We are a Classics Department here at Saint Olave’s in the sense that all members of the department teach Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation; subjects whose relevance to contemporary Europe are as strong today as when they were made central to the school’s curriculum at its Elizabethan foundation due to their influence upon modern European languages and culture.
Consequently all pupils at some stage in their careers at this school can come into contact and learn in depth aspects of the Greek, Roman and Near Eastern worlds and their relevance to today’s European languages and culture. Yearly there are strong numbers of boys sitting GCSE Latin and many of these continue into the Sixth Form where they are joined by girls and boys who have entered the School in Year Twelve. For those with a very strong linguistic inclination Greek GSCE and A-Level are offered to the pupils in the sixth form especially with those whose aim is to continue with this subject at university.
We offer the enormously popular Classical Civilisation A-Level in the Sixth Form where the pupils come to grips with Greek and Roman epic, the Greek comedies of Aristophanes, Athenian Tragedy and the development of Athenian Democracy. All of these topics are underpinned and further engendered by the annual trip to Greece in the Summer Term. This particular trip is remembered with deep affection by those who have attended. Without fail every year we see pupils leaving the school to study Classics at the best universities in the country.
The Department has an active society which meets every Thursday with speakers with a broad range of interests. This society also produces a magazine of illuminating articles. This and many other activities such as visits to the British Museum, National Gallery, Lullingstone Villa, Bignor Villa and Fishbourne Roman Palace work towards the creation of what is a thriving subject in this school.
The pupils at this school embrace the subject with genuine enthusiasm. It is brought to life by effective and stimulating teaching and the pupils thoroughly enjoy grappling with something which is intrinsically difficult both linguistically and conceptually.
Classical Civilisation is approached from the texts in English verse and prose translation. Additionally notes with photographs on Greek vases are written and supplied by the Department. The breadth and depth of the course is highly attractive to anyone who has an interest in language, literature, history, philosophy and art. This course can be started from scratch in the Sixth Form and requires no formal training in Greek or Latin.
In Classical Civilisation, through the media of art, architecture and literature, we ask ourselves how we define ourselves and come to realise how fragile and limited our social order and identity are. Through the study of history, tragedy and epic, all enshrined in the civic spaces of the Ancient World and its buildings, especially in Fifth Century Athens and Attica, we come to appreciate a very earnest message that all of us and especially the governments that rule, will need a sort of knowledge that goes beyond the mechanics and technologies of power and that knowledge is linked entirely to the discovery of the self. At its core is the question, ‘how can I compromise the demands of what I and my family want with what the community wants? Can I compromise and bend?’
To read the ‘Oedipus Tyrannos’ of Sophocles or the ‘Bacchae’ of Euripides is to appreciate the limitations of human knowledge, the frailty of human existence, the irrationality of the gods and the issues of our very identity. To study the Art and ceramics of the Greek World is to visualise not only a response to the questions of identity and man’s relationship with the gods and his immediate history but to appreciate a mathematical, symmetrical and scientific method of embodying that response.
Students wishing to study this course must obtain at least a 7 in GCSE English. A 7 or above in History is also preferred.
Mr A. Carroll
Head of Classics