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Study information

Text and Context: Early Greek Poetry

Module titleText and Context: Early Greek Poetry
Module codeCLA2401
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Matthew Wright (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

In this module we examine some of the earliest poetry ever written, including the remains of poets as diverse as Hesiod, Sappho, Anacreon, Ibycus, Simonides, Pindar, Bacchylides, Lasus, Solon, Tyrtaeus and many others. Most of these poems survive only as fragments, which means that the module grapples with (inter alia) approaches and methodologies for dealing with fragmentary material. The module also covers many other topic and questions, including: what is early Greek poetry about? How do early Greek poets deal with subjects such as politics, religion, love, war, death, myth and so on? What do we really know about the ancient poets and their audiences? How does poetry relate to the society that produced it? Can reading early Greek poetry change the way that we approach other types of poetry? These questions are addressed through close study of the surviving poems and fragments, studied in English translation.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module addresses key issues in early Greek poetry; it also examines the evidence for the poems' original conditions of composition and performance. Students will study poetry, in the medium of English translation, of a number of types (including lyric, elegiac, iambic, and didactic) and by a variety of authors (including Sappho, Solon, Simonides, Pindar, Anacreon, Theognis, and Hesiod). What are the main themes and preoccupations of early Greek poets? How important is the concept of literary genre? How does one read a poem? What can we learn from our knowledge of the performance context? What can we know about the poets and their audiences, and how does this knowledge affect our reading of the poems? The module will engage with these and similar questions, through the close study of a number of set texts. Students will learn how to use and analyse texts and how to relate their style and content to the wider context of archaic and early classical Greece.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Through an analysis of key texts, on completion of this module students will be able to describe and evaluate a variety of early Greek poems in translation.
  • 2. They will also have assimilated a basic understanding of the concepts of poetry and poetic genre.
  • 3. They will also be able to relate the texts in a meaningful way to the historical and social context of classical Greece.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Students should be able to use, analyse and evaluate ancient texts and how they relate to other sources and their socio-historical context.
  • 5. They should also develop advanced academic and library skills as well as a critical ability in assessing published literature.
  • 6. Through the study of early Greek poetry students will be encouraged to reflect deeply on literary-critical skills in a widely applicable sense.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Students will demonstrate independent and group study skills in research and presentation of findings.
  • 8. They will also be able to select and organise relevant material and to present a strong argument in coherent oral and written form, and to discuss issues in a peer group.
  • 9. They should be able to manage their own time and meet deadlines.

Syllabus plan

1. Introduction to literary criticism and the reading of poetry

2. The historical context: performance culture in early Greece

3. Genre

4. The figure of the poet: poetic self-presentation and the birth of 'literary criticism'

5. The poet as teacher: Hesiod and Theognis

6. Myth, ritual, and the gods

7. Love poetry

8. Wine and the symposium

9. Poetry and politics

10: Iambic poetry and invective

11. Athletics and epinician poetry

12. Revision

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities22Lectures (22 x 1 hours)
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4Seminars (4 x 1 hour)
Guided independent study124Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentation10 minutes1-9Written comments and oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 402000 words1-9Mark and written comments
Exam602 hour1-9Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9August ref/def period
ExamExam1-9August ref/def period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

1. Core Set Texts: Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, tr. M.L.West (Oxford: World's Classics) Pindar, The Odes, tr. C.M. Bowra (Penguin) *Bacchylides 5, tr. D. Campbell (Loeb) *Selections from Greek Lyric Poetry, tr. M.L. West (Oxford: World's Classics). [* A text of Bacchylides, as well as a more detailed list of the prescribed poems from Greek Lyric Poetry, will be provided in a course-pack.]

2. Other Recommended Reading: D.A. Campbell, The Golden Lyre: The Themes of the Greek Lyric Poets (London 1983) A.P. Burnett, Three Archaic Poets (London 1983) B. Gentili, Poetry and its Public in Ancient Greece (Harvard 1988) D. Gerber (ed.), A Companion to the Greek Lyric Poets (Leiden 1997) J. Strauss Clay, Hesiod's Cosmos (Cambridge 2003) B. Currie, Pindar and the Cult of Heroes (Oxford 2005) G. Ledbetter, Poetics before Plato (Princeton 2003)

Key words search

Classics, Greek, Poetry

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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