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Classics BA Personal Statement - I know Latin but not Ancient History!

Hello all! Asking for some advice about potential classics degree applications.

I’m just about to finish my A Levels before taking a gap year and then going to study classics at uni. I’ve done Latin A Level which I absolutely adore and I have very limited knowledge of ancient culture through study of set texts etc but that’s it!! In my gap year i plan on learning a little bit of Greek but could anyone advise me where might be a good start for some ancient history knowledge? :smile:
Maybe read the Aeneid for some Augustan context and the Iliad or/and for some Homeric context
Sappho is really good for 7th Century BC Greece
I am really interested in the Mycenaean Greece so I prefer to read non-fiction books about this but I find it useful to chart history through reading literature from that time period
Hi! I think just start from whatever part you're interested in. I applied for Classics as well but I really had no idea about what ancient history was like (except for the things I learned for my A-Level Latin). I didn't mention any ancient history stuff in my personal statement except for some Augustan context when talking about Ovid and some gender history when talking about the life of ancient women in my written work (for Oxford only). For me, I'd much prefer to learn history about the literary/philosophical books I read rather than starting from a dry history book
hi! i have an offer for cambridge classics undergrad and my interest largely leans towards literature rather than history but i can try to help!

remember since classics is interdisciplinary and has sooo many elements you dont have to know everything, so find what interests you most!

personally i havent even read many books, but i love listening to podcasts! there are so many on spotify, and i find natalie haynes super easy going and interesting to listen to with a great range of topics! other recommendations i have are 'lets talk about myths, baby' (obviously about myths, not history, but ive been listening for years) and the History of Rome podcast (quite monotonous but has a complete history of rome to get an understanding)

if you enjoyed the set texts for latin (which ones did you do?? i do virgil for both verse, then cicero and tacitus :smile:) ) and want to look at more literature, then branching off from those authors in whatever direction interests you is also a good starting place, or even reading some of the other set texts from different years. for example, i read some of Virgil's georgics since i really like the natural descriptions in the Aeneid.

If you haven't read the iliad or aeneid and think they could interest you, then go for it! they're honestly great books. i mean to read emily wilson's translation of the odyssey this summer too :smile:
if you don't feel like reading them, alternatively could explore retellings such as silence of the girls and a thousand ships, or madeline millers books.

check out this list too!
https://ellesthetics.wordpress.com/2020/06/12/7-must-reads-for-budding-classicists/
like i said ive barely had any time to actually sit down and read lol, but ive read some of the roman revolution and it seems good (warning though, its LONG, 524 pages)! augustan rome is a more manageable 137 pages. the greeks and romans in 10 chapters by nigel spivey is also an amazing introduction to an overview, plus the cover is beautiful enough to buy it for that alone haha. honestly any book from this list will be an amazing read.

also you could visit any sites or museums near you, even galleries, as seeing artifacts and sites in person is equally valuable! the only (social) history i mentioned on my personal statement were the findings at vindolanda, with small every day items of jewellery and dice etc

the beauty of classics is how you can find anything that interests you! dont worry about having an all-encompassing knowledge across loads of areas of classics, just find a niche which you find cool! explore with different media and eventually you'll find something which youll love :smile:

if you have any questions or wanna talk abt anything classics related ask away :smile:) sorry for the long ramble!
Thank you so so much!! I had my final A2 Latin exam today and am lowkey sad its over but excited to learn some new things rather than the same lines of the Aeneid over and over again…

I absolutely fell in love with the Aeneid and especially the whole concept of epic destiny and how Virgil’s audience would have accpeted/reacted to it so I’m definitely gonna try and tackle the big 3 epics this summer! But I also never got to properly delve into Augustan context and its influence on Virgil so will probably look into that too and see where it takes me!

Podcasts definitely seem like a good shout, as do documentaries so will have a browse but thank you so much for your tips!
Original post by 15colesch
hi! i have an offer for cambridge classics undergrad and my interest largely leans towards literature rather than history but i can try to help!

remember since classics is interdisciplinary and has sooo many elements you dont have to know everything, so find what interests you most!

personally i havent even read many books, but i love listening to podcasts! there are so many on spotify, and i find natalie haynes super easy going and interesting to listen to with a great range of topics! other recommendations i have are 'lets talk about myths, baby' (obviously about myths, not history, but ive been listening for years) and the History of Rome podcast (quite monotonous but has a complete history of rome to get an understanding)

if you enjoyed the set texts for latin (which ones did you do?? i do virgil for both verse, then cicero and tacitus :smile:) ) and want to look at more literature, then branching off from those authors in whatever direction interests you is also a good starting place, or even reading some of the other set texts from different years. for example, i read some of Virgil's georgics since i really like the natural descriptions in the Aeneid.

If you haven't read the iliad or aeneid and think they could interest you, then go for it! they're honestly great books. i mean to read emily wilson's translation of the odyssey this summer too :smile:
if you don't feel like reading them, alternatively could explore retellings such as silence of the girls and a thousand ships, or madeline millers books.

check out this list too!
https://ellesthetics.wordpress.com/2020/06/12/7-must-reads-for-budding-classicists/
like i said ive barely had any time to actually sit down and read lol, but ive read some of the roman revolution and it seems good (warning though, its LONG, 524 pages)! augustan rome is a more manageable 137 pages. the greeks and romans in 10 chapters by nigel spivey is also an amazing introduction to an overview, plus the cover is beautiful enough to buy it for that alone haha. honestly any book from this list will be an amazing read.

also you could visit any sites or museums near you, even galleries, as seeing artifacts and sites in person is equally valuable! the only (social) history i mentioned on my personal statement were the findings at vindolanda, with small every day items of jewellery and dice etc

the beauty of classics is how you can find anything that interests you! dont worry about having an all-encompassing knowledge across loads of areas of classics, just find a niche which you find cool! explore with different media and eventually you'll find something which youll love :smile:

if you have any questions or wanna talk abt anything classics related ask away :smile:) sorry for the long ramble!
Reply 5
Original post by 15colesch
hi! i have an offer for cambridge classics undergrad and my interest largely leans towards literature rather than history but i can try to help!

remember since classics is interdisciplinary and has sooo many elements you dont have to know everything, so find what interests you most!

personally i havent even read many books, but i love listening to podcasts! there are so many on spotify, and i find natalie haynes super easy going and interesting to listen to with a great range of topics! other recommendations i have are 'lets talk about myths, baby' (obviously about myths, not history, but ive been listening for years) and the History of Rome podcast (quite monotonous but has a complete history of rome to get an understanding)

if you enjoyed the set texts for latin (which ones did you do?? i do virgil for both verse, then cicero and tacitus :smile:) ) and want to look at more literature, then branching off from those authors in whatever direction interests you is also a good starting place, or even reading some of the other set texts from different years. for example, i read some of Virgil's georgics since i really like the natural descriptions in the Aeneid.

If you haven't read the iliad or aeneid and think they could interest you, then go for it! they're honestly great books. i mean to read emily wilson's translation of the odyssey this summer too :smile:
if you don't feel like reading them, alternatively could explore retellings such as silence of the girls and a thousand ships, or madeline millers books.

check out this list too!
https://ellesthetics.wordpress.com/2020/06/12/7-must-reads-for-budding-classicists/
like i said ive barely had any time to actually sit down and read lol, but ive read some of the roman revolution and it seems good (warning though, its LONG, 524 pages)! augustan rome is a more manageable 137 pages. the greeks and romans in 10 chapters by nigel spivey is also an amazing introduction to an overview, plus the cover is beautiful enough to buy it for that alone haha. honestly any book from this list will be an amazing read.

also you could visit any sites or museums near you, even galleries, as seeing artifacts and sites in person is equally valuable! the only (social) history i mentioned on my personal statement were the findings at vindolanda, with small every day items of jewellery and dice etc

the beauty of classics is how you can find anything that interests you! dont worry about having an all-encompassing knowledge across loads of areas of classics, just find a niche which you find cool! explore with different media and eventually you'll find something which youll love :smile:

if you have any questions or wanna talk abt anything classics related ask away :smile:) sorry for the long ramble!

omg classics at cambridge is literally my dream. which college did you apply for?
Original post by pkchan
omg classics at cambridge is literally my dream. which college did you apply for?


i applied to selwyn and got pooled to murray edwards :smile: finding out on thursday if im in eeeek
You don't need to talk about every element of classics in your PS - you can even just talk about one specific area you're interested in. As above it's pretty wide ranging and not all classicists work on all areas (in fact sort of necessarily once they get to the point of PhD and beyond, they normally just focus on one quite specific area). So if your main interest is in e.g. literature, or philosophy, or whatever else, you can just write about those. You'll later in the degree pick up the bits of ancient history you need to contextualise those anyway!
Original post by 15colesch
hi! i have an offer for cambridge classics undergrad and my interest largely leans towards literature rather than history but i can try to help!

remember since classics is interdisciplinary and has sooo many elements you dont have to know everything, so find what interests you most!

personally i havent even read many books, but i love listening to podcasts! there are so many on spotify, and i find natalie haynes super easy going and interesting to listen to with a great range of topics! other recommendations i have are 'lets talk about myths, baby' (obviously about myths, not history, but ive been listening for years) and the History of Rome podcast (quite monotonous but has a complete history of rome to get an understanding)

if you enjoyed the set texts for latin (which ones did you do?? i do virgil for both verse, then cicero and tacitus :smile:) ) and want to look at more literature, then branching off from those authors in whatever direction interests you is also a good starting place, or even reading some of the other set texts from different years. for example, i read some of Virgil's georgics since i really like the natural descriptions in the Aeneid.

If you haven't read the iliad or aeneid and think they could interest you, then go for it! they're honestly great books. i mean to read emily wilson's translation of the odyssey this summer too :smile:
if you don't feel like reading them, alternatively could explore retellings such as silence of the girls and a thousand ships, or madeline millers books.

check out this list too!
https://ellesthetics.wordpress.com/2020/06/12/7-must-reads-for-budding-classicists/
like i said ive barely had any time to actually sit down and read lol, but ive read some of the roman revolution and it seems good (warning though, its LONG, 524 pages)! augustan rome is a more manageable 137 pages. the greeks and romans in 10 chapters by nigel spivey is also an amazing introduction to an overview, plus the cover is beautiful enough to buy it for that alone haha. honestly any book from this list will be an amazing read.

also you could visit any sites or museums near you, even galleries, as seeing artifacts and sites in person is equally valuable! the only (social) history i mentioned on my personal statement were the findings at vindolanda, with small every day items of jewellery and dice etc

the beauty of classics is how you can find anything that interests you! dont worry about having an all-encompassing knowledge across loads of areas of classics, just find a niche which you find cool! explore with different media and eventually you'll find something which youll love :smile:

if you have any questions or wanna talk abt anything classics related ask away :smile:) sorry for the long ramble!

Hi!! Me again….

A couple of months later I have some sort of personal statement draft. Im pretty happy with it but recently ive been thinking that the books ive mentioned are too ‘basic’ - namely ‘The Song of Achilles’ and Mary Beard’s ‘S.P.Q.R.’ Im trying to justify it by it being more about what I say about them rather than the books themselves… Any advice?
Reply 9
Original post by JaneSeymour24
Hi!! Me again….

A couple of months later I have some sort of personal statement draft. Im pretty happy with it but recently ive been thinking that the books ive mentioned are too ‘basic’ - namely ‘The Song of Achilles’ and Mary Beard’s ‘S.P.Q.R.’ Im trying to justify it by it being more about what I say about them rather than the books themselves… Any advice?

Hello, I'm applying for Classics this year too and just finished my personal statement yesterday! I would say it's fine to mention books that you'd consider 'basic' (I talked about both the Iliad and the Aeneid in my ps!) as long as you discuss what it was you actually got from those books. So for example you could say that The Song of Achilles made you consider how war and duty affect relationships between characters. You could then follow that up by saying how this inspired you to read the Iliad in its full or led you to listen to some podcasts about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Hope this helps :smile:
Original post by aL0e1
Hello, I'm applying for Classics this year too and just finished my personal statement yesterday! I would say it's fine to mention books that you'd consider 'basic' (I talked about both the Iliad and the Aeneid in my ps!) as long as you discuss what it was you actually got from those books. So for example you could say that The Song of Achilles made you consider how war and duty affect relationships between characters. You could then follow that up by saying how this inspired you to read the Iliad in its full or led you to listen to some podcasts about the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Hope this helps :smile:

Amazing thank you so much!! That’s what I thought but I’m slightly on my own applying to uni so need a little bit of guidance and reassurance!! Where are you applying? :smile:
Another thing, do you think it would be okay for me to say I’m partway through the Iliad? - that boy is big and i don’t think ill have finished it before i send off my personal statement lollll
Original post by JaneSeymour24
Another thing, do you think it would be okay for me to say I’m partway through the Iliad? - that boy is big and i don’t think ill have finished it before i send off my personal statement lollll


Don't just say "I am partway through the Iliad". Even if you had finished it, simply saying "I have read the Iliad" means nothing! You want to show not tell with your PS - simply listing activities doesn't demonstrate anything.

Write specifically about it - if there is a particular book of it you have read which was interesting for you for some reason, write about that, in detail! Show them your interest in the material and hence course by discussing it analytically :smile:
Original post by artful_lounger
Don't just say "I am partway through the Iliad". Even if you had finished it, simply saying "I have read the Iliad" means nothing! You want to show not tell with your PS - simply listing activities doesn't demonstrate anything.

Write specifically about it - if there is a particular book of it you have read which was interesting for you for some reason, write about that, in detail! Show them your interest in the material and hence course by discussing it analytically :smile:

Ofc i wouldnt say it like that!! - but could i discuss elements of the Iliad even though i havent read it in its entirety?
Original post by JaneSeymour24
Ofc i wouldnt say it like that!! - but could i discuss elements of the Iliad even though i havent read it in its entirety?


Yes of course. Just discuss what you have read! :smile:
Original post by artful_lounger
Yes of course. Just discuss what you have read! :smile:

Amazing, thank you so much!!

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