Classics and Joint Schools

Classics Joint Schools

If you hold an offer for either Classics and Modern Languages or Classics with Oriental Studies, you can find the non-classics materials via the links below.

Classics Course IA & IB: Introductory Reading

Welcome to St John’s! We the team of Classics Tutors are very much looking forward to meeting you again, and to working with you over the coming years.

The aim of this introductory reading is to begin your close study of Homer and Virgil which will be central to the Mods course: before you come up to Oxford, we want you to start to read and analyse the poems, and to begin to engage with their literary and cultural backgrounds. There are also some recommended books which give a broad and energetic overview to the classical world, the study of classics, and the literary tradition.

If have any questions, please feel free to get in touch.

Read The Epics In Translation

First of all and as an absolute priority, we ask you all to read the whole of the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid in translation.

Even if you have read the poems before, read them again. All three epics will be central or important to the Mods classics course, whatever route you are taking (even if you are studying only one of them in the original).

We recommend the following translations:

  • Iliad: Richmond Lattimore (Chicago, 1951) or Martin Hammond’s Penguin (revised 1987).
  • Odyssey: W. Shewring (Oxford, 1980). You may also enjoy the recent translation by Emily Wilson (Norton, 2017) – interesting and sometimes controversial in its choices.
  • Aeneid: David West (Penguin), or Frederick Ahl (Oxford World’s Classics)

Read Iliad 1 & 3 Greek (Course IA Only)

For those taking Course 1A (with ancient Greek to A-Level or equivalent), please read Iliad Books 1 and 3 in Greek.

  • Edition: The prescribed text for the Iliad is the Oxford Classical Text (OCT) by Munro (in two volumes; ultimately you will need both).
  • Commentaries: Simon Pulleyn on Iliad 1 (Oxford University Press), and Angus Bowie on Iliad 3 (Cambridge University Press ‘Green and Yellow’ series)

Read Aeneid Book 1 in Latin (Course A & 1B Only)

For those taking Course 1A or IB (with Latin to A-Level or equivalent), please read Aeneid Book 1 in Latin.

  • Edition: The prescribed text for the Aeneid is the Oxford Classical Text (OCT) by Roger Mynors.
  • Commentary: R. G. Austin on Book 1 (Oxford 1971, paperback 1981).

See the end of this page for further linguistic aids.

As you read the books of the Iliad and or the Aeneid in the original, it will be useful to produce a word list for future reference, and also to note down the passages that you find particularly difficult to understand or interpret.

Explore The Subject: Important General Reading:

You may also like to take a look at the following chapters an articles (PDFs included) which offer some wide-ranging and often entertaining perspectives on the classical world (and a taster of some of the different areas that you can pursue in your degree) … and its relevance in antiquity and today.

  • Mary Beard and John Henderson, Classics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford 1995): Chapter 1 ‘The Visit’ and Chapter 3 ‘Being There’
  • James Clackson, Language and Society in the Greek and Roman Worlds (Cambridge 2015) Chapter 2: Language and Identity.
  • Tim Whitmarsh, Ancient Greek Literature (London 2004): aims to provide an overview to the whole Greek literary tradition, organised thematically, driven by important concepts like identity and major Greek institutions like the symposium and the theatre. Chapter 1: Greek Literature and Cultural Tradition; 2: The Problem of Tradition and 10: Inventing the Greek. Not available online (so no PDF) but available to purchase on amazon and similar vendors in paperback or e-book for less than £20 (and you can get this refunded from your academic grant, see below for details)
  • The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, Volume 1: Chapter 1: Books and Readers in the Greek World.
  • Moses Finley, The World of Odysseus, 2nd ed. (London 1978): a classic attempt to reconstruct the social world of Homeric poems.
  • Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Augustan Rome (Bristol 1993; 2nd ed. Bloomsbury 2018): gives a good compact introduction to the culture and society of the Augustan age, putting art and literature in historical context.

Do not feel that you need to read all or even most of these; just enough to get your bearings initially, or if you feel that you need to be filled in on particular area, or follow up points of interest.

A note on buying books:

All of the editions, commentaries and translations that we recommend are available to buy on Amazon, via Blackwell’s (Oxford’s main academic bookseller, who also trade online) or similar. We recommend that you do purchase them, as you’ll be making frequent and detailed use of them during your studies over the next two years. Once you join the college, you will have access to a very generous academic grant system, which you can use for book purchases, and will be able to buy books at a discount at Blackwell’s. You may want to delay any more expensive purchases till then, but you will be able to reclaim the cost of book purchases made for the preparatory reading against your academic grant retrospectively. Please contact us if this causes a difficulty. All of the books listed will also be available in the college library on arrival.

Enjoy your summer reading, and we look forward to welcoming you soon.

Further linguistic aids for reading Homer in the original:

  • For linguistic support: You may find Autenrieth’s Homeric dictionary useful in the first instance, particularly since it gives many verbs in the forms you will encounter them rather than just the root forms. It is available cheaply for IPad / IPhone via an app called Lexiphanes (which also gives you the 1924 Liddell and Scott).
  • For more technical accounts of Homer’s language, see L. R. Palmer in Wace-Stubbings, Companion to Homer and G. Horrocks in Morris-Powell, A New Companion to Homer.
  • There is a concordance (word-list) of the Iliad by G. L. Prendergast, but these days many prefer to search via the electronic Thesaurus Linguae Graecae.

Further aids for reading Virgil in the original::

  • A useful commentary on the whole poem by R. D. Williams in two volumes (Macmillan 1972-73; repr. Bristol Classical Press).
  • S. J. Heyworth and J. H. W. Morwood, A Commentary on Vergil, Aeneid 3 (Oxford 2017), has a very useful introduction on Virgil’s metre and scansion (pp. 44-54) and a glossary of some common critical terms (pp. 54-9).
  • There is an excellent online vocabulary to the Aeneid on the Dickinson College Commentaries website:


Study skills for incoming undergraduates

As an Oxford student, you have many great opportunities ahead, but studying here can also be very challenging. To help you prepare for this, we have put together some resources that will help you develop your study skills before you start at Oxford, no matter your subject.

Starting at Oxford

Starting a course at Oxford can be very daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you succeed! Here are some useful guides from across the University that you might want to check out:

  • Study skills and training: Here you can find advice on academic good practice including avoiding plagiarism, managing your time, reading, note taking, referencing and revision.
  • Student life: It’s not all about academics at Oxford; here you can find out about the range of other opportunities available to you as a student, as well as tips on how to navigate student life with your workload. If you prefer podcasts, much of this information is available in that form here!
  • Managing the cost: Undergraduate students Helena, Joe and Dan, have teamed up with the University’s Undergraduate Admissions team to discuss the financial support available to students and how they manage the cost of studying at Oxford.

Useful contacts

If you have any questions that aren’t answered on this page, you can get in touch with the following people:

ContactQuestions they can answer
Admissions Office: Sarah JonesAnything to do with offers, visas, UCAS issues, reading lists and preparatory materials
Accommodation OfficeAccommodation, what to bring, insurance, electoral roll issues  
BursaryAll things financial
College OfficePractical arrangements, bank letters, etc.
Disability enquiries: Elaine EastgateAny issues relating to disability or special requirements