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Songs, Texts, Theories: Greek Lyric Poetry


What is Greek lyric poetry? What are its powers, its claims, its purposes? How does it sing or speak? What are its effects? Who are its most significant and celebrated practitioners, and how best should we appreciate their works?

What is distinctive about Greek lyric: as a form of cultural expression, as genre, literary form, a body of texts, a set of voices, as emotional content? How might we model its relations with other social and cultural aspects of archaic and classical Greece, such as religion, performance, politics, sexuality, sport?

How should we conceptualize it, in relation to broader categories such as song / rhythm / meter / music / literature / rhetoric / history?

How do we, should we, can we relate to its intensities of emotional expression, its modes of address, its uses of myth and imagery, its attitudes to materiality, its sense of its own time, and its contextualizations?

What, even, might we learn about Classics, as an idea, from thinking about Greek lyric?

The main focus of this module will be the close reading of the lyric poetry of Greece from c. 700–350BC, covering such luminous names as Sappho, Alcaeus, Anacreon, Ibycus, Simonides, Pindar, Bacchylides, and Timotheus, but the module will also involve sustained encounters with wider theoretical debates in the history of literature and criticism both within and beyond Classics.

Term 1 focuses on close reading of primary materials and the history of lyric scholarship; the focus of term 2 will be on revisiting the groundwork of term 1 in the light of broader interpretative frameworks and thematics, including sustained engagement with a range of contemporary theoretical perspectives.

The module thus aims to engage students in the interpretation of Greek lyric poetry both within ancient conceptualizations and categorizations and within modern critical-theoretical frameworks beyond Classics.

Students will accordingly be expected to participate in and commit to the challenges of critical and theoretical debate on a weekly basis.

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

  • a broad understanding of the major poems and fragments of Greek lyric poetry, and their relevance for a range of issues pertinent to Classical literary study, including ancient socio-cultural significance (politics, sport, patronage, religion, sympotic lifestyle, sexuality), and contributions to broader debates in critical theory and classical reception;
  • the ability to discuss connections between the poetic form and content of Greek lyric and their interpretative contexts in antiquity; the history of scholarship; and the pertinence of modern critical-theoretical perspectives;
  • developed skills in close reading of literary texts, whether in translation, or in the original Greek (for Q800/Q801 students);
  • gained awareness of comparative dimensions in the study of ancient Greek literature, culture, and thought;

Additionally, final-year students will :

  • develop the ability to set their findings into a wider comparative context, drawing in other aspects of the study of the ancient world;
  • engage creatively with a wider range of secondary literature that includes discussion of classical literature within broader comparative, including critical-theoretical, frames.

This module is available in 2024/5

Module Convenor: Prof. David Fearn