CLA2401 - Text and Context: Early Greek Poetry

2006/7 Module description

Lecturer(s)Dr Matthew Wright
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.50
Duration of Module1 semester
Total Student Study Time150 hours, to include 12 x 1-hour lectures, 8 x 1-hour seminars/study-groups and 130 hours private study.

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. 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

Module-specific skills

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. They will also have assimilated a basic understanding of the concepts of poetry and poetic genre; they will also be able to relate the texts in a meaningful way to the historical and social context of classical Greece.

Discipline-specific skills

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

Personal and key skills

Students will demonstrate independent and group study skills in research and presentation of findings. 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. They should be able to manage their own time and meet deadlines.

Learning and teaching methods

(1) Lectures (one lecture of one hour per week); (2) whole-group seminars (one hour per fortnight); 3) study-groups meeting independently to prepare for seminars (one hour per fortnight); 4) seminar-presentations, either individual or in pairs or groups.


One essay of 2000 words.


(1) The essay assignment (40% of module mark), (2) one two-hour examination, comprising one compulsory question on the set texts and one essay from a choice of several titles (60% of module mark).

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.

Indicative basic reading list

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)

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