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Greek Culture and Society - Outline

This module provides an orientation for students of diverse backgrounds across the vast and immensely rich panorama of Greek culture. The module combines detailed literary and artistic appreciation with an understanding of the cultural contexts in which Greek art and literature flourished. It is designed to provide a framework from which students can develop their own individual interests, and to offer a ‘taster’ for the various options that will be available in the second and third years.

The module is arranged around six core themes which interpenetrate throughout the year:

  • 1. Performing the Self

This theme introduces a range of evidence (literary, archaeological, historical, art-historical) for ideas about personal identity in archaic and classical Greece, through an investigation of the following: performance culture; sport, festivals, and competitiveness; Greek lyric poetry; singing, viewing, thinking, and drinking in the symposium.

  • 2. Heroes & the Glory that was Greece

This theme introduces the world of ancient Greece from its beginnings, asking questions about the nature of our access to such a remote past today. It will move on to explore the concept of the hero, and the nature of fame and heroic ideals, through an investigation of Homer’s Iliad and the character of Achilles.

  • 3. Intellectual and Cultural Revolutions

This theme investigates the origins of and major developments in Greek intellectual curiosity and prose-writing.

  • 4. Greek Myth, Monsters, and Religion

This theme introduces students to Greek religion through using diverse literary, historical, and archaeological source-material, with a particular focus on the history and development of archaic and classical art and architecture. Alongside we will look at Greek myth through an exploration of Tragedy and Epic poetry.

  • 5. Living in the Polis

This theme introduces students to a variety of ways to conceptualise the ancient Greeks within their most famous urban environment ‘the polis’. It involves detailed study of the Athenian polis and its democracy, its dramatic festivals and plays, as well as comparison with the polis and system of Sparta. In turn it looks at how the citizens of the Athenian polis built up and inflicted empire on other poleis in the Greek world, and, more widely, how Greek culture and society was riddled with inter-polis rivalry with far-reaching consequences for the history of ancient Greece.

  • 6. Greek Men & Their Others

This theme introduces students to one of the key categories of identity in Greek culture: the other (and there were plenty of ‘others’ to choose from!). It begins with an investigation of the role of Women in Greek Society and moves on to Herodotus and the relationship between Greece and Persia, before examining Greece and the wider Mediterranean, finishing with the relationship between Greece and Rome using a wide variety of literary, epigraphic, numismatic and archaeological evidence. The emphasis will be on the impact these relationships had on the development of Greek history and society.

Module Aims:

  • to present an overview of Greek culture and society from Homeric times to the coming of Rome
  • to explore some of the distinctive characteristics of Greek culture and its social institutions
  • to introduce students to a range of different types of evidence, both literary and visual
  • to encourage students to consider the degrees of continuity and difference between ancient Greek culture and their own beliefs and practices

Module Objectives:

By the end of the module students should have:

  • gained a knowledge of some of the major cultural and social concerns of the Greeks
  • acquired a sense of the changes and developments in Greek culture and society over time
  • developed some ability to discriminate between different types of evidence and critical approaches