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Classical Civilisation A'Level at Newstead Wood School

Course description

Awarding Body: OCR

Course content

AS Module:The World of the Hero (Homer’s Odyssey) An epic poem in every sense - it takes thirty hours to read! – and one of the founding texts of western civilization. Journey with Odysseus on his ten-year voyage home as he blinds the drunken Cyclops, is thwarted by angry gods and even pops down to the underworld; be amused as that tempting witch Circe turns men into swine. We study oral composition, plot structure and narrative techniques, the role of fate and the gods, the heroic code and the concepts of honour and revenge. 

AS Module:Culture and the Arts (Greek Theatre) Quite simply, the greatest collection of great literature ever gathered together in one student-friendly bundle. We look at the mother of all tragedies, and arguably the most influential play of all time, Oedipus the King. Then we study perhaps the cruellest of all plays, Euripides’ The Bacchae, the sufferings of which are too disturbing to list here. As light relief from all the blood and tears, we read the Greek Comedy Frogs, where fluids of a quite different kind (mostly wine) spray across the stage. The plays are considered as works of literature, but also as historical sources, revealing the thoughts and beliefs of the culture which produced them. Recognising that theatre is something you watch, we also look at vase paintings and statues showing the myths behind, and performances of, these plays.

A level consists of the AS units detailed above plus

A Level Module: Beliefs and Ideas (Love and Relationships) So scandalous it is only safe for study in Year 13 This module embraces both philosophy and literature as we probe those curious beasts, love and desire (and their more tame counterpart, friendship). The unit examines what these forces are, their symptoms and manifestations; if needed, their possible cures. We look at men and women, gay and straight relationships, and everything in-between and beyond those definitions. We explore what divides people, and how they come together. We dwell awhile on the isle of Lesbos with the world’s most iconic lesbian, the poet Sappho, before hitting the road with Ovid, cast into exile for his scandalous Ars Amatoria, a lovers’ guide of classical pick-up lines and seduction techniques. Of course, everyone knows that the brain is the sexiest organ of love, so we also consider the philosophies of Plato and Seneca. Hot stuff!

A Level Module: The World of the Hero (Virgil’s Aeneid) As Troy burns Aeneas sets sail for Italy, there to found the Roman Empire. Meet Dido, who believes herself married to Aeneas; news to him as he sails away! What’s a girl to do? Disembowelment followed by swift immolation, of course. Students’ critical study of The Aeneid in its religious, political, cultural and social contexts builds well on their AS work. Formal analysis of narrative techniques goes hand in hand with a study of the nature of human responsibility and the relations between mortals and immortals, men and women, fathers and sons.

Methods of Learning

The emphasis is on student-based enquiry, on a class, group and individual level. Students are expected to read widely and attend relevant lectures and plays.

Subject Specific Skills and Concepts

  • The ability to demonstrate relevant knowledge and understanding of the Classical World
  • The ability to discuss and interpret primary material from the Classical World
  • The ability to write lucidly, concisely, critically and coherently on the material studied.

Amount of Homework Time Required per Week

AS – four hours; A2 – five hours.

Entry requirements

To be accepted onto this course, students need at least grade 7 in GCSE English, or English Literature, or grade A in History. All texts are studied in translation; no knowledge of Classical Greek or Latin is required.


AS is assessed through two written examinations:

  • The World of the Hero (Homer’s Odyssey): 1 hour 30 minutes paper, worth 50% of the AS level
  • Culture and Arts (Greek Theatre): 1 hour 30 minutes paper, worth 50% of the AS level


A Level is assessed through three written examinations:

  • The world of the hero (The Odyssey and The Aeneid): 2 hour 20 minutes paper, worth 40% of the A level.
  • Culture and Arts (Greek theatre): 1 hour 45 minutes paper, worth 30% of the A level.
  • Beliefs and Ideas (Love and Relationships): 1 hour 45 minutes paper, worth 30% of the A level.

Future opportunities

You could take this course to complement other advanced level courses or to prepare for the A2 part of an Advanced GCE in Classical Civilisation, which could lead onto higher education in Classical Civilisation or related subjects such as English, American Studies, or Politics. With further training, you could go into a job related to classical civilisation by seeking employment in areas of heritage such as working for a museum or within education such as a history teacher. You could also go straight into a job as the AS GCE is a recognised qualification that will help you develop the skills, understanding and knowledge that many employers across lots of industries are looking for.

Post A-Level Progression

The course is valuable for anyone reading any arts or humanities subjects at university; many science students find it lends variety to their UCAS. It provides rigorous training in analytical thinking and the ability to write logically and well. Students studying our course receive offers from all the top universities in the country.

Further information

Highlights and achievements Tempting hubris – if you don’t know the term, then study the course! – here are exactly 300 words celebrating our department’s successes. Why 300? – to honour those plucky Spartans (again, if you don’t know the story study the course, or pop to the library where we’ve placed the film and graphic novel detailing their exploits). The teaching team has won recognition (and a certificate!) from the Times Educational Supplement as one of the topachieving state schools in the subject; in recent years, over 70% of Newstead students who gain offers from Oxford and Cambridge take our subject at A level. This is no coincidence. They are helped towards this by many sessions of one-to-one support, teachers working with students on drafts of their essays or UCAS statements. Or perhaps they achieve this with the help of Mrs MacCormack’s skills as a qualified Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming; she uses proven strategies to foster calmness, confidence and self-belief in our students, invaluable in the run-up to examinations. This isn’t to take away from the brilliance of our students – one of them recently won the national Oxford University essay writing competition, exploring the legacy of Socrates’ suicide for western culture. All our students are able to fill their UCAS statements with merry chat due to the innumerable enrichment activities we run: this March we took thirty students on an eight-day jaunt to Pompeii, Rome, Athens and Delphi; this December will see the annual Panto trip (it’s a lot like Greek Comedy – oh yes it is!). Join us, also, for a night at the opera, ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’, perhaps, whose themes of adultery and revenge recall Greek tragedy, or a staging of ‘Shakespeare in Love’, which greatly resembles Aristophanes’ comic romps; basically, Shakespeare stole it all from the Greeks – yet another reason to study our course.

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Newstead Wood School directly.

Last updated date: 15 November 2016
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