skip to content

Paper A1: Homer, Odyssey and Virgil, Aeneid

Course Directors: Prof. S Goldhill (Odyssey) and Dr I Gildenhard (Aeneid)

Aims and objectives

  1. To study in great depth in the original language one or both of what are among the greatest literary artefacts of antiquity.
  2. To display the full range of modern critical approaches to these poems.
  3. To understand the relationship between these texts and their historical contexts.

Please note that candidates for this paper may choose to study EITHER the Odyssey OR the Aeneid OR both.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2022–23

The paper will be divided into two sections. Candidates will be expected to answer at least one question from each section, and three questions in all.
Section A will contain three questions as follows:
  • A1 Comment on any two of the following passages, translating wherever translation will help clarify your argument.
  • A2 Comment on any two of the following passages (except those that you have already commented on for A1), translating wherever translation will help clarify your argument. A2 can only be chosen together with A1.
  • A3 Comment on one of the following pairs of passages, translating wherever translation will help clarify your argument.
  • Section A1 and A2 will feature four passages from the Odyssey and four passages from the Aeneid.
Section B will contain five essay questions on the Odyssey, five on the Aeneid; and two which require knowledge of both texts.

In 2023-24 the scope and structure of the paper will change.


Course descriptions


(12 L, 4 C: Lent)

The Aeneid is one of the giants of the western literary canon. Myth and history, love and war, triumph and tragedy – there are good reasons why Virgil’s late masterpiece became an instant cultural classic, and why it continues to fascinate readers of all hues. This course is an opportunity to study that poem in the original and in depth. Lectures will combine sequential reading with thematic approaches, situating the poem within (inter al.) the literary tradition, Virgil’s oeuvre and the Augustan ‘cultural revolution’, and charting a route through the lively critical debate that has attended it for two millennia and more. The accompanying classes (with audience participation) will feature discussion of passages and debate over modern interpretative approaches.

Please read as much as possible of the Aeneid in Latin beforehand, preferably using Mynors's Oxford Classical Text (1969); it will also be well worth rereading the Odyssey and Iliad in English. The two-volume commentary on the whole poem by Williams (London 1972, repr. Bristol 1981) is a useful aid to translation, but dated in its critical approach. Among commentaries on single books, Hardie on Book 9 (Cambridge 1994) and Tarrant on Book 12 (Cambridge 2012) best combine readability with literary sophistication. For critical bearings start with Hardie’s Virgil (Greece & Rome New Surveys, 1998) and the Cambridge Companion to Virgil (ed. Martindale, 1997), followed by Oxford Readings in Virgil’s Aeneid (ed. Harrison, 1990) and the Blackwell Companion to Vergil’s Aeneid and its tradition (ed. Farrell/Putnam, 2010).



(16 L, 4 C: Michaelmas)

One of the major texts of world literature, of incalculable cultural significance in antiquity and beyond, and a hugely enjoyable work of great literary sophistication. After an introduction to major themes, the lectures will proceed first sequentially through the text, pulling out and highlighting the themes, techniques and ruses of this ingenious poem; they will then turn to a discussion of broader topics, including gender, narrative, similes, language, song, performance, neoanalysis and oralism, and much besides.

Please read as much as possible in Greek beforehand and bring a Greek text to each lecture. The prescribed text is T. W. Allen, Homeri Opera vols. 3-4,  (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 2nd ed. 1919). You may also consult H. van Thiel: Homeri Odyssea (Hildesheim, Olms: 1991); P. von der Mühll Homerus, Odyssea (Munich and Leipzig, Teubner, 3rd ed. 1962); M.L. West, Homerus, Odyssea (Berlin/Boston, de Gruyter: 2017).

Brief commentary: W.B. Stanford: The Odyssey of Homer (London, Macmillan: 1962); more substantial commentary: A. Heubeck (ed.): A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey (Oxford, Clarendon: 1988–92); I.J.F. de Jong, (2001) A narratological commentary on the Odyssey (Cambridge).

On select books (Green&Yellows):

A. F. Garvie, Odyssey VI-VIII (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 1994);

A. M. Bowie, Odyssey XIII and XIV (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 2013);

D. Steiner Odyssey XVII and XVIII (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 2010);

R.B. Rutherford, Odyssey XIX and XX (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 1992).


Paper A2: Women and Greek Literature

Course Director: Prof. T J G Whitmarsh

Prescribed Texts: Homeric Hymn to Demeter: M.L. West (ed.), Homeric Hymns, Homeric Apocrypha, Lives of Homer, 2003. Alcman 1, 3, 14a, all Sappho, Corinna and Praxilla: D. A. Campbell (ed.) Greek Lyric Poetry: A Selection of Early Greek Lyric, Elegiac and Iambic Poetry; Euripides, Trojan Women: S. Barlow (ed.), 1986*; Aristophanes, Ecclesiazousae: (ed.) A. H. Sommerstein, 1998; Callimachus, Hymn to Athena: A. Bullock (ed.), 1985; Callimachus, Hymn to Demeter: N. Hopkinson (ed.), 1986; Theocritus 2, 15, 18: K. Dover (ed.), Theocritus: A Selection, 1973; Anyte (= Greek Anthology 6.123, 153, 312; 7.190, 202, 208, 215, 486, 490, 492, 538, 646, 649, 724; 9.144, 313, 745; 16.228, 231, 291), Erinna (= Greek Anthology 6.352; 7.710, 712), Moero (= Greek Anthology 6.119, 189) and Nossis (= Greek Anthology 5.170, 6.132, 6.265, 6.273, 6.275, 6.353, 7.414, 7.718, 9.332, 9.604): W. R. Paton (ed.) The Greek Anthology, 5 vols. revised M. A. Tueller, 2014–; Erinna, Distaff: Supplementum Hellenisticum, H. Lloyd-Jones and P. Parsons (eds.), 1983, pp. 187–92Herodas, Mimes 4-7: J. Rusten and I. Cunningham (eds.) Theophrastus, Characters; Herodas: Mimes. Sophron and Other Mime Fragments, 2003; Chariton, Callirhoe 2, 5: G. P. Goold (ed.), 1995.

Aims and objectives

  1. To trace the development of literary writing by women from the archaic to the Imperial period.
  2. To trace the development of the male representation of women from the archaic to the Imperial period.
  3. To understand the political and intellectual contexts of changing representations of women.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2022–23

The paper is divided into two sections. Section A contains passages from the set texts, to each of which is attached a question regarding the passage and/or the work from which it is taken. Section B contains essay questions covering the full range of the set texts and the subjects lectured on. Candidates are required to answer three questions, at least one from each section.

In 2023-24 this course will be replaced by Greek poetry of the Roman empire.


Course description 


(16 L: Lent)

This paper considers female authors in Greek literature, and dominant female characters in male-authored literature. It covers a wide chronological span of texts, from archaic poetics, through classical drama, through Hellenistic poetry to the prose literature of Roman Greece. It aims to present material that may be new to students (along with some better known texts) in a way that is lively, modern and sophisticated. Sappho, of course, plays a central role, as do the female Hellenistic epigramatists; but we shall also consider early choral poetry, Semonides’ misogyny, hymnic poetics, the brilliant fifth-century dramatists, the alleged ‘social realism’ of Hellenistic poetics, and the classicising depiction of courtesans in the prose texts of Lucian and Alciphron. Methodologies will include feminism, performance theory and sociolinguistics.

A full bibliography and a sample paper are available on Moodle. The most useful preparatory reading will be to get on with the ‘Prescribed texts’ over the summer.

To orientate yourself, look at: Beard M., (2014a), ‘Did Women in Greece and Rome Speak?’, British Museum Blog, and-rome-speak/; Hauser E., (2016), ‘In Her Own Words: The Semantics of Female Authorship in Ancient Greece, from Sappho to Nossis’, Ramus 45: 1-32; Klinck, A. L. 2008. Woman’s Songs in Ancient Greece. Montreal; McClure, L. (1999) Spoken Like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama. Princeton; Plant I. M. (ed.), (2004), Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, Norman; Snyder J. M., (1991), The Woman and the Lyre: Women Writers in Classical Greece and Rome, Bristol.


Paper A3: Horace Odes 1-4

Course Director: Prof. E Gowers

Aims and objectives

  1. To read this famous collection of poetry in full.
  2. To assess and form critical responses to the individual poems in the collection and to appreciate their originality, sophistication, engagement with contemporary politics and society and engagement with earlier literature.
  3. To explore the central themes of the the collection: love, drinking, politics, poetry, myth.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2022–23

The paper will be divided into two sections. Each question in Section A will require candidates to comment on an extended passage from the set text (translating only where helpful); Section B will consist of essay questions. Candidates will answer three questions, including at least one from each section.

In 2023-24 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


(16 L: Michaelmas)

The course will be taught with a mixture of lectures and lectures that become classes for part of their duration. We shall explore as many of these famous poems as time allows. There will be introductory lectures on metre, the Greek background and Horace’s career. Then we shall look at the poems under various topical headings: love; the symposium; moralising; politics; the ageing poet in Odes IV, etc.

Recommended editions, etc.

Read the poems with, for books 1–3, David West’s attractive OUP editions, with translation and running interpretative commentary (1995, book 1; 1998, book 2; 2002, book 3). He offers much to provoke, agree with, and argue against. He did not do book 4, but use R. F. Thomas’s Green and Yellow (2011). He too offers much to provoke, in particular the view that sentiment subversive to Augustus can be found in these poems. There are Green and Yellows for books 1 (Mayer) and 2 (Harrison).

The secondary literature is vast. The best reasonably modern book is Gregson Davis, Polyhymnia (Berkeley, 1991). In general, see S. J. Harrison (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Horace (2007).


Paper A4: Greek and Latin Textual Criticism and Transmission of Texts

(in 2022-23 with special reference to Sophocles, Oedipus Rex 1-462; Catullus poems 1–8, 62, 69–116)

Course Directors: Prof. S P Oakley and Dr H Spelman

Aims and objectives

An introduction to the study of why the modern world is still able to read texts from classical antiquity. The aims of the course are:

  1. To introduce the processes by which classical literature has been transmitted from antiquity to the present day.
  2. To introduce the principles and practice of textual criticism through detailed study of particular texts.
  3. To introduce the principles and practice of palaeography through study of selected Greek and Latin manuscripts.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2022-23

The paper will consist of four questions, all of which must be answered.

  1. Two passages from the prescribed Greek text (with some updating of orthography and punctuation) will be set as they are found in a manuscript together with a critical apparatus. Candidates will be asked to choose one and explain which reading they would adopt from the readings offered in the apparatus (or any others of which they are aware). [20 marks]
  2. Two passages from the prescribed Latin text (with some updating of orthography and punctuation) will be set as they are found in a manuscript together with a critical apparatus. Candidates will be asked to choose one and explain which reading they would adopt from the readings offered in the apparatus (or any others of which they are aware). [20 marks]
  3. Four passages, two Greek and two Latin will be set as they are found in a manuscript, or group of manuscripts (with some updating of orthography and punctuation), together with a critical apparatus. Candidates should explain how they would establish the text of any two. These passages may test candidates’ ability to choose between variants when there is a stemma; between variants when there is no stemma; between readings offered by the direct and indirect tradition of authors; when to adopt a conjecture in preference to a manuscript treading. The examiners may provide glosses for unfamiliar words. These topics will be covered briefly in lectures and should be explored further in supervisions. [40 marks, 20 for each question]
  4. Candidates should transcribe a photograph of either a Greek manuscript or a Latin manuscript. [20 marks]

In 2023-24 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged. 


Course descriptions



(16 C (1 hr each): Lent)

The lectures, which will be run as seminars, will focus principally on the history of the transmission of Sophocles in antiquity and the Middle Ages, on the importance of textual questions for the interpretation of the play, how errors arise in the course of transmission, and learning to read manuscripts. Graduate students, as well as all undergraduates, are very welcome.

Recommended edition and commentary: R.D. Dawe, Oedipus Rex. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 (2nd revised edition). Also helpful: the OCT edition of H. Lloyd-Jones and N.G. Wilson (1990; corr. ed. 1992); P.J. Finglass’ commentary in the Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries series (2018); the Aris and Phillips edition of J. R. March (2020).

Introduction to the transmission of Sophocles:

P.J. Finglass, ‘The Textual Transmission of Sophocles’ Dramas’, in K. Ormand (ed.), A Companion to Sophocles. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012: 9–24.

The most helpful general introduction to textual transmission and criticism is L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 4th ed., Oxford 2013

see also

B.M.W. Knox and P.E. Easterling, 'Books and Readers in the Greek World', in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, vol. I, Cambridge 1985: 1-41; R. Pfeiffer, A History of Classical Scholarship from the Beginnings to the End of the Hellenistic Age, Oxford 1968.



(16 L: Michaelmas)

Most of the lectures will take the form of classes, with student participation strongly provoked and encouraged. They will show that it is surprisingly easy to read Latin manuscripts (esp. those of Catullus), and that the constitution of Catullus' text is surprisingly uncertain. Discussion of the textual problems of these famous poems will enable renewed appreciation of their wit: the effect will be not unlike seeing a famous painting that has just been cleaned. Extensive handouts that supplement the commentaries will be provided. Graduate students, as well as anyone interested in the history of texts, are welcome to attend the course.

Suggested reading: L.D. Reynolds & N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars (ed. 4, 2013), especially Chapters 1, 4, 6; R. J. Tarrant, Texts, editors, and readers (CUP, 2016),  G.P. Goold, Phoenix 12 (1958) 93-116. Text of Catullus: please try to use D.F.S. Thomson (Toronto 1997), now in paperback; Mynors’ (OCT 1958 and often reprinted) is not absolutely unacceptable but much less useful for our purposes.



(10 L: Easter)

A detailed survey of all the main Greek and Latin metres. After the principles of prosody and scansion have been set out, these metres will be examined roughly in ascending order of difficulty or unfamiliarity. Earlier lectures will begin with the dactylic hexameter and elegiacs, passing through the iambic trimeter and Roman comic metres, and ending with more complex lyric metres in Greek and Latin. Copies of passages discussed, and optional practice passages, will be provided. The earlier lectures, in particular, are recommended for undergraduates. Graduate students are also invited to attend throughout; they may find the later lectures, which will acquaint them with the less familiar metres, particularly beneficial.

Latest news

VIEWS PhD Studentship

4 April 2023

The Faculty of Classics is recruiting for a PhD student to join the Visual Interactions in Early Writing Systems (VIEWS) project in October 2023. The student will work on a predetermined topic, namely visual aspects of the linear scripts of the Bronze Age Aegean (Cretan Hieroglyphic, Linear A and Linear B), although there...

Classics Shorts with Mary Beard: videos for schools

19 February 2023

We are thrilled to be launching Classics Shorts : a series of videos for schools introducing the ancient Greek and Roman worlds and exploring themes with continuing resonance for the modern classroom. Each film is accompanied by teaching materials for use in schools. Celebrity guests join Mary Beard and her colleagues to...

New appointment in Classical Archaeology

10 February 2023

The Faculty is delighted to announce that Dr Jane Rempel has been appointed to an Assistant Professorship in Classics from 1 September 2023. She is currently Lecturer in Classical Archaeology at the University of Sheffield.

Regius Professorship of Greek

16 January 2023

The Faculty is delighted to announce that Professor Tim Whitmarsh FBA has been elected Regius Professor of Greek from 1 April 2023. He is currently the A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture in the University. Looking ahead to his new role, Professor Whitmarsh commented: ’I am thrilled and honoured to be taking up this...