OCR ANTHOLOGY for CLASSICAL GREEK AS & A LEVEL 2024-2026
OCR ANTHOLOGY for CLASSICAL GREEK AS & A LEVEL 2024-2026
S.Baddeley, B.Gravell ,C.Paterson, S.Thomson, N.Treble and C.Tudor Bloomsbury Academic, 2023 £29.99
(Editor’s note: GCE (General Certificate of Education) Advanced level examinations are taken in the final year of school in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland as a university entrance qualification. AS levels are taken a year earlier; GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) is taken at 16+ years with other subjects at the end of general education. A (Advanced) level is a specialised set of examinations in only three or four subjects. OCR is an independent organisation responsible for setting and marking public examinations.)
It is really a pleasure to review another volume related to A LEVEL concerning Ancient Greek. It contents excellent selections from Herodotus, Plato, and Plutarch (prose texts); and Homer, Euripides, and Aristophanes (verse texts). The authors declare that the texts and notes found in the volume are designed to guide any student who has mastered Greek up to GCSE level and wishes to read the wide range of texts selected in the original. An introduction followed by commentary notes and vocabulary becomes the perfect frame to wrap a very accurate selected text.
As for Herodotus all the texts belong to Histories Book 1, chapters 1-22 addressed for AS, chapters 29-45 to A Level; Plato’s Republic Book 1 comes later including fragments 327a-332b for AS and 336b-342 for A Level. Third we find Plutarch, Antony 76-86, only for A level.
The text themselves are meaningful but I have appreciated all the introductions which are very useful, deep and extremely didactic. I would like to draw particular attention to pages 22-25 which are dedicated to the language of Herodotus, an Ionic dialect which will be a little bit odd for the students.
Concerning Plato’s Republic, no doubt the three characters, Cephalus, Polemarchus and Thrasymachus are perfectly portrayed, outlining their point of view in opposition to Socrates’ arguments. Pages 112-119 are the very key in order to understand the meaning of the fragments the author has selected.
As for Plutarch Life of Antony, it is not an easy text at all. Be careful of Plutarch! The ancient writer seems to be easy but he becomes complex in a certain way because of his special trend to mix up events, characters, reality, fantasy and linguistic patterns. This time I will draw attention to pages 181-184 trying to clarify the identity of Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, and Octavian Augustus.
The second half of this excellent anthology is shaped in a very similar way, dealing this time with verse writers. It opens with Homer, Iliad Book 16: 20-47,644-867 for AS and book 24:349-535 for A Level students. There are many things to be explained before dealing with the verses of Homer, but I wonder if the no doubt very accurate introduction, 233-265, should have been shortened or enlarged. In fact, everything is in there; the mythic background, the setting of the Iliad, the world of Gods and Heroes, the role of the Fate, the structure of the poem, the specific content of books 16 and 24, the origin, date and authorship of the poem, analysts and unitarians, the rhythm of epic poetry, the dactylic hexameter, creativity and innovation in oral poetry and finally a detailed section about Language and Style. Too much, is it not? It takes time to explain every item; it takes time to understand it properly, there is a full academic year concentrated in 33 thick pages. It maybe would have been better to focus mainly on language and metrics, framing the full story in a very summarised way related to books 16 and 24. I wonder if the students are really beginners in Greek Literature and Greek Civilisation. I think they should have a previous knowledge of the Trojan saga. Of course, Homer is unique, something different, absolutely enjoyable but difficult indeed. If the students manage to get through him, that will require time but maybe once they will get used to Homeric language and patterns, they will be forced to move to another author
Euripides’ Hippolytus comes immediately after (AS 284-524; A level 601-1035). This tragedy explores gender, sexuality, shame, family relationships and failed communication. It is in a certain way a contemporary play. However, B. Gravell anticipates us at the beginning of the introductory chapter, page 370, warning and depicting Euripides as a relatively conservative playwright. Even if his presentation of characters is often based on a real sensitivity to human psychology close to a realism lacking in ancient theatre, he is forced to move into the established frameworks of ancient tragedy. As many of the prologues are delivered by gods and Euripides is particularly fond of the deus ex machina, it would have been worth it to include a sample in the selected texts. The students will not find easily such a text in a Sophoclean tragedy; and Euripides makes the difference.
The Anthology closes with Aristophanes’ Frogs a very difficult comedy indeed. Texts selected for A Level are only from the beginning 1-128 and from the third episode of the play, 830-874. Introduction, and commentary together with notes are extremely clear and useful. The introductory chapter, pages 451-470, deals with every element of Aristophanic Comedy. I have read it very carefully as I am especially interested in this subject. Paterson has achieved an excellent work. Even if the students will be forced to face a no doubt difficult text, they will learn quite a lot about Ancient Greek Comedy. To underline, pages 468 and 469 are a very complete catalogue of the elements of comic writing, emphasizing ten linguistic devices. Anyway, I keep on thinking that Frogs is inappropriate for this level. It is hardly suitable for students at the very end of their University Master Diploma. Any other comedy - Peace, Wasps, Women in the Assembly - would have been, in my opinion, much more suitable.
If I should compare this anthology with any similar book recently published in Spain, I must say there is none, neither addressed to students at High School nor at university. First, anthologies, in my country seem to be old-fashioned, I do not know why. This book I am reviewing is excellent; it would be very convenient and appropriate for any teacher at university, not simply for students. It is very convenient to gather in a single volume different text from different centuries. This anthology provides not simply a lot of information but offers a general outlook of Greek Literature, combining History, cultural background, Literature, Arts, vocabulary, syntax. Many useful tools in a single volume. Congratulations to the authors.
José Luis Navarro