What is it? The study of the language and literature of ancient Greece. At AS-level you read writers such as Thucydides (harrowing descriptions of military battles), or Homer (the pursuit of Hector by Achilles, maybe), or a selection from Euripides (such as Medea, abandoned by her husband Jason for another woman, whereupon she murders her three children). All human life is there - passion, betrayal, revenge, murder. More choice of literature for the A-level.

Why do it? Because you fell in love with classical Greek at GCSE. If you're very crafty, you may decide that it will improve your chances of Oxbridge entrance on the grounds that very few people choose to take the subject at A-level, which makes it easier to get into a good university.

Is it enjoyable? Yes. It's full of sex and drama, believe it or not. And blood and gore. Although it's all about a classical civilisation, it remains relevant to today's world. The literary themes are eternal. What are we here for? Do we have to be frightened of death? In case all this sounds too heavy for words, there are some laughs, for example in Aristophanes' The Wasps.

Who takes it? Mostly boys and girls at independent schools and grammar schools, as well as a few from sixth-form colleges.

How cool is it? Although it's an endangered species of a subject - there were only 42 A-level candidates in 2000 with the AQA board - it is seriously addictive. You get to read some of the world's greatest literature.

Added value: Field trips to Athens and the Parthenon, and to Delphi. Theatre trips to London.

What subjects go with it? Latin, English, history, modern languages, Hebrew, Arabic, even sciences, mathematics and music.

What degrees does it lead to? Classics, if you take Latin too. There are plenty of universities where you can do Greek by itself - all pre- 1992 institutions - or combine it with English, philosophy, archaeology, anthropology and ancient history.

What skills do you need? It helps to have an A to C grade at GCSE, but you can start AS-level from scratch. Competence at languages. You need a problem-solving, analytical, logical mind to decode the language.

How much practical work is there? None.

How much practical work is there? There is no coursework.

Is it hard? It's challenging. No good if you are fazed by the idea of learning a new alphabet. Though, apparently, Greek letters are easy-peasy and you should be able to master them in about two weeks.

Will it set you up for a brilliant career? Yes. Employers are very keen on classicists because they know that they are steeped in intellectual rigour and have learnt an old-fashioned discipline. Such people can communicate clearly and precisely and can generally think the pants off other people.

What do students say? "I enjoy the subject. I took it for GCSE and I am doing it now for AS- level on my own. No other girls at my school are taking it. I like learning about the times and the people and the ancient history." - Laura Richardson, 17, Leeds Girls High School.

Which awarding bodies offer it? OCR and AQA.

How widely available is it around the country? Not very.

Comments