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Approaching Ancient Texts: Methodologies, Theories and Practice

This module, which takes the form of a weekly seminar, explores a range of methodologies and approaches used in the study of ancient texts in their cultural and political contexts. The module also aims to provide specialist training in conducting research at postgraduate level, allowing students to develop the expertise required to continue to doctoral study should they wish to. Students will be able to significantly enhance the knowledge and skills acquired at undergraduate level, and to develop their own ideas and projects in a supportive and stimulating environment. The first four, two-hour seminar sessions of the term are dedicated to research methods, techniques, tools and resources, and to skills in written and oral presentation of research, and will involve workshops and group discussion. In the remaining sessions, which require specific reading and preparation, we investigate a particular theme, idea, debate or theory that informs or has shaped an area of modern classical scholarship on ancient texts. Examples include ‘intertextuality and the dialogic’; ‘historicisms old and new’; ‘the unconscious’; ‘paratext’; ‘phonocentrism’; ‘exemplarity’; ‘postcolonialisms’; ‘the law’; ‘ideology’; ‘redemption’; ‘performativity’; ‘absence’. Students will be asked to give regular short presentations throughout the term, and to write an assessed 5,000 word essay. The module runs in the first term of the MA, and is followed in term 2 by the optional core modules ‘Roman Literature and Thought’ and ‘Greek Literature and Thought’, which will further develop, apply and put into practice the techniques and methodologies studied here. Assessment consists of a final 5,000-word essay, to be submitted at the end of January.

Time and place 2020-21: Thursdays in Term 1, 10-12am, H2.44 (first meeting = Thursday October 8th)

Assessment deadline for title approval: November 25th, 2020

Assessment deadline for submission: Monday 1 February 2021, 12 noon

By the end of this module students should expect to have:

  • acquired advanced knowledge of, and ability to use, the latest research resources and tools available to classicists;
  • acquired a detailed, interdisciplinary understanding of a range of methodologies and approaches to the study of ancient texts within their historical, cultural and political contexts;
  • acquired a detailed knowledge of, and ability to analyse, a wide range of contemporary scholarship on ancient texts;
  • developed a nuanced understanding of how critical theory has been used and interpreted by classicists from the early 20th century to the present;
  • developed into autonomous researchers with the skills and expertise required to produce professionally laid-out papers, develop extended scholarly arguments, and to give confident, well-organised and fluent presentations.

Preparatory summer reading: read as many as you like/can of the asterisked items (*), which will help ease the burden of weekly preparation during the term.

 For each seminar during term 1: 1) Read as many of the listed items as possible (asterisked items are essential; if you can’t find something, let us know and we will get it for you; you do not have to read everything that is not asterisked); 2) use what you read to follow up on some further bibliography, noting down items of interest and choosing one extra article or chapter to read, which you can then share with others in the seminar; 3) think about the questions suggested, and focus on at least one of them; 4) finally, we will ask you to write up the resulting thoughts, notes and ideas into an informal 10-minute presentation, to be given at the start of each seminar and be the basis for further discussion [if you are writing this to read out, aim for around 1000 words].

Week 1: Making the most of the MA in Ancient Literature and Thought.

Introductory seminar. We will discuss the interdisciplinary scope of the MA, making the leap to postgraduate-level research, finding a topic for your dissertation, study skills including building a bibliography and finding sources, giving presentations, and basic research tools you will need for the MA. We will also discuss the assessment for this module (5,000-word essay, submitted before Christmas). For this seminar, you will not need to give a presentation as such, but we do ask you to come with thoughts, written notes, and your own questions.


How will postgraduate work differ from what you are used to at undergraduate level? Which research tools have you used thus far and what will you need for the MA? What is Digital Classics? How do you build a post-graduate level bibliography? How does one approach reading and studying large volumes of material? How do you organise study-time and pace yourself? How do you go about choosing a topic for the assessment essay and for the dissertation? What opportunities might this MA open up?



Burns, R.B. (2000) Introduction to Research Methods. London.

Crane, G. (2016) ‘Greco-Roman studies in a digital age’ Daedalus 145.2: 127-33.

Eco, U. (2015, ital. 1977) How to Write a Thesis. MIT Press [ps. Ignore out of date stuff on index cards obviously! Still a good read]

Hornblower, S., Spawforth, A., and Eidinow, E. (eds.) (2012) Oxford Classical Dictionary 4th ed. Two Volumes. Oxford. Also available online.

Schaps, D. (2011) Handbook for Classical Research. London.


Week 2: What is Classics now?


What is meant by ‘Classics’ and should the term itself be subject to debate? What are your received ideas about Classics as a discipline and how are they challenged or expanded by reading the bibliography below? How does Classics thematise its distance from the past? What is at stake in being committed to the ‘otherness’ of antiquity? How has the meaning of ‘classical philology’ changed over time? What is classical tradition / classical reception / post-reception? [cf. week 9]. What does canonicity mean and how does it work as a principle of classical scholarship? What has been central and marginal to Classics in your study so far, and why? Be prepared to think as widely as possible, both within your understanding of your levels of exposure to the discipline of Classics, and in terms of your wider socio-cultural self-understanding (e.g. on sex & gender, race, class, politics, historical consciousness).



Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th ed.), see above [s.v. Classicism, classis, Reception].

Various (2020) Postclassicisms. Chicago.

*Beard, M. and Henderson, J. (1995) Classics: A Very Short Introduction. London.

*Butler, S. (ed.) (2016) Deep Classics. Rethinking Classical Reception. London. [Introduction]

Dubois, P. (2001) Trojan Horses. Saving the Classics from Conservatives. New York.

Edmunds, L. (2005) ‘Critical divergences: new directions in the study and teaching of Roman literature’ TAPA 135.1: 1-13.

Ford, A. (2002) The Origins of Criticism: Literary Culture and Poetic Theory in Classical Greece. Princeton.

Formisano, M. and Kraus, C.S. (eds.) (2018) Marginality, Canonicity, Passion. Oxford.

Fowler, D. (1994), ‘Postmodernism, romantic irony, and classical closure’, in Roman Constructions, Oxford, 5–33.

Gildenhard, I. (2011) ‘Philologia perennis? Classical scholarship and functional differentiation’ BICS 46 (Art of Arcadia suppl.)

Greenwood, E. (2019) ‘Subaltern classics in anti- and post-colonial literatures in English’ in The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature. Oxford.

Halliwell. S. (2011) Between Ecstasy and Truth: Interpretations of Greek Poetics from Homer to Longinus. Oxford.

Holmes, B. (2010) The Symptom and The Subject: The Emergence of the Physical Body in Ancient Greece. Princeton [Introduction, 1–40].

Holmes, B. (2017) Liquid Antiquity. Geneva. [Introduction].

Jenkyns, R. (2015) Classical Literature. London.

*Martindale, C. (1993) Redeeming the Text. Latin poetry and the hermeneutics of reception. Cambridge.

* Morley, N. (2018) Classics: Why it Matters. Polity.

Pfeiffer, R. (1967-76) History of Classical Scholarship, vol. 1, From the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic Age, and vol. 2, From 1300 to 1850. Oxford.

Porter, J.I. (2005) ‘What is “classical” about classical antiquity?’ Arion 13.1: 27-61.

Santirocco, M. (2016) ‘Introduction: reassessing Greece and Rome’ Daedalus 145.2: 5-19.

Silk, S. Gildenhard, I. and Barrow, R. (2014) The Classical Tradition: Art, Literature, Thought. Oxford.

Snell, B. (1953) The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought. Cambridge, MA – to be read alongside Holmes (2010) above, and also Holmes, B. (2020) 'Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind (1946; trans. 1953)', in L. Daston and S. Marcus (eds.) 'Dossier on Undead Texts', Public Culture 32.2: 363–74.


Week 3: The theory of ‘theory’


What is ‘theory’ and what does it question? What kinds of questions about the contemporary world can be posed, answered or transformed through interpretation of ancient texts? Why does the place of theory in classics ‘remain controversial’ (Morley)? What sense do you get of the role and impact of modern theoretical perspectives on Classics as a nexus of fields?


OCD 4th ed. (see Week 1): s.v. Literary theory and classical studies.

Bianchi, E., Brill, S. Holmes, B. (eds.) (2019) Antiquities Beyond Humanism. Oxford.

Budelmann. F. and Phillips, T. (eds.) (2018) Textual Events. Performance and the Lyric in Ancient Greece. Oxford [Introduction]

*Culler, J. (1997) Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford.

*Eagleton, T. (2003) After Theory. London.

Hardie, P.R. (2007) ‘Contrasts’ in S. Heyworth (ed.) Classical Constructions. Oxford, 141-73.

Hinds, S. (2007) ‘Ovid among the conspiracy theorists’ in Heyworth (ed.) see above, 194-20.

Hitchcock, L. (2008) Theory for Classics. A Student’s Guide. London.

Morley, N. (2004) Theories, Models and Concepts in Ancient History. Abingdon.


Week 4: Working with texts and commentaries

This seminar will focus on the basics of textual criticism (although you will have the opportunity to read and try out some textual criticism in the Greek/Roman Literature and Thought modules); we will also explore working with commentaries and the evolving role and understanding of commentary work in the field.


What is a classical commentary, how are commentaries (of different kinds) used, and why do they matter? What theoretical perspectives have traditionally underpinned commentary work, and how are those perspectives evolving? Why/how should ‘textual critics’ and ‘literary critics’ work in dialogue? What is the politics of textual criticism?


Dickey, E. (2007) Ancient Greek Scholarship. Cambridge.

Fearn, D. (2010) 'Imperialist fragmentation and the discovery of Bacchylides' in M. Bradley (ed.) Classics and Imperialism in the British Empire. Oxford, 158–85. Note the critical review of the project of the whole volume by Richard Jenkyns in Victorian Studies 55.2 (2013).

Fitzgerald, W. (2013) How to Read a Latin Poem if you can’t read Latin yet. Oxford.

*Gibson, R. and Kraus, C.S. (eds.) (2002) The Classical Commentary. Histories, Theories, Practices. Leiden.

Most, G. (ed.) (1997) Collecting Fragments—Fragmente sammeln (Göttingen).

Most, G. (ed.) (1999) Commentaries—Kommentare. Gottingen. (Aporemata 4). [especially chapters by Fowler and Goldhill]

Nünlist, R. (2009) The Ancient Critic at Work. Cambridge.

Reynolds, D. and Wilson, N.G. (1974 – 3rd ed. 1991) Scribes and Scholars. A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature. Oxford.

Tarrant, R. (2016) Texts, Editors and Readers. Methods and problems in Latin textual criticism. Cambridge.

Also see Gildenhard 2011 (week 2)


Week 5: Intertextuality


What are the origins of the term ‘intertextuality’? What is at stake in using the term ‘intertextuality’ rather than ‘allusion’? Do you detect differences in how individual scholars, especially across disciplines, use this critical vocabulary? How do/might differences in philosophical understanding and methodology produce different readings of Greek and Latin texts? [you might like to focus on a particular text here: you can choose one you are already studying, have studied, or intend to study later this year?]


OCD 4th ed. (see Week 1): s.v. imitatio

Barchiesi, A. (2005) ‘Lane-switching and jug-handles in the contemporary interpretation of Latin poetry’ TAPA 135: 135-62.

*Barthes, R. (1977) ‘The Death of the Author’ in Image, Music Text (pdf available online).

Edmunds, L. (2001) Intertextuality and the Reading of Roman Poetry. Johns Hopkins.

Fowler, D. (2000) ‘On the shoulders of giants: intertextuality and classical studies’ in Fowler, Roman Constructions. Oxford, 115-37.

Goldhill, S. (1986) Reading Greek Tragedy. Cambridge, chapter 6, ‘Text and Tradition’.

*Hinds, S. (1997) Allusion and Intertext. Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry. Cambridge.

*Kristeva, J. (1986) ‘Revolution in poetic language’ in Toril Moi, ed. The Kristeva Reader. Oxford, 43-50.

Morales, H. and Sharrock, A. (eds.) (2000) Intratextuality. Greek and Roman Textual Relation. Oxford.

Orr, M. (2003) Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Renfrew, A. (2014) Mikhail Bakhtin. London.

Rimell, V. (2019) ‘After Ovid, after theory’ in The International Journal of the Classical Tradition (special issue: Ovid and Identity in the Twenty-First Century), 26.4: 446-69.



Reading week (week 6)



Week 7: Text, Context I: Form


What do we mean by literary form? What other ‘forms’ are there? What is formalism and how is it critiqued? How have literary scholars thought about the materiality of texts in antiquity, and how does/can this speak to other kinds of classicists?


Bassi, K. (2016) Traces of the Past: Classics between History and Archaeology. Ann Arbor. (useful review by Grethlein in AJP 2017)

Butler. S. (2011) The Matter of the Page. Essays in search of ancient and medieval authors. Wisconsin.

Fearn, D. (2020) ‘Greek lyric of the archaic and classical periods:from the past to the future of the lyric subject’, Research Perspectives in Classical Poetry 1.1, esp. sections 1, 2, 3, and 8 (pdf available on request from DF).

Foster, M., Kurke, L. and Weiss, N. (eds.) (2019) Genre in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry: theories and models. Leiden.

Leighton, A. (2018) Hearing Things: The Work of Sound in Literature. Cambridge, MA, ch. 11, ‘Poetry’s knowing: so what do we know?’ (251-72)

*Levine, C. (2015) Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Princeton. PN45.5.L48.

Lowrie, M. (2009) Writing, Performance and Authority in Augustan Rome. Oxford.

Also see Lowrie (2005), below [week 8]

McDonald, P. D. (2006) ‘Ideas of the Book and Histories of Literature: After Theory?’ Proceedings of the Modern Languages Association 121.1: 214-28

Telò, M. and Mueller, M. (eds.) (2018) The Materialities of Greek Tragedy: Objects and Affect in Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. London.

Wasser, A. (2016) The Work of Difference. Modernism, Romanticism and the Production of literary form. New York.


Week 8: Text, context II: historicisms and anachronisms

Questions: What are your received ideas about the relationship between text (written text, or artwork) and context, and how are they challenged by reading the bibliography below? Can literature actually do things in the world (what?) or does it just say things about the world from ‘outside’? What are the differences between old and new historicisms? Map out all the ways you can think of that texts (understood as broadly as you like) and material (political, social, economic) realities might interact. What are/might be the implications for your own research? [By now you should be thinking about pinning down your dissertation topic, so try to use that as a focus for responding].


Atack, C. Phillips, T. and Rood, T. (eds.) (2020) Anachronism and Antiquity. London.

Classical Receptions Journal Special issue 2020 (12.1) Anachronism and Antiquity.

Connolly, J. (2005) ‘Border wars. Literature, Politics and the Public’ TAPA 135: 103-34.

Dougherty, C. and Kurke, L. (eds.) (1993), Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece: Cult, Performance, Politics. Cambridge [Introduction, 1–12].

Edmunds, L. (2005): see above [week 1]

Farrell, J. (2005) ‘Eduard Fraenkel on Horace and Servius, or Texts, Context and the Field of “Latin Studies”’ TAPA 1351: 91-102.

Feeney, D. (1998) Literature and Religion at Rome: Cultures, Contexts, and Beliefs. Cambridge. esp. 6–8, 22–4, 38–46, 137–43.

* Felski, R. (2015) The Limits of Critique. Chicago.

Geue, T. (2019) Author Unknown. The Power of Anonymity in Ancient Rome. Harvard.

Habinek, T. (1998) The Politics of Latin Literature. Princeton.

Jansen, L. (ed.) (2014) The Roman Paratext. Frame, Texts, Readers. Cambridge.

Lowrie, M. (2005) ‘Inside-out: in defence of form.’ TAPA 135.1: 35-48.

Payne, M. (2006) ‘On being vatic: Pindar, pragmatism, and historicism’, AJP 127.2: 159-84.

Rose, P. (1992) Sons of the Gods, Children of Earth: Ideology and Literary Form in Ancient Greece. Ithaca, NY.

Various (2020) Postclassicisms. Chicago, sections 2.7, ‘Situatedness’ (144–60) and 2.8, ‘Untimeliness’ (161-81).


Week 9: Traditions and receptions

The themes for discussion in this seminar will use week 2’s seminar as a springboard, and will have percolated through other sessions also. You might like at this point to revisit or fill in gaps in bibliography listed under week 2. This session will allow us to focus more precisely on the ideas that will have emerged thus far.


What is classical reception and how has it evolved? Attempt to identify and explore some internal debates and key terms [e.g. exemplarity, Altertumswissenschaft, Nachleben, idealism, classical tradition, classicism(s), postclassicism, surface and depth, liquidity and solidity]. What are the problems, if any, with the terms ‘reception’ and ‘tradition’? What challenges does ‘reception studies’ pose to Classics? How is your received understanding challenged and expanded by reading the bibliography below (and from week 2)?

At the end of this session, we will also discuss the following week’s presentation.



*Butler. S. (ed.) (2016) Deep Classics. Rethinking Classical Reception. London.

Holmes. B. et al. (2017) Liquid Antiquity. Geneva.

Goldhill, S. (2017) ‘The limits of the case study: exemplarity and the reception of classical literature’ New Literary History 48.3: 415-35.

*Martindale, C. (1993) Redeeming the Text. Latin poetry and the hermeneutics of reception. Cambridge.

Martindale, C. (2013) ‘Reception: a new humanism? Receptivity, pedagogy and the transhistorical’ Classical Receptions Journal 5.2: 169-83.

*Martindale, C. and Thomas, R. (eds.) (2006) Classics and the Uses of Reception. London.

Said, E. (1978) Orientalism. London.

*Various (2020) Postclassicisms. Chicago.

Week 10: Final presentations

Throughout the term, we will have discussed possible topics for your assessed essay. This week we will ask you to give a 20-minute presentation [around 2000 words if you are writing it out in full] giving an outline of, or discussing a part of, your chosen topic or area of study. We recommend you decide on a topic and consult with us on bibliography during Reading Week (week 6 of term), to give you plenty of time. You are encouraged to use Powerpoint (although you do not have to ‘talk from the slide’) and you must provide a professionally formatted handout.




Module Convenors:

Professor David Fearn

Professor Victoria Rimell


This module is worth 30 CATS.