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Classics

www.classics.cam.ac.uk

How do you know that all you know is that you don’t know? Can you compare notions of sex in the modern world to those in the ancient? What is a voiceless pharyngeal fricative (and is it catching)?

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Hannah Perry
Downing
Classics, 4th Year
Wolverhampton

Do you want to be battling with questions such as these for the next three years? Or do the words ‘translate and discuss’ fill you with dread?!

“ You can enlighten the masses on the historical inaccuracies of the 300 ”

Happily, there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ Classicist. Unfortunately the subject comes with the reputation of being just for public school students who’ve been chanting amo amas amat from the age of five. Though such a stigma might have been warranted 20 years ago, today it is simply not true. We come from a variety of social and academic backgrounds: some have A-levels in Greek and Latin, but around half the year group starts one language from scratch. Or you could be like me and start your language learning when you get here and conquer Latin in your first year then start Greek in your second year via the four year degree.

The language learning element is one of the best but also most demanding aspects of the course. You can have up to four classes a week, which are so intensive that you could be reading Homer within your first few weeks. This gives Classicists a good body of subject friends with a sympathetic ear when translations get impossible.

Best thing? Friendly, sociable department

The emphasis in the first two years is on language and literature, although you’ll also study two additional topics. You could be supervised in a Cambridge café by graduate students or ‘celebrity’ Classics professors surrounded by the books they’ve recently published. You get one essay per week, a few translations and (if you are learning a new language) some class prep. This means you can factor in time to direct a play, compete in a university sport or socialise. You do need to remember to sleep occasionally – our common room helps with comfy chairs, vending machines stocked with coffee, internet access and the student papers.

The Classics faculty often arrange visiting speakers and we’ve had visits from the likes of Boris Johnson and Tom Holland. There is also the Herodoteans – a student society which puts on pub crawls (often toga themed), pub quizzes, and garden parties. There are field trips, recently to Rome, Munich and Verulanium, and digging in Sussex, outside Rome or even in Lefkandi! You can also receive extensive funding for travel – say if you want to see the Parthenon for yourself, the faculty can fund your trip. We are also lucky to have our own museum, so you can check out the finer details of a kouros. The Fitzwilliam museum also has an incredible collection of pottery, statuary and sarcophagi.

Worst thing? A huge amount of translation and vocabulary!

As for life after Cambridge, Classicists follow a range of career paths from journalism to the civil service to law. More importantly, having a Classics degree means you get to enlighten/irritate the masses with fascinating details on what it really is to ‘burn’ with desire or to what extent the 300 is historically accurate.