educational systems.

Written Work

Candidates are asked to send in two pieces of school written work before the interview. For Four-Year candidates, these pieces need not be Classics-related. For Three-Year candidates, one piece should be Classics-related.


Applicants who are selected for interview will be called for interview in the second or third week of December. Each applicant will normally have two interviews.

At-interview assessments

All applicants for Classics who are selected for interview are required to take a university-wide at-interview assessment. Applicants for the three-year course complete a 60-minute translation exercise. Applicants for the four-year course complete a 20-minute language aptitude oral assessment. Further information about these assessments is available here.


Dr Charles Weiss, Director of Studies

Fellows in Classics at Clare

Professor Paul Cartledge Emeritus A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture

Dr Charles Weiss Language Teaching Officer in Classics and College Lecturer in Classics

Reading Lists

Click here for a list of recommended books.