UCL Centre for Languages & International Education (CLIE)


Classical Civilisation: Literature, Philosophy and Politics

Find out more about the Classical Civilisation: Literature, Philosophy & Politics foundation subject on the UPC. Learn about what you will study, teaching methods, assessments and recommended reading.

Key information 

Subject title: Classical Civilisation: Literature, Philosophy & Politics

Subject type: optional

UPC Pathway: UPCH

Subject Leader: Dr James R. Cross

Number of students (2023-24): 20

Subject description

The Classic Civilisation: Literature, Philosophy & Politics subject introduces you to Ancient Greece and Rome, two fascinating ancient cultures. You’ll become familiar with Greek and Roman studies and how this ancient period in history shaped Europe and the world.

It is an optional subject on the Undergraduate Preparatory Certificate for Humanities (UPCH) pathway.

On this subject, you’ll interact with a wide range of ancient sources. You’ll engage with written culture (such as poetry and philosophical dialogue) and material culture (such as ancient artefacts and works of art) and improve your skills in analysing sources.

You’ll explore ancient Greek and Roman cultures from a variety of perspectives. You’ll also consider the relationship between the ancient and the modern world.

Topics in recent years include:

  • ancient Greek and Roman epic poetry
  • ancient Greek tragic drama
  • the development of direct democracy in fifth-century Athens
  • the foundations of the Roman Republic
  • notions of love, wisdom and ideal societies in Platonic philosophy

Authors studied include Cicero, Euripides, Herodotus, Homer, Livy, Plato, Sophocles and Virgil.

How we teach Classical Civilisation: Literature, Philosophy & Politics

You’ll learn through a mixture of lectures, small-group seminars and one-to-one tutorials. Trips and visits (for example, to relevant museum collections and the theatre) are also part of your learning experience. These learning methods will help you to engage quickly and effectively with Greek and Roman studies. They will also improve your critical thinking skills.

You’ll work on an independent research project on a topic of your choice (subject to agreement with the subject leader) relating to the ancient world. This project will be supervised by the subject leader. Example topics include:

  • the notion of the soul in ancient Greek philosophy
  • persuasive techniques in Cicero’s legal speeches
  • attitudes towards women in Roman drama

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the subject, you should be able to:

  • analyse extracts from ancient written sources and ancient material artefacts in detail, in relation to their historical and cultural contexts
  • write clear, well-informed, well-structured and properly referenced essays on topics relating to the ancient world, using independent lines of argument
  • prepare and deliver presentations on independently researched topics relating to aspects of the ancient world, and take part in academic discussion about them
  • show good general knowledge about the ancient Greco-Roman world, and in-depth knowledge and understanding of selected works by Greek and Roman authors
  • demonstrate the ability to pursue independent learning and critical thinking about Classical Civilisation and related subject areas
  • participate in discussions and debates

Overview of Summative Assessment

OneTest (2 hours)5%
TwoTest (2 hours)5%
Research Essay (3,000 words)30%
Oral Exam (20 minutes)10%
ThreeFinal Exam (3 hours)50%
  100% Total

Assessment weighting is for the 2022-23 academic year. This may change for 2023-24 entry.

Recommended reading

Recommended reading before the course:

  • Homer (2003 [1950]), The Iliad. Translated by E. V. Rieu. London: Penguin.
  • Homer (2003 [1946]), The Odyssey. Translated by E. V. Rieu. London: Penguin.
  • Virgil (2003 [1990]), The Aeneid. Translated by D. West. London: Penguin.

Additional costs

You’ll have to purchase copies of the set texts for the subject. There are normally five set texts. The selection of texts is slightly different each academic year. The total cost for the books, purchased new in paperback, should be no more than £50.

Subject selection guide

Please check out our optional subject selection guide for information on suitable subjects for your future degree plans.

Please note the information on all the UPC subject pages, including this one, reflects the subject as it was taught in the 2022-23 academic year (unless otherwise stated).