CLA1401 - Text and Context: Early Greek Poetry

2022/3 Module description

StaffProfessor Matthew Wright - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

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

This module addresses key issues in early Greek poetry; it also examines the evidence for the poems' original conditions of composition and performance. You 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. You 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.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Through an analysis of key texts, describe and evaluate a variety of early Greek poems in translation
  • 2. Assimilate a basic understanding of the concepts of poetry and poetic genre
  • 3. Relate the texts in a meaningful way to the historical and social context of classical Greece

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Use, analyse and evaluate ancient texts and how they relate to other sources and their socio-historical context
  • 5. Develop advanced academic and library skills as well as a critical ability in assessing published literature
  • 6. Reflect deeply on literary-critical skills in a widely applicable sense

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Demonstrate independent and group study skills in research and presentation of findings
  • 8. Select and organise relevant material and present a strong argument in coherent oral and written form, and to discuss issues in a peer group
  • 9. Manage your own time and meet deadlines

Syllabus plan

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

  • Introduction to literary criticism and the reading of poetry
  • The historical context: performance culture in early Greece
  • Genre
  • The figure of the poet: poetic self-presentation and the birth of 'literary criticism'
  • The poet as teacher: Hesiod and Theognis
  • Myth, ritual, and the gods
  • Love poetry
  • Wine and the symposium
  • Poetry and politics;
  • 10: Iambic poetry and invective
  • Athletics and epinician poetry
  • Revision


  • Lectures (two lectures of one hour each per week)
  • Seminars (one hour per fortnight)
  • Seminar-presentations, either individual or in pairs or groups

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 teaching2222 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching55 x 1 hour seminars
Guided independent study123Private 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
Essay302000 words1-9Mark and written comments
Exam702 hours1-9Mark 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
EssayEssay1-3Referral/Deferral period
ExamExam1-3Referral/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

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.]

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)

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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