Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Judith Affleck, Clive Letchford (ed.), OCR Anthology for Classical Greek GCSE. OCR. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. 270. ISBN 9781474265485. $29.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Judith Owen, The University of Western Australia (

Version at BMCR home site


The OCR Anthology for Classical Greek GCSE edited by Judith Affleck and Clive Letchford is disappointing. It should have been an invaluable book for Greek GCSE teachers, since it contains all the prescribed texts for the literature component of the GCSE (9–1) in Classical Greek for the years 2018-2019, 2020-2021, and 2022-2023, texts that had previously been found in separate works by different authors. Unfortunately, the book was not properly proofread before publication. Confident Greek teachers will be able to correct the numerous errors and advise their students. Less confident teachers may find the book confusing and misleading. Unless a revised version is published, teachers should rely on this book with caution and students may be better off using other editions of the set texts. I give an indication below of the sorts of errors I have found.

If it were not for the errors, the book would make an excellent teaching textbook. As well as ease of access to the set texts, the book also provides uniformity of formatting and content. While uniformity is not of such importance for the Greek GCSE student, since he or she is likely to choose only one of the set texts or at most two of them, the layout of the texts should please students and teachers alike. Affleck and Letchford have gone for an achievable ten to fifteen lines of text per page, introduced by a line or two of outline and followed by helpful cultural or stylistic notes and a box of questions to provoke discussion of the passage. At the bottom of the page is a list of the vocabulary for revision. The facing page gives the meaning and dictionary form of the new vocabulary and additional help with difficult grammar or translation. This layout provides the student with everything they need right before them, while the cultural and stylistic notes and the box of questions provides prompts for the teacher for discussion of the passage. Further aid to understanding the set texts is given before and after each text with 'The story so far . . .', 'What happens next?' and 'Final questions'. Altogether, the content and layout of the set texts has been thought through carefully.

The book also contains a series of helpful supporting material. There is an Introduction (pp. 7-11) that sketches the historical context of the texts by describing developments within Greece and contact with other civilisations. Many important facets of the Greek cultural world are covered, but religion is noticeably missing. An invaluable Table of Texts (p. 11) specifies which of the texts are prescribed for each pair of years and which unit they fall under (Prose Lit A or B; Verse Lit A or B). The section on How to Use this Book (pp. 12-13), which explains the layout for each prescribed text, is very important. Since the layout is one of the advantages of the book, it is important that students and their teachers are familiar with it from the beginning. Included here is a sensibly brief list of references for other helpful books and internet sites. The URL for Perseus and details of the app Attikos could be added to them. All the points in Tips for Translation (pp. 14-15) for the prescribed texts, Greek to English unseens and comprehension passages, and English to Greek translation are good. Some of the points in the second subsection on unseens and comprehension passages apply to reading the prescribed texts as well, and more thought to the ordering of the points might have been helpful. The main limitation of the book is brought to the fore with the first point, 'Use the colour-coding to help find your way into a sentence' (p. 14), since the colour-coding is often incorrect, as I explain below. The Timeline from 2500 BCE to 1453 CE (p. 16) is of benefit in showing how the texts relate to each other chronologically and to historical events. The Who's Who (p. 17) is of less benefit, since it lists the key names met throughout the book and so includes many that individual students will not need. A briefer Who's Who at the start of each text might be of better value, and then it would also be clearer whether the names refer to mythical or historical figures, something that is not evident as it stands. A Map of the Ancient Mediterranean (pp. 18-9) follows. Because the order of these introductory sections comes across as rather random, I would have had the Timeline, Who's Who and Map straight after the Introduction, as they are general introductory material, allowing the sections specific to this book and the set texts to follow on from each other. The section on Technical Terms (pp. 20-1), which are primarily grammatical terms with a few terms for describing verse, such as 'stichomythia', is helpful, as is the section on Discussing Literary Style (pp. 22-3). The body of the work is the prescribed texts, arranged in the following order: Homer, Herodotus, Euripides, Plato, Plutarch and Lucian. Each of the texts is given its own introduction. Finally, there is the entire Defined Vocabulary List for the OCR Greek GCSE (pp. 258-70).

A further aid to students needs special mention, and it is not one that I have come across before. Affleck and Letchford have chosen to colour-code the nominatives and the finite verbs of each sentence in the set texts as an aid to translating. This is explained in their Preface and in the section 'How to use this book'. As a concept this promises to be very helpful to the students; in practice it is the only feature I would criticise. The reason for this is that, while the finite verbs are colour- coded a clearly visible dark blue, the nominatives are printed in a faint light blue that makes it hard to read the Greek text clearly. It is also this feature that lowers the quality of the book, since words in the Greek text are colour-coded incorrectly at a rate of about two words per page. This is not a trivial error of presentation. A nominative in black type, for instance, is not a matter of lack of assistance for translating, but is, rather, a misleading insistence that it is not nominative. For instance, the nominative μονούμενος on p. 154 line 101 is left in black type, where it should be in light blue. A capable student should realise this is an error, but may have more difficulty with σπανίζων on p. 162 line 21, since it is the nominative of the present participle and should be light blue instead of the dark blue verb it claims to be. While we are all liable to miss a word or two while proofreading, the proofing of this book is insufficient for a scholarly publication. One final example of incorrect colour-coding demonstrates this clearly: on p. 62 line 106, οἱ is coded as nominative with light blue, despite its syntactic context and the fact that it is correctly given in the note on the facing page as a 'possessive dative'. Colour-coding is an interesting concept and could be very helpful, if properly proofed.

There are a few errors of interpretation. Regarding the note on p. 61 for line 88, the subject of κέλεται is surely Paris Alexander, not Hector as stated. On p. 99 at the note on line 87, ἐπεβοήσατο is not imperfect, but clearly aorist. On p. 145, the note on line 29 says that αἰτέομαι has 'no particular middle sense here', but the word echoes its earlier use at line 21, where the note acknowledges the middle sense as 'ask for my own benefit'. The middle sense is relevant in both instances. On p. 253 at the note on line 90, ταῦτα is incorrectly given as the subject of οἴχομαι; it is the subject of ἐδόκει.

There are a few inconsequential inconsistencies. Because the book is not designed to be read in sequence, cross- referencing is essential. At the start of the three set texts taken from Homer, there is a helpful reference to the general introduction to Homer. Without that, it is possible that only the students studying the first of the Homer passages, the one prescribed for 2018-2019, would notice that the general introduction existed. Unfortunately, the subsequent set texts do not cross-reference their general introductions and it will fall to the observant teacher to tell the students to read the relevant pages. Fortunately, all but one of these general introductions are listed in the Contents. 'Drama in Ancient Greece' is the general introduction missed by the Contents. In fact, the Contents says that the section for Euripides begins on p. 141, whereas the general information on Euripides is on p. 140 and 'Drama in Ancient Greece' begins on p. 139.

A few trivial errors also crop up. For instance, on p. 41 the note for line 81 seems to have a stray closing bracket. References to line or page number are occasionally incorrect, though many of the errors are trivial. For instance, at the start of the set text Alcestis 280-392 on p. 141, the renumbered text lines are given as '1-114', whereas the passage ends on line 113 on p. 156, as it is correctly given in the Contents. Sometimes, however, the error is more inconvenient. For instance, on p. 41 the note to line 83 βῆ δ᾽ ἴμεν gives no explanation for the phrase, but instead refers to line 50, where the phrase does not occur; a reference to line 3 would be more helpful.

Overall, the book had the potential to be a very useful textbook. In its current, poorly proofread state, however, it falls short of its intended purpose.

1 comment:

  1. Helpful review, but the reference to page 162, line 2 should be page 162, line 21. The GCSE book may be disappointing, but is considerably better than the equivalent AS/A-Level book, which, e.g., leaves an entire line out of the Odyssey set-text!


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