What could be a more enjoyable way to gain a top grade at A level than by spending a few hours a week in the company of some of the most wonderful writers the world has ever known? The study of Classical Civilisation at A level is both a pleasure and a privilege. Epic stories of love, tragedy, war and heroic quest, featuring vivid and dramatic characters wrestling with eternal human problems, as well as outrageous comedy which is sometimes so filthy it would never be allowed on the telly today – Classics has the lot.
Taught by very experienced staff, who are passionate about the subject, you will learn to read and write to university level on this course and learn a lot about people, societies, culture and politics that are fascinating in themselves and highly relevant to the concerns of today’s world. If you liked English or other Arts subjects at GCSE, we’d be very surprised if you didn’t like Classics at A level.
This course is the best way to give yourself a classical education without having to know any Greek or Latin. Here is what you will be studying:
Unit 1: The world of the Hero – Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid
Homer’s epic poem is the foundation-stone of Western literature. The Iliad tells the story of Achilles, the greatest of the Greek heroes in the Trojan War, his quarrel with the Greek leader Agamemnon and the “thousand-fold pains” his anger brought to all around him. The poem sets out timeless questions about the nature of human life and its meaning, the relations between men and women, between men and gods, and between man and himself. The idea of heroism in Homer’s poem is similar to, but also in important ways different from that in the second epic studied in this unit – Virgil’s Aeneid. Composed about 700 years after Homer’s poem, in the new emperor Augustus’s Rome, its attitude to the war, suffering and the times in which Virgil lived mark it out as a more complex, modern and problematic narrative.
Unit 2: Greek Theatre
Sophocles: Oedipus the King
Euripides: The Bacchae
The most significant Greek dramatists established for all time tragedy as the most important of all literary genres. You will study two such plays in the context of the 5th century BC in Athens. One of the plays recounts the nightmare-come-true of the life of Oedipus, and the other the terrifying fate of Pentheus, who finds himself in conflict with the god, Bacchus. The third play, Aristophanes’ Frogs, is also from 5thcentury Athens – but it’s very different: a fantastical comic journey to the Underworld, filled with satire, slapstick and absurdity but with some serious messages for its audience too. Students will also look at images taken from vase-paintings and other sources to develop their understanding of the conditions of ancient theatre.
Unit 3: Politics of the Late Republic
The Late Roman Republic was a period of upheaval and conflict, which eventually led to the downfall of the Republican state and the rise of the Roman Emperors. In this component you will study the political events and ideas of the period from the retirement in 79BC of Sulla, the bloody victor of Rome’s first set of civil wars to the death of Cicero in 43 BC. The exploration of the very different ideas of three contemporary political figures brings this tumultuous period to life for learners and moves beyond simply studying ideals and into discussion of the practical difficulties familiar to states throughout history, and explores the ways in which the later Republic changed and ultimately fell. The final two topics are devoted to an in depth study of two of Cicero’s major works: his courtroom speech against Verres, the rapacious governor of Sicily, and a selection of his letters.
The department also has a highly successful one-year intensive A level, which most students take from scratch, with no previous knowledge of the ancient world or its literature. The department allows additional tutorials to ensure the course is completed in time. You will need to have some interest in literature and a willingness to work hard, but with this, a high level of success is more than possible. Students regularly achieve top grades on this course.
Classical Civilisation is taught by two expert teachers with years of successful A level teaching behind them.
Mike Wheeldon is the Vice Principal for Arts and Humanities in the College. He joined us in 2000 after a period as Head of Arts and prior to that as Head of English in various London sixth form colleges. Following his degree in English and Latin at the University of Warwick, Mike was a doctoral researcher in Classics at Kings’ College London for several years, writing on historiographical theory in the ancient world and teaching occasional undergraduate classes. He has been teaching Politics, Classics and English at sixth form level for over 20 years. Mike is married with three grown-up children. His free time is spent fretting over the fortunes of Manchester United or trying to take his mind off them with crosswords, hiking and visits to the theatre.
Lucy has worked as Head of Latin and a Classics teacher in various boys’ schools and particularly enjoyed helping out with Drama activities and Cookery clubs. She undertook a degree in Classics at Birmingham University and then completed a PGCE and Masters in Education at the University of Cambridge, focusing on Underachievement in Able Boys. She has marked the A level Latin exams for three years and is enjoying the opportunity to focus mainly on Classical Civilisation and teach two of her favourite books, ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘The Aeneid’. In her free time she runs a small business making crochet gifts for babies and enjoys baking and anything creative.
John is a marvelous example of how the one year A level Classics course at Brampton College can change the course of your life. John came to the college from an independent school after performing poorly in his A levels the first time around. He was a charming and ebullient young man (and still is!) who’d had too much of a good time at school and knew he could have worked harder. But he also had serious doubts over whether he was able to do well in the subjects he had chosen – Biology, Mathematics and Chemistry. After careful discussion between John, the teachers and his parents, he decided to persist with Maths and Biology, but to drop Chemistry and take up Classical Civilisation on the intensive one-year course.
At first, John loved the study of the ancient plays and poems, but he had to struggle to learn the requisite essay skills. However, by November, he had made great progress on this front and by January had scored an A grade in a Classics modular exam. He was now working harder than he ever had before. And his ideas about his future degree had changed too: he liked the Classics so much he applied to read the subject at King’s College London. When June came round, John was ready to succeed, and he was rewarded with an A grade in Classics and a place at King’s.
My biggest challenge at Brampton was taking AS/A2 Classical Civilisation in one year – the content was difficult as was managing to learn such a wide expanse of information in a short time. However, the scheduling of lessons ensured that the course was completed ahead of time, and my teacher, Mike Wheeldon, was constantly available to lend a helping hand and provide extra lessons when I felt I needed them. My greatest moment was of course when I received my 3 A’s in English, Sociology and Classical Civilisation. I gained a place to read English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, and believe that the skills I learnt at Brampton College come into practice every day.
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