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Introducing the Classical world
Introducing the Classical world

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1 Why study the Classical world?

Welcome to Introducing the Classical world. There will be many different reasons why you have chosen this course. You may have a lifelong fascination with the ancient world, and hope to nurture it by studying this course. Or you may know very little about it and are curious to know more. Alternatively, you may have been prompted by some of the many aspects of the Classical world that are present in our world today, be it physical remains, theatre, films, books, words or ideas. This course has two main parts:

  1. How to explore the Classical world will discuss what it means to ‘explore the Classical world’. Much of this section will be taken up by the crucial issue of sources: what sources about the Classical world do we have at our disposal and how best can we use them?

  2. Beginning to explore will start by looking at the basic parameters of time and space, helping you to develop a grasp of the Classical world that will prepare you to start looking at specific periods and places in your subsequent studies.

A note on conventions and ancient spellings

Anyone writing about the Classical world needs to make various choices concerning consistency.

  • Years. The course team have opted for BCE (‘Before the Common Era’) and CE (‘Common Era’) to refer to dates (we use them in the same way as the more traditional BC and AD). In some other texts you will encounter the use of BC and AD instead, and you are welcome to use either convention, as long as you are consistent. Remember that BCE years (as opposed to CE years) count backwards. Therefore the year 431 BCE is earlier than the year 404 BCE.

  • Names. Many Greek (and some Latin) names have more than one English equivalent. For instance, you will find Achilles as well as Akhilleus, Thucydides as well as Thoukydides. The reason is that there are different conventions for transliterating words from Greek into the English alphabet. This course tends to use what is often called ‘Latinised’ spelling, for example, ‘c’ rather than ‘k’, and ‘ae’ rather than ‘ai’, although some of the books you will read (e.g. the translation of the Odyssey) use ‘k’ rather than ‘c’, and so on. However, the difference is not important: both are correct. Again, you can choose which convention you adopt, as long as you are consistent. Opt for either Achilles or Akhilleus, and stick to it.

  • Ancient terms. On occasion it will be important to use Greek or Latin terms, usually because there is no English equivalent. The convention is to put these into italics, such as agora (the marketplace in Greek cities) or virtus (the ancestor of English ‘virtue’, but not covering quite the same range of meanings). Usually we will give these words in the singular; if we use the plural, we will usually make that explicit.