Skip to main content

Study information

Lost Works and Fragments

Module titleLost Works and Fragments
Module codeCLA3277
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Professor Matthew Wright (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Module description

Perhaps the most important fact about ancient literature is that most of it is lost. Those few literary works that have survived have gained the status of ‘classics’, but they are not representative of the full variety of Greek and Latin literature. In this module you will find out about many other ancient texts that are no longer extant: some are completely lost, while others survive in fragmentary form. You will not only be introduced to a selection of fascinating lost works, both Greek and Roman, but you will also discover how to make use of a range of sources and types of evidence, and you will be trained as a ‘literary detective’, with the ability to piece together and analyse the evidence for yourself.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module examines a variety of ancient Greek and Latin texts that are no longer extant. Some of these texts are completely lost, while others survive in fragmentary form. You will be introduced to a wide variety of fragmentary authors and textsin translation, and through close study of these fascinating literary remains you will expand your knowledge of ancient literature and its contexts. In addition, you will make independent use of modern critical editions and other resources in order to analyse the evidence and reach your own conclusions.

The selection of authors and texts will include: lost Greek epics, lost tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, lost comedies by Eubulus and Antiphanes, lost lyric poems by Sappho and Stesichorus, lost dramas by Ennius and Pacuvius, lost works of Roman history and oratory, and lost philosophical and critical works by Aristotle and Philodemus; they will also include the remains of entire literary genres not well represented by extant texts, such as the dithyramb, the paean, the fabula togata, the mime or the citharodic nome.

Questions considered include:

  • What can fragments add to our knowledge of ancient literature?  
  • In what sense can lost works be described as ‘classical’ literature? 
  • What types of evidence do we have for lost works, and what are the main methodological and critical challenges involved in interpreting this evidence?
  • How can one best make use of modern critical editions of fragmentary works?
  • What is the difference between ‘book fragments’, ‘papyrus fragments’ and ‘testimonia’?
  • How did it come about that some ancient texts survived and others were lost?
  • What can we learn from studying the circumstances and processes of textual transmission?
  • What does it mean to ‘read’ texts that no longer exist in full?
  • How do we account for the peculiar aesthetic or intellectual appeal of lost works? 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate a broad and detailed knowledge of a wide selection of fragmentary Greek and Latin texts (in English translation)
  • 2. Demonstrate a general knowledge of modern critical editions and methodological approaches to fragmentary texts
  • 3. Reflect critically on topics relating to fragmentary literature, including textual transmission, preservation and loss, cultural heritage, and the nature of the reading process

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Use, analyse and critically evaluate ancient texts, including fragmentary texts
  • 5. Demonstrate advanced academic and library skills specific to Classics and Ancient History
  • 6. Demonstrate an understanding of the challenges posed in interpreting ancient sources that are incomplete or fragmentary

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Demonstrate independent study skills in research and the presentation of findings
  • 8. Demonstrate the ability to select and organise relevant material and present it in a strong argument
  • 9. Develop confidence and clarity in communication

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is expected that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction: ancient Greek and Latin literature: what survives and what was lost
  • Literary detective work: sifting the clues and the art of reconstruction
  • Book fragments, testimonia and the history of scholarship
  • Papyrus fragments and the thrill of rediscovery
  • The Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum
  • ‘Submerged literature’ and the earliest literary texts
  • The Greek epic cycle
  • Lost genres of lyric poetry
  • The lost plays of Greek tragedy and comedy
  • The lost second book of Aristotle’s Poetics
  • Books and scholars in the Library of Alexandria
  • Fragments of Roman poetry and drama
  • Roman oratory and historiography in pieces
  • Fragments and today’s readers (and performers)

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 Teaching2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study128Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Close study of key primary material and relevant scholarship in class and online, with broader discussions of issuesWeekly1-9Oral feedback from lecturer and peers

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
Narrated PowerPoint presentation3015 minutes1-9Written and oral feedback
Essay703000 words1-8Written and oral feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Narrated PowerPoint presentationNarrated PowerPoint presentation1-9Referral/Deferral period
EssayEssay1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Prescribed text:

(The module director will supply a detailed list of prescribed fragmentary texts, which will be made available through ELE.)

Selected secondary reading:

  • M.E. Wright, The Lost Plays of Greek Tragedy (2 volumes, London, 2016-19).
  • I.C. Storey (ed.), Fragments of Old Comedy (3 volumes, Cambridge, MA, 2011).
  • A.S. Hollis (ed.), Fragments of Roman Poetry c. 60 BC – AD 20 (Oxford, 2007).
  • T.J. Cornell et al. (eds.), Fragments of the Roman Historians (Oxford, 2013-).
  • G. Colesanti, M. Giordano and L. Lulli (eds.), Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek Culture (2 volumes, Berlin/New York, 2014-16).
  • E. Dickey, Ancient Greek Scholarship (Oxford, 2007).

(A full and detailed secondary bibliography will be supplied by the module director.)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Greek, Roman, literature, fragments

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

The successful completion of at least 90 credits at Level 2, 30 of which must be in Classics and Ancient History. 

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date