Classics is one of the smaller subjects at Peterhouse with around two or three people in each year so there’s a really tight community and you get to know all of the other classicists in the college really well. It’s a lot more relaxed than at many other colleges; we don’t have to do pages of translations for our supervisions each week, a mixed blessing as it means that there’s no deadline pressure but you need to motivate yourself to work through the set texts in your own time! Of course you'll work hard anyway, but there's plenty of scope for enjoyment too, particularly in the supervisions which may seem daunting at first but become a lot more enjoyable when you get to know your supervisors and discover which parts of Classics you’re more interested in.
There are two Classics degrees at Cambridge: the three-year and the four-year. There’s no difference between the content of these courses but the four-year course is for those who don’t have Latin A-Level or equivalent so it has a preliminary year of intensive Latin and then the final three years are the same as the three-year course.
The basic structure goes something like this: at the start of the final term you must sit three compulsory papers: Latin language, Greek language, and ‘Classical Questions’ (the essay paper) - more about those later. You also have the chance to sit an optional prose composition paper in each language if you want to try your hand at getting some extra credit (it's definitely worth giving these a go, most people do as you won't be penalised if you do awfully, but will gain marks if you do well). In general you can expect to have one essay a week but, unlike History and English, you don’t have the same supervisor for every essay, so you may have two in one week and none in another, depending on when your supervisors are free. Prose composition, if you choose to do it, is half an hour every week, alternating between Greek and Latin. Your language teaching depends on whether you’re doing the three or four-year course and whether you are an IG student or a non-IG student. ‘IG’ stands for ‘Intensive Greek’ and anyone who doesn’t have Greek at A-Level or equivalent is an IG student, and those that do have A-Level Greek are non-IG students (if you have GCSE Greek then you will be an IG student).
The most important thing I can stress here is to not worry about being the only one who has no Greek; IG students make up about three quarters of the year so all of you learn Greek together and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie (no-one gets tired of making the joke ‘it’s all Greek to me!’).
As the name would suggest, the language teaching is intensive! At the end of the first year you should be at A-Level standard but don’t be daunted by this, everyone struggles at first and it wasn’t until the end of my first year (after my exams!) that it really ‘clicked’ for me. Compulsory classes make up the core of your language teaching. These are for an hour before lectures every weekday and you read through your set texts and go through
grammar. The group is made up of around eight people from your year and are a great chance to meet classicists from all of the other colleges. If you went to Bryanston you will probably have at least one person from your Bryanston class in your IG class but even if you didn’t, friendships form quickly as you bond through the highs and lows of learning Greek. If you’re unhappy with the pace your class is moving at then it’s very easy to change to a different one. I cannot praise these classes enough- they are thorough, helpful and somewhat ease you in to the enormous load of set-texts that you must get through in your first year (the Non IGs have to translate them all in their own time!). Make the most of these classes- trust me; you will miss them when they are gone!
As well as these classes, you will also have a weekly Greek supervision with the other classicist/s in your year at Peterhouse with your Director of Studies, Dr Pattenden, affectionately known as 'Dr. P' by the classicists. For these supervisions he will go over a translation you did and then you and your partner/s take it in turns translating out loud a piece of pre-prepared text. Assuming you’re on the three-year course, your only Latin teaching will be an hour long supervision every other week with Dr Zair (Nick) so it’s important not to let your Latin slip as you learn Greek!
As a final word, learning Greek intensively is no easy task. You have to work fast, retain a lot of information which is given to you in a short amount of time, and persevere when at times the task seems truly daunting. However it is entirely doable, and entirely worthwhile. You will be taught superbly, both at faculty and college level, and you get the invaluable reward of watching your knowledge of the language increase week by week, class by class, supervision by supervision.
If you already have Greek at A-Level or equivalent then you will likely be in a minority in the year. The course differs from the IG students in that there is less contact time with the faculty as you don’t have any classes (so no early starts!) and Greek supervisions with Dr P are every fortnight rather than every week. These are likely to be one-to-one unless there is another non-IG student in your year at Peterhouse but this is certainly not a problem as it means that you can tailor the supervisions to suit your own needs, and spend more time targeting your weaker areas. There are also two non-IG reading classes each week at the faculty should you need them, but you will largely be expected to work through all of your set texts by yourself, of which there are more than for the IG students. Unless you are doing the four-year course, you will have a Latin supervision every other week with the other Peterhouse classicist/s in your year but otherwise it’s up to you to keep up with your Latin!
Finally, a word of advice: you will not have the same level of assistance in translating set texts and learning grammar as the IG students, as it is expected that the standard of your Greek is high enough to do these things independently. It is vital, therefore, that you work on the set texts throughout the year, maintain a thorough knowledge of grammar, and
ensure that you ask for help if you feel that you need it (Dr. P should be your first point of call if this is the case - he may change the structure of your supervisions to suit you better, or can arrange for you to have extra supervisions or classes if necessary). Most importantly, you should not leave everything until the very last minute and then panic just before exams - if you work methodically throughout the year you will find yourself feeling much more confident and relaxed when exams come around.
The task of intensively learning Latin and Greek from scratch may seem overwhelming, but rest assured that the quality of teaching is extremely high, and that you will pick up both languages much more quickly than you may expect. You will spend your first two terms learning Latin, with a few introductory lecture courses for History, literature, and Philosophy and in the final term of your first year you start Greek so you are at the same standard as the incoming IG students who start learning Greek at Bryanston Greek camp. In your second year you join the first year IG classes to carry on your Greek. As well as these classes, you also have two Latin classes a week, giving you a much fuller schedule than the three-year students but your language will certainly benefit for it! You have fewer set texts for both Latin and Greek, giving you much less work to do in your own time, assuming you make it to all of the classes! As with all the other Peterhouse classicists, if you do feel you need any extra help or that you are struggling, go straight to Dr. P who will be happy to give you any advice or assistance that you need, and may even make you a nice cup of tea!
Your main supervisor will be your Director of Studies, Dr. Pattenden, who is a fountain of all Greek knowledge and will supervise you in Greek language and prose composition. He has a fantastically dry sense of humour, and a way of making you feel incredibly intelligent even when you make ridiculous mistakes, so you always leave supervisions with him feeling positive. Dr. P is also responsible for recruiting your other supervisors, and uses his reputation as one of the best prose composition supervisors in Cambridge as a bargaining tool to ensure that the Peterhouse classicists are well looked after. Nick Zair, the other Classics fellow at Peterhouse and another fantastic supervisor, will supervise you for Latin language and he may lecture you in Linguistics if you choose to take it. Other than these two, you will have one supervisor for each of the following: Latin literature, Greek literature, and your two 'essay paper' topics. The 'essay paper' topics consist of Ancient History, Art & Archaeology, Philosophy, and Philology. Most students study all four for their first term and drop down to two after this, but at Peterhouse you can drop topics before this, just talk to Dr. P and he’ll help!
Classics at Peterhouse
Peterhouse regularly takes both IGs and Non IGs. Again, whatever combination your year has, this is nothing to worry about. Dr P supervises the IGs and the non-IGs separately, and will even separate IGs who are at different stages if necessary. There aren't many classicists at Peterhouse which means that you get more individual attention and you’ll make many friends in college who do a wide range of subjects and so provide respite from the constant onslaught of Classics! The library has a MASSIVE Classics collection; this is really really good, because it means you virtually always have the books you need, instead of always having to waste your time walking to the faculty only to find someone else has the book holed up in Girton College for the next two weeks. Plus, because Dr. P. has the final say over which books the library buys, any Classics books you request will almost always be approved.
The Classics faculty is on the Sidgwick site, about a 10-15 minute walk away, so Peterhouse is really well positioned for proximity to lectures as well as the town centre.
Peterhouse has a very generous travel bursary scheme, which means that any study-related holidays you take, such as visiting the Acropolis or taking part in an archaeological dig, can be at least partially funded by the college.
Another bonus of Classics at Peterhouse is that Dr P arranges for someone to bring you tea, coffee, and biscuits halfway through each of the mock exams, which take place on Saturdays throughout Lent term, and so makes the whole process much more bearable!