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Greek Literature and Thought

The module aims to provide postgraduate training in the literary interpretation and philological analysis of ancient Greek literary texts in a variety of forms and genres. It runs as 10 two-hours seminars spaced over the first and second terms of the course, and will involve developing, applying and putting into practice the techniques and methodologies studied in the first term’s core module, ‘Approaching Ancient Texts’. Students’ linguistic skills in reading literary Greek will be brought up to postgraduate level; they will be introduced to the fundamentals of textual criticism and the history of interpretation, including assessment of papyrological reconstructions, palaeography, and commentary by scholiasts as appropriate, and acquire the knowledge and skills required to respond critically to the most advanced classical scholarship. The module takes the form of a weekly seminar, in which we focus on the detailed reading, discussion and interpretation of two main texts or sections of ancient Greek literature, one in verse (e.g. a selection of Pindaric odes, or a play by Sophocles or Aristophanes) and one in prose (e.g. a book of Herodotus or Thucydides), alongside an anthology of further related texts, commentaries and reference works. Greek texts will be chosen on a yearly basis in response to current critical debates and the most recent and original scholarship. Each two-hour session will be devoted to a section of text (students will be asked to prepare in advance by reading the text together with selected scholarship) and take the form of in-depth critical discussion following prepared oral presentations. Students will be able to enhance significantly the knowledge and skills acquired at undergraduate level, exchanging and developing ideas and reading strategies in a supportive and stimulating environment. Assessment consists of a final 5,000-word essay, topics for which we will discuss at the end of term 1. Students can expect to be doing 9-10 hours of work for each seminar.

Please note: in 2021-22 we will meet weekly in term 1 weeks 7, 8, 9, and 10 and term 2 weeks 1, 2, and 4, and then fortnightly for the remainder, term 2 weeks 5, 7, and 9.

Time and Place: Tuesdays 10-12pm
Term 1:
H2.45 (second floor of Humanities building);

Term 2: Faculty of Arts Building 2.33

Assessment deadline for title approval: tba 2022

Assessment deadline for submission: 16th May 2022, 12 noon

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

  • acquired the ability to read classical literary Greek fluently and independently, in a range of genres and forms;
  • developed the ability to employ a variety of strategies and techniques of interpretation and philological analysis in their close reading of classical texts;
  • acquired the knowledge and skills required to respond critically to the most advanced classical scholarship;
  • 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.

Syllabus for 2021-22:

Text 1 (Term 1, starting week 7): Gorgias, Palamedes

To be read in Laks-Most, Early Greek Philosophy Vol. VIII, pp. 186–217.

Text 2 (Term 2): Sophocles, Philoctetes

Text and commentary: Seth Schein, Sophocles: Philoctetes. Cambridge 2013.


Texts to read in translation: Gorgias, Helen; Plato, Protagoras; Plato, Phaedrus; Sophocles, Ajax; Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric. The Loeb editions are recommended and are available online in Warwick Library databases for Classics. Other translations are available: please ask if you are unable to access them yourselves. I will be able to provide one for Gorgias direct; good translations of Plato and Aristotle are included in the major editions by J. M. Cooper (Hackett) and Jonathan Barnes (OUP).

2021-22 Syllabus Rationale:

Rhetoric and the nature of public discourse; the natural world; sickness, pain, and compassion: these issues may seem to be topical like never before: the texts for this year have been chosen to reflect such pressing contemporary concerns. But they also raise questions about the value and distinctiveness of both rhetoric and tragedy as classical assets: why is it a big deal that Classical Greek rhetoric and tragedy, through the forms that persist, engage our intellectual faculties in particular ways? Perhaps we will thus be able to explore how engagement with the forms of Classical Greek literary discourse can challenge and shape our attitudes to the relation between culture and society both now and for the future.


For each seminar: We will begin with Gorgias in term 1 from after reading week, and turn to Sophocles at the start of term 2, reading from the beginning and working our way through.

For Sophocles, please read the text alongside Schein’s commentary; for the Gorgias, while no commentary currently exists, it will be an interesting exercise to read this text alongside Gorgias’ Helen, and wider readings of Sophistic rhetoric in the bibliography and syllabus provided.

You are not obliged to read every single item of bibliography, but do as much as you can. If there is anything you cannot find, let me know and I will be able to help.

For each week, you will be asked to prepare a 5-10-minute critical summary of a set chunk of the text prescribed (c.1000 words if you are writing it out), which each student will present orally at the start of the seminar. In this critical summary, you should attempt to give a tight, detailed account of content and form and to highlight what you consider to be key points of interest or difficulties of interpretation; you may, in doing this, also want to show awareness of, or mention, relevant scholarship. In the seminar itself, we will address difficulties in grammar and syntax, points of interpretation, textual issues as they arise, and nuances in/differences between various scholarly approaches to the author under discussion.


General Bibliography for Gorgias (* = particularly recommended)

*Allen, D. S. (2001) ‘Gorgianic figures’ in T. O. Sloane (ed.) Encyclopaedia of Rhetoric (vol. 1, Oxford) 321–3.

Croally, N. T. (1994) Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the function of tragedy (Cambridge).

Denniston, J. D. (1952) Greek Prose Style (Oxford).

Denyer, N. (2008) Plato: Protagoras (Cambridge). [Introduction]

Dillon, J. and Gergel, T. (2003), The Greek Sophists (London).

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

*Gagarin, M. (2001) ‘Did the sophists aim to persuade?’, Rhetorica 19: 275–91

*Goldhill, S. (2002) The Invention of Prose (Oxford).

Guthrie, W. (1969), A History of Greek Philosophy Volume Three: The Fifth-Century Enlightenment (Cambridge).

Guthrie, W. (1971) The Sophists (Cambridge).

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

MacDowell, D. M. (1982) Gorgias: Encomium of Helen (Bristol).

Pernot, L. (2015) Epideictic Rhetoric: Questioning the Stakes of Ancient Praise (Austin, TX).

Porter, J. I. (2010) The Origins of Aesthetic Thought in Ancient Greece: Matter, Sensation, and Experience (Cambridge).

Sansone, D. (2012) Greek Drama and the Invention of Rhetoric (Chichester).

Schiappa, E. (1991) 'Sophistic rhetoric: oasis or mirage?', Rhetoric Review 10.1: 5–18.

Torrance, I. (2010) ‘Writing and self-conscious mythopoiêsis in Euripides’, CCJ 56: 213–58

, I. (2013) Metapoetry in Euripides (Oxford)

Walker, J. (2000) Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity (Oxford).

*Wardy, R. (1996) The Birth of Rhetoric: Gorgias, Plato and their Successors (London).

We will be approaching the Palamedes under the following loose headings: myth and the mythologization of rhetorical practice; rhetoric, writing, and literary form; ethical and political ramifications

For Session 1 (Term 1 Week 7):

For this week, we will begin with an introductory discussion of Gorgias. For this you will each need to present a critical overview of Gorgias’ Palamedes, and how you think it fits within the overall parameters of what sophistic rhetoric is thought to be; this needs to include brief summary of stylistic features, mythological setting, and a sense of the interpretative and ethical challenges that the text provokes through the nature and structure of its argument and what this represents. You will also need to read and think about the Encomium of Helen in order to do this. Wider issues to begin to consider include: Is Palamedes simply a rhetorical exercise, a formal curiosity? Or is there more at stake? What are its challenges and provocations, in and beyond the contexts of late-fifth century Greece?

Readings for this week:

In addition to the Loeb text and translations of Palamedes and Helen, see also the translations in Dillon/Gergel, The Greek Sophists (Penguin) and the translation and notes on Helen in MacDowell's edition.

On Palamedes as a mythological figure within the late c5 Athenian dramatic context, see Torrance (2010) and (2013) ch. 3.

On Gorgias in general explore the discussions of Wardy, The Birth of Rhetoric, chs. 1&2, and that of Halliwell, Between Ecstasy and Truth, 266-84, two of the most comprehensive and suggestive discussions.



General Bibliography for Sophocles:

Collections of essays:

Ormand, K. (2012) A Companion to Sophocles (Wiley-Blackwell)

Markantonatos, A. (2012) Brill’s Companion to Sophocles (Brill).


Blundell, M. W. (1989) Helping friends and harming enemies : a study in Sophocles and Greek ethics(Cambridge)

Budelmann, F. (2000) The Language of Sophocles (Cambridge 2000)

Calame, C. (1988) 'Performative Aspects of the Choral Voice in Greek Tragedy: Civic Identity in Performance', in S. Goldhill & R. Osborne (eds.) Performance Culture and Athenian Democracy(Cambridge)

Easterling, P. E. (1977) 'Character in Sophocles', Greece and Rome 24.2 (1977) 121–9

Easterling, P. E. (1984) 'The Tragic Homer', BICS 31: 1–8

*Felski, R. (ed.) (2008) Rethinking Tragedy (Baltimore) - inc. in particular the essays by Goldhill, Dimock, Sands, duBois, and Nussbaum

Foley, H. (2003) 'Choral Identity in Greek Tragedy', CPhil 98: 1–30

Gagné, R. and Hopman, M. G. (2013) Choral Mediations in Greek Tragedy (Cambridge)

Goldhill, S. (1986) Reading Greek Tragedy (Cambridge)

Goldhill, S. (1996) 'Collectivity and Otherness – The Authority of the Tragic Chorus', in M. Silk (ed.) Tragedy and the Tragic

Goldhill, S. (2000), ‘Civic ideology and the problem of difference: the politics of Aeschylean tragedy, once again’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 120: 34-56.

Goldhill, S. (2003) ‘Tragic Emotions: The Pettiness of Envy and the Politics of Pitilessness’, in Konstan and Rutter (eds.), Envy, Spite and Jealousy (Edinburgh), 165–80

Goldhill, S. (2012) Sophocles and the Language of Tragedy (Oxford) (and note the hostile review of this at - what will be interesting to discuss is why the hostility, and the nature of the fault-lines)

Gould, J. (1996) 'Tragedy and Collective Experience', in M. Silk (ed.) Tragedy and the Tragic (Oxford)

Griffin, J. (1998) 'The social function of Attic Tragedy', CQ 48 no.1: 39–61

Griffin, J. (ed.) (1999) Sophocles Revisited (Oxford)

Hall, E. (1996) 'Is there a Polis in Aristotle's Poetics?', in M. Silk (ed.) Tragedy and the Tragic (Oxford) 295–309

Kirkwood, G. (1994) A Study of Sophoclean Drama (Ithaca, NY)

Knox, B. (1966) The Heroic Temper (Berkeley, CA)

Konstan, D. (2001) Pity Transformed (London)

Murnaghan, S. (2011) 'Choroi achoroi: the Athenian politics of tragic choral identity', in D. M. Carter (ed.) Why Athens? A Reappraisal of Tragic Politics (Oxford), 245–67

Nooter, S. (2012) When Heroes Sing: Sophocles and the Shifting Soundscape of Tragedy (Cambridge).

Nussbaum, M. C. (1986) The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy(Cambridge)

Padel, R. (1992) In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self (Princeton)

Padel, R. (1995) Whom Gods Destroy: Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness (Princeton)

Parker, R. (1999) 'Through a glass darkly: Sophocles and the divine', in Griffin (ed.)

Pelling, C. (ed.) Greek Tragedy and the Historian (Oxford 1997)

Pickard-Cambridge, A. W. (1962) Dithyramb, Tragedy, and Comedy, 2nd revised edition (Oxford)

Pickard-Cambridge, A. W. (1988) The Dramatic Festivals of Athens, 2nd edition revised with addenda by Gould and Lewis (Oxford)

Rehm, R. (1992) Greek Tragic Theatre (London)

Reinhardt, K. (1979) Sophocles, trans. H & D Harvey (Oxford)

Rhodes, P. J. (2003) 'Nothing to Do With Democracy: Athenian Drama and the polis', JHS 123: 104–19

Roberts, D. H. (1988) ‘Sophoclean Endings: Another Story’, Arethusa 21: 177–96

Segal, C. Tragedy and Civilisation (Cambridge, MA 1981)

Segal, C. Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society (Cambridge, MA 1995)

Silk, M. (ed.) (1996) Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond (Oxford)

Vernant, J.-P. and Vidal-Naquet, P. (1988) Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece, trans. J. Lloyd (New York)

Whitmarsh, T. (2014) 'Atheistic Aesthetics: The Sisyphus Fragment, Poetics, and the Creativity of Drama', Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society 60: 109–26

Wiles, D. (1997) Tragedy in Athens: Performance Space and Theatrical Meaning (Cambridge)

Wiles, D. (2000) Greek Theatre Performance: an Introduction (Cambridge)

Williams, B. (1993) Shame and Necessity (Berkeley, CA)

Winkler, J. and Zeitlin, F. (eds.) (1990) Nothing to Do with Dionysus? (Princeton)

Winnington-Ingram R. P. (1980) Sophocles: An Interpretation (Cambridge)

Philoctetes specifically:

We will be approaching Philoctetes under the following loose headings:

Chorus; Rhetoric; Pain and Pity; Myth/Hero/Gods; Nature and Landsape

The bibliography below will assist you, in conjunction with targeted readings from the general bibliography above, on which I will provide specific guidance [subject to further updates].

Bers, V. (1981) ‘The Perjured Chorus in Sophocles’ Philoctetes’, Hermes 109: 500–4

Blundell, M. W. (1988) ‘The Phusis of Neoptolemus in Sophocles’ Philoctetes’, Greece and Rome 35: 137–48

Falkner, T. (1998) ‘Containing tragedy: rhetoric and self-representation in Sophocles’ Philoctetes’, CA 17: 25–58

Gill, C. (1980) ‘Bow, Oracle, and Epiphany in Sophocles’ Philoctetes’, Greece and Rome 27: 137–46

Goldhill, S. (2003), “Tragic emotions: the pettiness of envy and the politics of pitilessness,” in D. Konstan and N. Rutter (eds.) Envy, Spite and Jealousy (Edinburgh) 165–80.

Heaney, S. (1991) The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes (New York)

Hesk, J. (2000) Deception and Democracy in Classical Athens (Cambridge) 188–201, on Philoctetes

Nooter, S. (2012) ‘Poetic speakers in Sophocles’, in K. Ormand (ed.) A Companion to Sophocles (Wiley-Blackwell), 204–19.

Nussbaum, M. (1976-7) ‘Consequences and Character in Sophocles’ Philoctetes’, Philosophy and Literature 1: 25–53

Nussbaum, M. (2013) ‘”The morality of pity”: Sophocles’ Philoctetes’, in R. Feski (ed.) Rethinking Tragedy(Baltimore)

Roisman, H. M. (2005) Sophocles: Philoctetes ((Duckworth Companions to Greek and Roman Tragedy, London)

Rose, P. W. (1976) ‘Sophocles’ Philoctetes and the Teaching of the Sophists,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 80: 49–105: reworked in

Rose, P. W. (1992) Sons of the Gods, Children of Earth: Ideology and Literary Form in Ancient Greece (Ithaca, Ny) ch. 5, ‘Sophocles’ Philoktetes and the Teachings of the Sophists: A Counteroffensive’

Woodruff, P. (2012) ‘The Philoctetes of Sophocles’, in K. Ormand (ed.) A Companion to Sophocles (Wiley-Blackwell), 126–40 (with further bibliography).



Module Convenor:

Professor David Fearn


This module is worth 30 CATS