Oxford has the largest Classics department in the world, with unparalleled teaching, library and museum resources along with many extra-curricular activities. For over 900 years Oxford has been at the very centre of discovery and innovation in this subject. The Oxford degree involves extensive study of the ancient languages, as many of the texts are read in the original.Classics is the study of the languages, culture, history and thought of the civilisations of ancient Greece and Rome. It is one of the most varied and interdisciplinary of all subjects. The Oxford classics course is divided into two parts that last five terms and seven terms respectively, the whole lasting four years in total, which is one year more than most first degree courses at Oxford and other English universities
Choose eight options from more than 80 in the following subjects; in most of these subjects it is possible to offer an undergraduate thesis in place of one of the papers.
Your time is divided between lectures, tutorials and private study. Most of your work will be in preparation of essays for your tutorials, although the systematic reading of ancient texts, not necessarily aimed at any particular tutorial, also requires a considerable input of time and effort. Oxford offers postgraduate Master’s level courses in Greek and/or Roman History and Greek and/or Latin Language and Literature. These serve as a foundation for doctoral study. study which is usually through a Master’s qualification in Classics. Oxford offers Master’s level qualified students from other institutions to apply directly.
Philosophy Modules in Classics:
Plato, Republic (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]
This is one of Plato’s most famous, and most influential, works. It is primarily concerned with the questions of the nature of justice and of the best possible kind of life we can live. These questions prompt discussions of the ideal city (including Plato’s most famous discussions of art), the nature of knowledge, the Theory of Forms, and the immortality of the soul. The study of the Republic will thus introduce you to many of Plato’s central ideas and argument. His thought on all these issues may have developed over time, and theRepublic may represent one stage in a continuous process of reflection and self-criticism rather than a definitive and self-contained statement of his philosophy. For this reason you will wish to look at some of the ideas and arguments to be found in other Platonic dialogues as well (e.g., Gorgias, Meno, and Phaedo). The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions.
Text: Slings (OCT, 2003).
Translation: Grube, rev. Reeve (Hackett)
Julia Annas, An Introduction to Plato’s Republic (Oxford), introduction and ch. 1.
131. Plato, Theaetetus and Sophist (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]
The Theaetetus is a searching analysis of the nature of knowledge – ‘rich, inventive, and profound’, as Bernard Williams says. Socrates and Theaetetus discuss the idea that knowledge might be no more than perception; Socrates argues that this would require a radical relativism of the sort developed by the sophist Protagoras, and a view of the world as constituted by fleeting perceptions rather than by enduring physical objects. They go on to discuss and reject the idea that knowledge is true judgment, turn aside from this to discuss how certain sorts of false judgment might be possible, and finally examine what sort of theory might underpin the claim that knowledge is true judgment together with a ‘logos’. Plato’s treatment of these questions laid much of the foundation of subsequent philosophical enquiry into knowledge. As well as being packed with philosophical argument of great subtlety, the Theaetetus is also a literary masterpiece, thought by many to be Plato’s finest dialogue.
The Sophist’s enquiry is a much more abstract but no less challenging one. Ostensibly a search for the definition of a sophist, its philosophical focus is the discussion of a group of problems – including those of falsehood (encountered also in Theaetetus) – arising from the notion of not-being, or what is not. The philosopher Parmenides had argued that we cannot think at all about what is not – perhaps on the basis that it is not there to be grasped or thought about – and that, since any change would involve the coming to be of something from what is not, there cannot in fact be any change: reality is a single unchanging thing. Clearly Parmenides must be wrong: Plato attempts to show precisely why, and in the process significantly modifies (some think he actually rejects) his own Theory of Forms.
The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read both dialogues in Greek.
Text: Duke et al. (OCT).
Translations: Theaetetus: McDowell (Clarendon Plato Series; also contains an excellent commentary), Levett revised Burnyeat (Hackett); Sophist: White (Hackett).
Bernard Williams, introduction to the Levett/Burnyeat translation of the Theaetetus (there are two editions of this translation: one with a short introduction by Williams, and one with a lengthy introduction by Burnyeat which you would wish to read while studying the text in detail).
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]
The Nicomachean Ethics is one of the four treatises in the Aristotelian Corpus (the others are the Eudemian Ethics, the Magna Moralia and the Politics) that examine the moral and political questions discussed in Plato’s Republic and Laws. Like Plato in the Republic, Aristotle is concerned with the question, what is the best possible sort of life? In the Ethics he answers this question by examining the structure of human action, responsibility, the virtues, the nature of moral knowledge, weakness of will, pleasure, friendship, and other related issues. Much of what Aristotle has to say on these is ground-breaking, highly perceptive, and still important in contemporary debate in ethics and moral psychology. The examination includes a compulsory question requiring comments on passages in English translation, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read books I-III, VI-VII, X in Greek, and the rest in translation.
There will be a compulsory question containing passages for translation and comment from the books read in Greek; any passages for comments from the remaining books will be accompanied by a translation. There will also be essay questions.
Text: Bywater (OCT).
Translation: Irwin (Hackett), 2nd edn).
J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle the Philosopher (Oxford), ch. 10.
Aristotle, Physics (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]
Aristotle is not concerned in this work to do physics in the modern sense, , but to examine a number of important philosophical issues relating to the study of the natural world in general. These include the concept of nature itself; the types of explanation required in natural science (including the issue of the legitimacy of teleological explanation in biology); chance; the nature of change; time; infinity; a critique of the various atomistic theories; and an extended argument designed to show that the changes in the natural world must depend in some way on an unchanging first principle. The Physics is an excellent introduction to Aristotle’s philosophy in general; his distinctive approach to philosophical method is evident throughout, and central Aristotelian concepts such as substance, form, matter, and cause play a central role.
The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read books I-IV and VIII in Greek and the rest in translation. There will be a compulsory question containing passages for translation and comment from the books read in Greek; any passages for comments from the remaining books will be accompanied by a translation.
Text: Ross (OCT),
Translation in J. Barnes, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation (Princeton), vol. 1.
134. Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Pyrrhonism (in Greek) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]
In Outlines of Pyrrhonism Sextus enthusiastically expounds and argues for a thorough-going scepticism. He thinks that we should suspend judgment about absolutely everything – in other words, on having weighed up whether P, we should neither believe that P nor believe that not P (whatever P may be). Most modern sceptics, with their denial of the impossibility of knowledge in this or that domain, look pale by comparison. Book I of the Outlinesexplains the nature of Sextus’ scepticism, including a discussion: many of Sextus’s arguments are taken over from earlier sceptical philosophers, in a tradition going back to Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360- c. 270 B.C.). Scepticism was a major force in Hellenistic philosophy, in particular in the Academy from the 3rd century B.C. It took various forms, some more sceptical than others. One of the more extreme (he would have said: more consistent) sceptics was Aenesidemus (1st century B.C.), one of Sextus’s principal sources. Sextus also preserves a great deal of how the Sceptic can actually lead a life given this widespread suspension of judgment, and a discussion of the tools by which the sceptic can come to suspension to judgment (the ‘Modes of Scepticism’). Books II and III contain his sceptical attacks on all areas of information about the non-sceptical, ‘Dogmatic’ philosophies of the period, Stoicism and Epicureanism in particular. The diffusion of Sextus’ text in the sixteenth century was crucial in the revolution in philosophy that produced Descartes’ Meditations, and that set much of the agenda for modern philosophy. The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions. You will be expected to have read the work in Greek.
Text: Bury (Loeb).
Translation: Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes in Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Scepticism(Cambridge).
Julia Annas and Jonathan Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism (Cambridge), sections 1 and 2.
135. Latin Philosophy (in Latin) [only available in Literae Humaniores and associated schools]
These texts provide an introduction to Stoic ethics, in particular in the form it took in Roman times. The Stoics claim to defend the central elements of Socrates’ ethical outlook. Their sophisticated and influential theory combines moral theory with moral psychology (especially an account of the emotions), and an account of responsibility within a deterministic world view. They offer an important alternative to the ethical outlook of Plato and Aristotle on (e.g.) the relation of virtue to happiness, the place of knowledge in virtue, and the connections between the virtues.
Cicero’s De Finibus offers a critical discussion of Epicurean, Stoic, and Aristotelian ethics. Book III presents the best extant ancient survey of Stoic moral theory. De Officiis I is based on an important treatise by the Stoic Panaetius on what it is appropriate to do, covering many questions in practical ethics, including some moral dilemmas. The texts by Seneca offer a more detailed treatment of some of the questions raised by Cicero. . The examination includes a compulsory question with passages for translation and critical comment, as well as essay questions.
Cicero, De Finibus III. Text: Reynolds (OCT). Translation: Cicero on Stoic Good and Evil, edited by M. R. Wright (Aris and Phillips). De Officiis I (studied in translation; Cicero on Duties, edited by M. T. Griffin and E. M. Atkins (Cambridge)). 57
Seneca, Epistulae Morales 92, 95, 121. Text: Reynolds (OCT). Translation: Gummere (Loeb), Epistulae Morales, vol. 3. De Constantia and De Vita Beata. Text: Reynolds (OCT). Translation: Basore (Loeb), Moral Essays, vols. 1 & 2.