Final Examination: Honour School of Literae Humaniores ("Greats")

classical texts

For examples of the papers on offer at Finals/Greats, please use the tabs below to view descriptions of papers within each subject area. In addition to the papers listed here, you may offer a thesis of up to 10,000 words in Ancient History, Philosophy, Literature, Archaeology or Philology and Linguistics, either as one of your eight finals subjects or as an optional ninth subject.

For comprehensive details of the papers available, and the rules on which combinations of papers students may take, please refer to the Examination Regulations. Detailed descriptions of the papers on offer, and information about teaching provision, can be found in the course handbook for Greats (

Please note that changes may be made to course syllabuses from year to year, and that not all papers may be available in any given year.


Greek and Roman History

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Our knowledge of Greek History down to the great war with Persia is based on historical allusions in the works of archaic poets, traditions handed down largely by oral transmission and preserved in Herodotus or later writers, and on the archaeological record (on which Greats subject 601, The Greeks and the Mediterranean World, concentrates more). This paper emphasizes the literary evidence and in particular the oral and written traditions preserved in Herodotus and the evidence of earlier texts and attitudes to earlier history preserved in the Aristotelian Constitution of the Athenians.

This was a crucial period in the development of Greek culture. The great phase of Greek expansion overseas (‘colonisation’) continued during it. But in the sixth century the Greeks themselves came under pressure from their eastern neighbours, first the Lydians and then the great new power of Persia. The city‐state established itself firmly as the dominant form of social organisation. Lawgivers wrote comprehensive codes – or so later Greeks believed. In many places the leisured classes developed a luxurious life‐style centred on the symposium, though Sparta went the other way in the direction of austerity. Exploitation took new forms, with chattel‐slavery apparently growing greatly in importance. Many cities were under the rule of ‘tyrants’ (not necessarily the hate‐figures they later became), but by the end of the period democracy had been established in Athens by Cleisthenes, and the first tragedies were being performed. The delight of studying the period is greatly increased by the charm of two of the main literary sources for it, Herodotus and the early lyric poets.   

Victory over Persia led to the rise of the Athenian Empire, conflict between Athens and Sparta and Sparta’s eventual victory in the Peloponnesian War. These years cover the transition from archaic to classical Greece, the Periclean age of Athens, the masterpieces of art, architecture and literature which are the supreme legacies of the Greek world, the contrasting lifestyles of Sparta and democratic Athens, and the careers of Alcibiades, Socrates and their famous contemporaries. They are studied through the History of Thucydides, antiquity’s most masterly analysis of empire, inter‐state relations and war, which Thucydides claimed to have written, justifiably, as "a possession for all times". The issues of Thucydides’ own bias and viewpoint and his shaping of his History remain among the storm centres of the study of antiquity and are of far‐reaching significance for our understanding of the moral, intellectual and political changes in the Greek world. The period is also studied through inscriptions, whose context and content are a fascinating challenge to modern historians.  

Greek History in the years immediately after the Peloponnesian War is no longer dominated by the two super‐powers, Athens and Sparta. Cities which in the fifth century had been constrained by them acquired independence; groups of small cities, such as Arcadia and Boiotia, co‐ordinated their actions to become significant players in inter‐city politics. Areas in which the city was not highly developed, and particularly Thessaly and then Macedon, were sufficiently united by energetic rulers to play a major role in the politics of mainland Greece, and the manipulation of relations with Persia preoccupied much of Greek diplomacy. This society gave rise to the political theorising of Plato and Aristotle.   

The absence of dominant cities in the fourth‐century is paralleled by the absence of a single dominant source. Students of this period have at their disposal two works which imitate Thucydides, Xenophon’s Hellenica and the Hellenica Oxyrhynchia, pamphlets and speeches by Isocrates and Demosthenes aimed at influencing Athenian politics, specialist studies of military matters, such as Aeneas’ Poliorcemata, and of particular cities, such as Xenophon’s account of the Spartan Constitution, and an abundance of epigraphic material. The compilations of later historians and biographers, such as Diodorus and Plutarch, who worked from earlier texts now lost to us, provide further information: through these later works we have access to contemporary accounts of high quality that illuminate the history of such places as Thebes and Syracuse. The wealth of varied information, the multiplication of sources, and the need to weave together the stories of many different cities, present a challenge quite distinct from that offered by earlier periods of Greek history. The importance of the events of the period for our understanding of Plato and Aristotle, on the one hand, and of the history of Greek art, on the other, ensures that the complexities of the study bring ample rewards.

From the end of the cataclysmic first Punic war to the year of Rome’s final obliteration of her old enemy Carthage and the great Greek city Corinth, this period saw the Roman conquest of Greece and much of the Hellenistic east, and indeed the development of Rome into an imperial state exercising dominion throughout the Mediterranean world. It saw also the developing effects of this process, upon the Romans and, not least, upon those with whom they dealt, in Italy itself and overseas. This time marked the beginning of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. The ‘freedom of the Greeks’ was proclaimed by a Roman general in 196 BC, but in fact these years marked the end of liberty for Greece and much of the rest of the Mediterranean world. Rome and its allies in Italy all prospered, but wealth and empire brought rapid social and economic change and mounting political tensions.

This period shaped the views of one of the greatest historians of antiquity, Polybius of Megalopolis, who made his subject precisely the ambition of the Romans for universal conquest and the effects this had upon the lives of all the peoples involved. A contemporary of the events, and detained in Rome in the 160s and 150s, he enables (and enlivens) productive study of this period, which saw, amongst so much else, the beginnings of Roman history writing, some of the early development of which there will be opportunity to trace. Inquiry is aided by an increasing number of surviving inscriptions and an increasingly detailed archaeological record.

In 146 the Romans destroyed Carthage and Corinth. In 133 a popular tribune was beaten to death in front of the Capitol by a mob led by the High Priest. At the other end of the period, in 49 Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and in 46 crushed his enemies at the battle of Thapsus, celebrating his victory with an unprecedented quadruple triumph.   Despite repeated deeply threatening crises, Rome survived – capital of an increasingly large and organised Mediterranean‐wide empire, its constantly growing populace more and more diverse, its richest citizens vastly wealthier, its cityscape more and more monumental. But the tradition of the ancestors, the rule of the aristocracy, the armies and their recruitment, the sources of wealth, the cultural horizons of the literate, the government of allies and subjects, the idea of a Roman citizen, the landscape of Italy, and Roman identity itself had all changed for ever. This subject studies how.

For the earlier years, from the Gracchi to the Social War, we mainly have to rely on the writings of later historians and on contemporary inscriptions, although Sallust and Cicero offer some near‐contemporary illumination. But for the latter part of this period our knowledge is of a different quality from that of almost any other period of Roman history thanks to the intimate light shed by the correspondence, speeches and other works of Cicero, with strong backing from Caesar’s Gallic War and the surviving works of Sallust.  

Beginning this period in 46 BC immediately presents us with issues of uneasy adjustment and faltering responses to shattering social and political change. The Civil War, fought from one end of the Mediterranean to another, raised problems about the character of Urbs and Orbis, city and world, and their relations. Caesar drew his own solutions from the widest cultural range. The first years of the period set the scene for the developing drama of the transformation of every aspect of the societies of the Mediterranean world ruled from Rome, and of the identity of Rome itself, as experiment, setback and new accommodation succeeded each other in the hands of the generals of the continuing war‐years, and finally, after Actium, of Augustus and his advisors. The central problems of this subject concern the dynasty, charisma and authority of the Roman Emperor, the institutions of the Roman provincial empire, and the most intensely creative age of Roman art and Latin literature, and how these were related. The sequel addresses three very different rulers, Tiberius, Gaius Caligula and Claudius, whose reigns did much to shape the idea of an imperial system and its historiography, which we sample through Tacitus and the biographies of Suetonius, and the virulent satirical sketch by Seneca of Claudius’ death and deification. The subject invites consideration of the changing relations of Greek and Roman, and the increasing unity of the Mediterranean world; and also of the social and economic foundations of the Roman state in the city of Rome and in the towns and countryside of the Italy of the Georgics and Eclogues. Within Roman society, political change was accompanied by upward social mobility and by changes in the cultural representations of status, gender and power which pose complex and rich questions for the historian.

Athenian Democracy is much praised but little understood. How did the largest city in the classical Greek world manage to govern itself on the basis of meetings, held less often than once a week, of those Athenian‐born men aged over 18 who wanted to come? How did a heterogeneous society whose size rendered many residents effectively anonymous maintain law and order without a police force or lawyers? This topic looks at the institutions of Athenian democracy, at the practice of democracy, at democratic ideology, and at Athenian theories about government. It analyses the make‐up of Athenian society and tries to understand the contribution that groups without political rights, women, slaves and resident foreigners, made to Athenian democracy and the extent to which democracy determined the way in which these excluded groups were treated. Although details of Athenian military history and of Athenian imperial activity are not at issue, the topic does attempt to explain the sources and the effects of Athenian wealth and power. The literary and artistic achievements of classical Athens are here examined both as phenomena that need to be explained – why was it that it was at Athens that the most significant monuments in drama, architecture, painting and sculpture were created? – and in themselves as sources of insight into Athenian attitudes and pre‐occupations.

Aged twenty‐five, Alexander the Great defeated the collected might of the Persian Empire and became the richest ruler in the world. As the self‐proclaimed rival of Achilles, he led an army which grew to be bigger than any known again in antiquity and reached India in his ambition to march to the edge of the world. When he died, aged thirty‐two, he left his generals with conquests from India to Egypt, no designated heir and an uncertain tradition of his plans.    This subject explores the controversial personality and resources of the conqueror, the impact of his conquests on Asia, the nature and importance of Macedonian tradition and the image and achievements of his early Successors. The relationship and authority of the surviving sources pose large questions of interpretation on which depend our judgement of the major figures’ abilities and achievements. The career which changed the scope of Greek history is still a matter of dispute both for its immediate legacy and for the evidence on which it rests.

An explosion of ideas, horizons, communications, power‐structures at the end of the fourth century tripled the size of the world to be studied by the ancient historian. We now have to make sense of what was happening from what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan all the way to the Strait of Gibraltar. Persian, Macedonian, and Greek were blended with a host of more local cultures and societies across the world experienced by those who travelled with the armies of the end of the classical period. The result of these changes was a new version of Greek culture, conventionally known as Hellenistic, which exhibits fascinating patterns of artistic, economic, institutional and social change which can be compared and contrasted in extremely diverse settings. Inscriptions and archaeological discoveries illuminate the farthest east reaches of the new culture, in the valleys of the Hindu Kush; a wide range of material and textual evidence shows the different accommodations of local culture with Hellenism on the Iranian plateau, in the plains of Mesopotamia, in Anatolia, Syria and Palestine, or in the Nile valley and at the archetypal Hellenistic city of Alexandria, capital of the Ptolemies. The explosion of the classical world also transformed the Aegean heartland of the Greeks, and their interactions with their neighbours to the west, including Carthage and Rome. The scope of the paper is thus very wide, and its historical problems challenging, but this is an area of scholarship in rapid transition, and there is a constant supply of important new evidence, especially from archaeology. This is therefore a particularly good subject for those seeking to combine historical and archaeological techniques

Cicero is the crucial figure for understanding the political, cultural and intellectual life of the Late Republic. Not only did he publish his speeches and write essays on rhetorical theory and on all the branches of philosophy, he also corresponded with the most important and cultivated men of his time. In fact the collection of his letters includes replies from such famous historical figures as Pompey, Brutus, Cassius and Cato.   

This topic explores Cicero’s political and private life, his education and training as an orator; his political and moral philosophy; his views, and those of other contemporaries, on religion and imperialism; the attitudes and lifestyle of his friend Atticus; the ethics of the Roman law‐ courts. The texts (set in translation) include speeches, essays and letters by Cicero, letters from his contemporaries, and works by his younger contemporaries Sallust and Cornelius Nepos, who provide an external view of Cicero and his friend Atticus and offer a contrast with Cicero’s style and attitudes.    

The subject begins with the accession of Nero, the ill‐starred emperor who was the last representative of the Julio‐Claudian dynasty established by Augustus. Following his fall, and the military and political convulsions of the ‘year of the four emperors’ (AD 69), Vespasian emerged triumphant and established the Flavian dynasty which came to an end with the assassination of Domitian in AD 96. The last part of the period covers the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, the former an emperor with military and expansionist ideals, the latter a man of literary and aesthetic interests who was bent on consolidation of the empire and its frontiers. Despite some serious disturbances and wars, including revolts in Judaea and warfare in Dacia and the east, this was a period in which the stability of the ‘Roman peace’ extended over virtually the whole of the Mediterranean world and enabled the empire to reach, in the second century, its highest point of social, economic and cultural development. At the same time the established institutions of Graeco‐Roman paganism were beginning to undergo profound change under the impact of the growth of Christianity. The evidence of literary and historical writers, documents (inscriptions and papyri), coins and archaeology combines to offer not merely a detailed account of individual emperors, political events and governmental institutions, but also a rich and multi‐faceted picture of the impact of Roman rule on the Mediterranean world. This is therefore a particularly good subject for those seeking to combine historical and archaeological techniques.

During the Roman imperial period, notions of the divine and the human and the relationship between them, and of the framework of those relationships, changed dramatically in many different ways. As Greek and Roman cultures altered, as the Roman empire promoted contact, mobility and social change, as attitudes to time and space, history, ethics, and community shifted, an extraordinary variety of new ways of religious thinking and behaving came into being. These changes include profound transformations in thinking about the divine in philosophy and literature; the role of religion in displaced and diaspora communities, and especially in Jewish ones; the religious order of the Roman state; the formation of new religious allegiances out of old; and new types of religious competition, conflict and self‐definition. The evidence for these changes in literature, art, papyri, inscriptions and material culture is rich, diverse and fascinating, and the issues among the most important in ancient history. How do we model cultural change? What part does psychology play in history? Does the social anthropology of religion offer important insights to the historian? How can the historian use visual representations, artefacts, and the study of space? How do we link the history of ideas to other forms of historical narrative? Mithraic cave, curse‐tablet, synagogue, and sacred spring – who used them and why? Isis, Jesus, Jupiter and Taranis – who worshipped them and how? The subject takes you from Augustus praying to the Greek Fates at the Secular Games, and Ovid on Anna Perenna, through the fall of the Second Temple and the martyrdom of Felicity and Perpetua, to Aurelian's temple of the Unconquered Sun and Constantine’s vision at the Milvian Bridge.

How many sexes were there in the ancient world? How many genders? What is the difference? When is a man not a man or a woman not a woman? What can we know about the lives of women in antiquity, and what is the relationship between the way women lived and the way men wrote about them, painted them, sculpted them or legislated for them? This paper tackles the fundamental historical question of the implications, in any particular time and place, of being gendered. From the archaic Greek world to the later Roman Empire, it looks at how sex, sexuality and gender affected everyday life, what was and was not acceptable sexual behaviour, and how writers and artists expressed, joked about, subverted or reinvented the views of those around them. Relatively well‐known evidence from literature and art is put side by side with medical writings, magic, laws and graffiti. The subject ends with the rise of Christianity and asks whether this new religion brought women emancipation from men, or both sexes emancipation from sex, or altered the meaning of gender completely. Texts are set in translation, though it is, as always, desirable to read them in the original where possible. Scholarship in this area of Classics has been developing apace in recent years, and you will also read some of the cutting‐edge literature on gender and sexuality by contemporary non‐Classicist theorists.

The central theme of this paper is the conversion, first to Neoplatonism and then to Christian asceticism, of a late‐Roman teacher of rhetoric at Milan in 386. This is described in intimate detail by Augustine in his Confessions, the most brilliant intellectual autobiography to survive from the ancient world. Other texts are studied to create a context for Augustine, the intellectual life of the western Roman empire in the 380s, in which he played a major role. They include texts on the controversy over the abolition of a major symbol of residual paganism, the Altar of Victory, and of Jerome's advocacy of a rigorist Christian asceticism.

The empire of the Achaemenid kings was one of the largest the world has ever seen, stretching from the shores of the Mediterranean to the foothills of the Hindu Kush.  This paper covers the history and material culture of the Achaemenid Persian empire, from the conquests of Cyrus the Great to the Macedonian invasion of Asia. 

Topics studied include:

  • Cyrus at Babylon, and the Median, Assyrian, and Neo-Babylonian background
  • Darius and Persepolis
  • Cultural Hybridity and “Glocalization” (Karia, Lykia, Kilikia)
  • The Achaemenids at War (the Deve Hüyük burials)
  • Imperial Connectivity (the Black Sea hoard; Memphis customs-account)
  • Achaemenid Egypt (Arshama, Elephantine)
  • Achaemenid Cyprus
  • The Vampire (tribute; coinage; metalwork)

Please refer to the descriptions on the Philosophy Faculty website.

Greek and Latin Literature

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Greek and Roman historical writers offer us a remarkable collection of narratives, rich and exciting not just in their subject‐matter, but engaging also for the expressive style and dramatic manner in which they were written. This option focuses on particularly rewarding sections from some of the best‐known historians (Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Caesar, Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus), offering an overview of the development of one of the most important genres in antiquity. Some of these authors were writing about their own times, even about events in which they took a leading role themselves; but even when they were constructing a narrative of the distant past, they often had their eye on their own contemporary world and opened up suggestive parallels between past and present. A wide variety of over‐arching thematic issues will be explored, such as the creative authorial techniques employed in shaping and presenting conspiracy narratives; the methods used to enliven accounts of battles and sieges for a sophisticated audience (including how much overlap there might be with other genres such as epic); the impact of speeches on the characterisation of individuals; the development of the biographical character sketch within historiography; the use (and abuse) of geography and ethnography (whether embedded in the main narrative or marked off in a formal digression); the theory and practice of historiography (and how far they match up); the role played by religious issues and the depiction of the gods (and whether such features hamper historical analysis of causation); and the attitudes of these authors to important political questions (whether about the best constitution, the nature of imperialism, or the use of rhetoric).   

The development of lyric poetry is one of the most striking in ancient literary history, and the ‘genre’ presents some of the most attractive and rewarding smaller‐scale poems in Greek and Latin. Lyric poetry – poetry in stanzas, not couplets or repeated lines – starts as one of the chief types of archaic poetry. It embraces a huge diversity of scale, performance, metre, dialect, as part of localised cultures: Alcman’s choral songs, Sappho’s ‘personal’ poems, etc. International poets emerge, working across the Greek world: the richly complex poems of Pindar form a climax. After late fifth‐century experimentation comes Hellenistic recreation of archaic lyric; Latin lyric recreates Hellenistic lyric (Catullus) and, through the Hellenistic recreations, archaic lyric (Horace). Horace’s work aims both at conquering the whole classic territory and at producing a highly individual version of lyric, ironically based on limitations. His endlessly subtle Odes restore lyric to literary centrality. The subject combines immense range with much scope for the close analysis of poems.

Tragedy stands as the supreme poetic achievement of fifth‐century Athenian culture. Indeed, one could argue that no ancient literary form has had a more profound effect on Western culture as a whole. This option gives the opportunity to study a range of works from the three greatest exponents of the genre, ranging from Aeschylus' Oresteia of 458 BC, the only surviving tragic trilogy, to Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus, the most famous Greek tragedy of all, and Euripides’ so‐called tragi‐comedies Ion and Helen. Combining speech, song, and dance, tragedy embodies and animates the gods and heroes of myth as never before, and 94 recreates their stories for a (largely) Athenian audience. The option should appeal to all students of Greek literature and culture.

This subject enables you to read works by all the surviving comic writers of antiquity, and to survey the development of this genre from the exuberant comic fantasy of ‘Old’ Comedy, as composed in the fifth century by Aristophanes, through the elegant sophistication of the ‘New’ comedy of Menander at the end of the fourth, to the Latin plays of his imitators, Plautus and Terence (c.210‐160 BC). The plays of Aristophanes on the syllabus display the variety of his output, and show him pointing the way towards later developments in one of his last surviving plays, Ekklesiazousai. The plays of Menander had been lost since late antiquity, but during the twentieth century substantial portions of several plays by Menander were rediscovered (including one complete play, Dyskolos, first published in 1959). We can now see why he was so admired in antiquity for the ‘realism’ of his drama, with its concentration on family relationships and love. Plautus and Terence adapted plays by Menander and his contemporaries; theirs are the earliest complete works of Latin literature that survive. Widely read and imitated for many centuries, they have played a key role in the history of European culture, above all in the history of the theatre. They were much more than translators, and it is now possible to see more clearly their relation to their Greek models, and their own originality. The texts are studied in much the same way as any other dramatic texts; questions discussed include techniques of humour (irony, surprise, slapstick, jokes, puns, parody etc.), stagecraft, characterisation, use of stock characters, language, plot construction, the relationship of comedy to tragedy, the role of moralising and of philosophy, and the relationship of the theatre to society. The distinctive qualities of each author are examined.

The third century BC introduces a new political era (Greek monarchies extend over the Near East), but also a new set of intellectual and literary emphases. The scholars (above all in Alexandria) collect, edit and explain the Greek literary inheritance; the poets (often scholars themselves) rework and recreate that inheritance to produce a poetry of small‐scale forms, refined diction and complex allusive textures. There is new‐style epic (Apollonius Rhodius), and a new genre of pocket‐epic, which diversifies by digression (Moschus, Europa) and domesticates the heroic (Callimachus, Hecale). There are new hymns, literary rather than ritual in function; a new civilised invective (Callimachus, Iambi) and a new pseudo‐realism (Herodas); a new fashion in personal poetry, which transposes the old lyric into the brilliant miniature of the epigram. Greek roots grew in tradition as well as in literature: so Callimachus' Aetia traces the origins of festivals and rituals with ironised erudition. Theocritus spans the whole scene: myth, mime, pastiche, panegyric and the genre he made his own, the pastoral, in which the rustic frame sets off simply the eclectic elegance of the content.  

This option gives you the opportunity to engage in depth with some of the greatest speeches of the greatest Latin orator. They span his career, and show Cicero responding to many different situations, for Rome, his clients and victims, and himself; they conjure up colourful characters, and present a wide range in manner and tone (from gentle mockery to outraged invective). Study includes the background in rhetorical thinking offered by theoretical works of the time. This is made a compelling option by Cicero's art and strategy and by the world of Late Republican Rome and Italy which the speeches evoke.

After spending some years in the critics' bad books, Ovid is now a poet firmly back in fashion. His wit and humour are well‐known and appealing aspects of his poetry, but there is plenty there too for a reader who likes to dig beneath the surface, whether in search of complex literary references, or political allusions, or even reflections on the human condition. You study a selection of works from the whole range of Ovid's poetic output: from the Amores and Ars Amatoria, products of his younger years when love and love elegy were foremost in his thoughts, together with the experimental mix of the elegiac and epistolary in the Heroides, to the grander undertaking of the Metamorphoses (a challenging mythological epic fascinated by change, time and genre), and on to the doleful coda of the Tristia, elegiac letters from exile in which the poet reflects on his life, work and banishment by Augustus.

The aim of this paper is to explore the three major didactic poems of the late Republic / early Empire, Lucretius’ De rerum natura, Virgil’s Georgics and Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, in relation to each other and against the background of the didactic tradition. What is it that these poems ‘teach’? What themes and preoccupations are shared by these apparently very different didactics, and how does each react to its predecessor? How does all this relate to our view of Roman culture and politics at the moment of transition from Republic to Empire? And how can technical or quasi‐technical material make poetry?

The literary culture of Neronian Rome is remarkable. This course covers some of its most distinctive products across a range of genres: epic, tragedy, the novel, satire, philosophical prose, and pastoral. The literature of this period is markedly free from decorum and charm, and its hallmark is grotesque violence of thought and action, profound pessimism, and an often desolate hilarity. The Annaei are the most important literary circle in this period, and students will engage with the works of the philosopher and tragedian Seneca as well as with those of his nephew, the epic poet Lucan. Stoicism is another dominant influence, whether it be in Seneca's prose letters and dialogues or in the dysfunctional Stoic universe of the same writer's tragedies and Lucan's epic of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Other highlights include the mockery of the dead Claudius in Seneca's Menippean satire, the Apocolocyntosis; the wandering littérateurs who populate Petronius' Satyricon; and the explosive assault on literary declamation in the first satire of Persius. For those convinced that there must be something else in Latin beyond the canonical texts of the Golden Age, this is it.

This paper uses both your eyes and your mind. You study a text in real detail, delving much deeper into primary questions of text and interpretation than other options allow. You also study how texts have been transmitted from Euripides’ time on, and learn how to read Greek papyri and Greek medieval manuscripts. The teaching will make use of Oxford’s outstanding collection of medieval manuscripts and its unrivalled collection of papyri. The practical and visual experience makes textual criticism much more tangible. Detailed work on the text gives you a much fuller grasp of metre, poetic language, and dramatic convention and form. The Orestes is Euripides’ most experimental and challenging reconfiguration of the basics of tragedy. New lyrical and musical forms, contemporary politics and mythological invention, disconcerting movements between pathos and near‐burlesque, morality and amorality make this a rewarding play to study closely. It was particularly popular: so it is richly represented by papyri (one with music) and manuscripts; and there are numerous problems of interpolation.

These options, which are taught in alternate years, are designed to give you concrete experience of Latin manuscripts, an understanding of the history of textual transmission, and an initiation into the fundamental and absorbing detailed study of Latin texts. The palaeographical part of the course will introduce you to the basics of Latin palaeography, with the opportunity to read manuscripts from the 5th century to the 15th, in capitals and minuscule (e.g. Caroline, Beneventan, gothic, humanistic).

Seneca, Medea: The main witnesses are an 11th‐century manuscript (E) and a group of 13th‐ and 15th‐ century manuscripts all going back to one lost 12th‐century manuscript (A). The course will use images of Senecan MSS, and some original MSS in the Bodleian. Seneca’s Medea is both an exploration of the psychopathology of the wronged, isolated but powerful heroine, and a reflection on classic earlier versions of the myth (Euripides, Ennius, Ovid); it explores the nature of anger, evil, and identity. The basic nature of the work is uncertain (was it staged? is it dramatized philosophy?). The specifically textual problems are made particularly interesting by Seneca’s pithy and potent writing, the diverging readings and characteristics of E and A, and the ideas and work of critics in the 20th century and before. It is a great text to study closely, and makes an excellent climax to an undergraduate’s reading of ancient literature.

Catullus: Despite the small extent of his corpus Catullus is perhaps the most varied Latin poet. Besides his love poems, both hetero‐ and homosexual, he produced wedding songs, scurrilous epigrams, translations of Sappho and of Callimachus, attacks on the politically important and the self‐important, reflections of friendship displayed and betrayed, on departure and homecoming, on bereavement. He uses a considerable range of metres, and mixes direct diction with learning in a unique fashion. His poetry was very influential on subsequent generations, providing a vital impetus to the development of love elegy in particular. The selection chosen for this paper covers a broad range (but not the mini‐epic 64 or the epithalamia). This is thus an excellent subject for anyone who wants to study Latin poetry in depth. The text is badly transmitted, none of the three independently authoritative mss being older than c.1370 (the oldest [O] is in the Bodleian; there are images of this and G available via the website catullusonline). The technical side of the course will consider scribal corruption, problems of poem division, scansion and the use of metrical arguments, and above all what would make the best sense compatible with Catullus’s style.

The world of Byzantium, or the East Roman Empire, centred on Constantinople, offers a rich variety of writings in prose and verse. Some of these are cast in forms that will be familiar to classicists, like the histories of Procopius or Niketas Choniates. Others, like the kontakia (a type of hymn) of Romanos, will seem rather strange. In its more than a thousand years of existence Byzantium drew on its heritage from the classical world of Greece and Rome, blended it with the developing Christian tradition, and produced a unique culture to which this course is intended to be an introduction. The texts chosen for study come, for the most part, from those written in the learned form of the language, which corresponds very closely to Ancient Greek. Particular attention will be paid to the sixth century and the Age of Justinian, and to the late eleventh and the twelfth centuries and the Age of the Komnenoi, both of which were periods of exciting literary activity. Prose authors who will be studied include the historians Procopius and Agathias from the sixth century and Anna Komnene and Niketas Choniates from the twelfth. Verse to be studied covers a wide range of styles from the hymns of Romanos and the epigrams of Agathias to the court poetry of the versatile Theodore Prodromos and the enigmatic epic of Digenis Akritis.  

The aim of this course is to introduce students of Classics to Modern Greek Language and Literature through the detailed study of two of the most important poets of the 20th Century, C. P. Cavafy and George Seferis. Both poets famously used ancient Greek myth and history as a main source of inspiration. Using their work as a key example, the course will also discuss the complex dialogue Modern Greek Literature has established with the classical past.

Poetry in English since 1900 has had a vital and continuing engagement with classical models. In the first half of the twentieth century, this constituted reaction to and against culturally central texts such as Homer, Virgil and Greek tragedy; from the last third of the century, classical texts have been taken up again by poets who established themselves in other modes (Hughes and Heaney), as well as being a central thread in a career (Harrison, Carson), and the revival of Greek drama in major versions and of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in poetic treatments have been particular features. The reception of classical texts has also been a framework for treating the fall‐out of colonialism (Walcott) or the politics of Northern Ireland (Heaney, Longley). This subject looks at this continuing and vital afterlife of classical literature in our own times.

This paper explores Latin poetry and prose from the end of the first and the early second century AD, a flowering of literary activity comparable to the Augustan age. Politically and artistically this was a turning point, its literature (and politics) anticipating developments in Late Antiquity, while still aware of past achievements. You will find the familiar and the strikingly unfamiliar.

In verse: the epic Thebaid of Statius, a poem of violence, monstrosity and madness whose aesthetic owes much to both Ovid and Lucan (not least in its evident anxiety of influence); the same poet’s occasional Silvae, miniature masterpieces of ecphrasis and epideixis which reflect elements in contemporary Greek literary culture, and play fascinatingly with the familiar poetic conventions of Augustan poetry; the dense and pointed epigrams of Martial, ranging from panegyric to satire to nihilism; the exuberant indignation of Juvenal’s first book of Satires, poetry as funny and compelling as it is shocking, with its own profound relation to tradition in tension with its claims of immediacy.

Prose offerings are just as rich: the biography of Tacitus’ father-in-law in the Agricola; the affected leisure and nonchalance of the Roman gentleman in Pliny’s Epistles; the astonishing imperial encyclopedia compiled by Pliny’s uncle. Imperial power, projection and succession is a recurring concern of this literature; the figure of Domitian, in particular, casts a long shadow. Another abiding concern–as anticipated–is the irresistible authority of the Roman literary past, and the requirements it lays down for continual reinvention, opposition, and creative imitation.

This course sets out to interrelate all kinds of literature of the fifth century, and to set that literature in its cultural context. It includes set texts and involves translation and comment on those texts, but candidates are also expected to have some knowledge of the period more generally. There are lecture courses which provide essential context and background, and tutors also seek to place the texts in a context: for instance, Euripides and Aristophanes need to be set in the world of the sophists and other intellectual activities of the time. Knowledge of other relevant works can be usefully deployed: for instance, you should be ready to bring in material as appropriate from their other options (historical, archaeological etc. as well as literary).

Latin Core is the study of a period of literature, exploring interesting and important topics, such as tradition and innovation, the influence of preceding Greek literature, the place of women in society and texts, questions of politics, patronage and power, Roman identity, the impact of empire, the changing trajectory of the poetic career, the evolution of Latin as a literary language, depictions of time and space, and the interconnections between Latin literature and philosophy and religion. The ‘book’ both as a technological and artistic fact is an important area of interest in the period. These key authors also of course provoke study of more purely literary matters: questions of style, imagery, symbolism, allegory, convention, originality and so on.

Greek and Roman Archaeology

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The period from 950 to 500 BC sees the emergence of many of the institutions, practices and products that characterise Greek culture, the city‐states, the Panhellenic sanctuaries, the colonies in the west, the introduction of alphabetic writing, coinage, and many others. It is a period within which Greeks, Phoenicians, and others travelled widely in the Mediterranean, in search of wealth in both finished goods and raw materials. The evidence for much of the period is almost entirely archaeological, much of it recovered only in the last 30 years or so. The course introduces this physical evidence, and examines how it can be used to illuminate changes in social and religious behaviour, to demonstrate contacts between the Greeks and their Mediterranean neighbours, and to investigate important questions of origin and development. This course has a distinctive emphasis on understanding the physical evidence, and on the strengths and weaknesses of the archaeological methods used to reconstruct unrecorded aspects of society.

The images and monuments of the fifth century BC made a decisive break with the visual modes of the archaic aristocracy and established the influential idea that images should try to look like what and whom they represent. This subject involves the study of the buildings of classical Greek cities and sanctuaries as well as the images and artefacts that were displayed in them, and one of its major themes is the swift emergence and consolidation of the revolutionary way of seeing and representing that we know as ‘Classical art’. The images and objects are best studied in their archaeological and broader historical contexts, and typical questions to ask about them would include: What were they used for? Who paid for them, made them and looked at them? And what ideas and priorities did they express in their local settings?

The course looks at the full range of ancient artefacts, from bronze statues and marble temples to painted pots and clay figurines. The Ashmolean Museum has a fine collection of relevant objects, especially of painted pottery, and the Cast Gallery houses plaster copies of many of the key sculptured monuments of the period, from the Delphi Charioteer and the Olympia sculptures to portrait statues of Demosthenes and Alexander the Great.  

A wide range of lectures and classes are given throughout each academic year – on the sculpture, wall‐painting, vase‐painting, and architecture of the period, and on their archaeological contexts in sanctuaries, cities, and cemeteries.  

The Macedonian conquest of Asia brought a forced expansion of the Greek imagination and environment that has left an abundant and varied trace in the visual and material culture of the period. The course studies major themes, contexts, and media of Hellenistic art, set against the dense archaeology of the best‐preserved cities and sites of the period – from Macedonia to Bactria, from the Aegean to central Italy. The material includes distinctive categories of object, such as bronzeware, clay seals, gems, glassware, grave stelai, jewellery, mosaics, silverware, statues in bronze, statues in marble, terracottas, and wall‐paintings. Major subjects include: (1) the art and cities of the kings at the height of their power in the late fourth and third centuries BC, (2) the visual remains of Greek‐local interaction in Egypt and Iran, (3) the monuments of the old city‐states that flourished within and between the Macedonian kingdoms, and (4) the complex process of acculturation by which the apparatus and technology of Hellenistic art and material culture were adopted in Italy.

The long imperial Roman peace has left the densest and most varied record of artistic and visual representation of any period of antiquity, and at the height of the empire more cities, communities, and individuals than ever before came to invest in the 'classical' culture of monumental representation. The course studies the art and visual culture of the Roman empire in its physical, social, and historical contexts. The period saw the creation of a new imperial iconography – the good emperor portrayed in exemplary roles and activities at peace and war. These images were deployed in a wide range of media and contexts in Rome and around the empire, where the imperial image competed with a variety of other representations, from the public monuments of city aristocrats to the tombs of wealthy freed slaves. The course studies the way in which Roman images, self‐representation, and art were moulded by their local contexts and functions and by the concerns and values of their target viewers and 'user‐groups'.

You will learn about major monuments in Rome and Italy and other leading centres of the empire (such as Aphrodisias, Athens, Ephesus, and Lepcis Magna) and about the main strands and contexts of representation in the eastern and western provinces. They will become familiar with the main media and categories of surviving images – statues, portrait busts, historical reliefs, funerary monuments, cameos, wall‐paintings, mosaics, silverware, and coins – and learn how to analyse and interpret Roman art and images in well‐ documented contexts and how to assess the relation between written and visual evidence.

In exploring the development of towns and their related territories in the first three centuries AD, this course provides an introduction to Roman urbanism and the lively debate over how it worked and whom it served. The study of the physical design of the city, its public and private buildings, and its infrastructure, along with the objects of trade and manufacture, is placed in the broader context of the types and patterns of rural settlement, agricultural production, transport and communications. This allows various themes to be investigated, including what it meant to live in a Roman town, and in its countryside, and what contributed to the remarkable prosperity of urban centres before the widespread retrenchment of the third century.    

Those taking the course will become familiar with the physical character of Roman cities based on selected representative sites (primarily Ostia, Pompeii, Corinth, Caesarea Maritima, Palmyra, Lepcis Magna, and Silchester) and with major landscape studies in Italy, Greece and North Africa. Particular attention is paid to problems and biases in assessing the character of the physical evidence; and in testing theoretical models against hard data.  Evidence from written sources will be incorporated where appropriate. 

Philology and Linguistics

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The subject consists of two main parts: (a) specific topics to be explored through texts and (b) the general history of the Greek language with special reference to the development of the literary languages. There are three text‐based topics: (i) the dialects of Greek poetry, which will involve looking in detail at the language of Homer and some lyric poets; (ii) Greek dialect inscriptions, which will offer an introduction to some of the many local varieties of Greek; (iii) Linear B, which will provide an opportunity to read some texts in Mycenaean Greek, preserved on clay tablets from the second millennium BC, our earliest evidence for the language. The general history of Greek will cover topics such as the Indo‐European origins of Greek, varieties of Greek, the influence of neighbouring languages, the history of writing in Greece, the linguistic traditions of poetry, the development of formal prose and scientific language, the emergence of the koine (common language), etc.

The subject consists of two main parts: (a) specific topics to be explored through texts and (b) the general history of the Latin language, with special reference to the development of the literary language. There are four text‐based topics: (i) Oscan and Umbrian, which will offer an introduction to two languages of ancient Italy, quite distinct from Latin though related to it, that are known from inscriptions; (ii) Archaic Latin, which will deal with some of the earliest records of Latin, mainly inscriptions; (iii) the language of Plautus, which will involve looking in detail at various characteristic elements (archaic, colloquial, poetic, etc.); (iv) Imperial and Late Latin, which will examine the language of mainly sub‐literary and non‐literary texts (including papyri) from the first century AD onwards. The general history of Latin will cover topics such as the Indo‐European origins of Latin, other languages of ancient Italy, the spread of Latin within Italy and beyond, the influence of Greek, the emergence of a poetic language, the creation of the classical standard, 'vulgar' Latin, post‐classical developments, the rise of the Romance languages, etc.

This subject consists of three parts, of which you choose two:

Part 1: the linguistic description of Latin or Greek (you choose one), especially the application to the classical languages of modern descriptive insights and techniques. Topics will include: grammatical categories (such as tense, aspect, voice, mood); ordering of elements within a phrase or sentence; structures of complex sentences; pragmatic and sociolinguistic functions of linguistic variables such as, for example, the different ways of expressing commands.

Part 2: modern linguistic theory in more general terms, including topics in contemporary phonological and grammatical theory.

Part 3: the reconstruction of Indo‐European. This course deals with problems affecting parts of the sound‐system and the grammar (especially the verb) of the parent language and their reflections in the (pre‐) history of Latin and Greek.

This paper provides an introduction to the study of the origins of Greek and Latin and their development from a common ancestor, Indo‐European (which is also the ancestor of English). The lectures and classes cover the methods of historical and comparative linguistics, the reconstruction of the (unattested) Indo‐European proto‐language, the numerous changes in sounds and forms that resulted in the Greek and Latin languages as we know them, and some of the ways in which these languages continued to change down to the classical period. Selected passages of Homer and some archaic Latin inscriptions are examined in detail with regard to points of linguistic interest, to show how an understanding of the prehistory of Greek and Latin, and of the processes of change, can illuminate early records of the language.

Second Classical Language

Second Classical Language is available only for those on a single-language stream. Students who took Latin at Mods have the opportunity to study Greek at Finals, while those who took Greek at Mods have the opportunity to study Latin. Each language is taught intensively in small classes provided by the Classics Faculty, with additional teaching provided by colleges. The exam currently consists of two written papers, Verse and Prose, in the relevant language, and counts as two of your eight finals options. The written exams currently comprise translation and comment on the set texts, as well as unprepared translation. Note however that the precise structure and content of this paper may change.