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Group A: Greek and Latin Literature

Paper A1: Homer, Odyssey and Virgil, Aeneid

Course Directors: Prof. T J G Whitmarsh (Odyssey) and Dr C L Whitton (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 2017–18

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. The first question will offer candidates a passage from the Odyssey and a passage from the Aeneid; it will invite candidates to translate and comment on one of the passages. The second question will offer candidates three passages from the Odyssey and three passages from the Aeneid; it will invite candidates to comment on any two of the six passages, translating wherever translation will help clarify candidates’ argument. The third will offer candidates three pairs of passages, one pair taken both from the Odyssey, another pair taken both from the Aeneid, and a third pair, of which one will be taken from the Odyssey and the other from the Aeneid; it will invite candidates to comment on any one of the three pairs, translating wherever translation will help clarify candidates’ argument.

Section B will contain five essay questions on the Odyssey, five on the Aeneid; and two which require knowledge of both texts.

In 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course descriptions


(16 L and 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 the 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, 2nd ed. (Oxford, Clarendon Press: 1919). You may also consult H. van Thiel: Homeri Odyssea (Hildesheim, Olms: 1991). 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). On select books: A. F. Garvie, Odyssey VI-VIII (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 1994);  R.B. Rutherford, Odyssey XIX and XX (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 1992).



(12 L and 4 C: Michaelmas)

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 Mynor’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).


Paper A2: Apollo and Dionysus in Greek Literature

Course Directors: Prof. R L Hunter and Dr R Lämmle

Prescribed Texts: Homeric Hymns to Apollo and Dionysus: M.L. West (ed.), Homeric Hymns, Homeric Apocrypha, Lives of Homer, 2003. Pindar, Pythian 1, 3: use the Loeb edition of W. Race. Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus: use the Oxford Classical Text of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson.  Euripides, Bacchae and Cyclops: use the Oxford Classical Text of J. Diggle. Aristophanes, Frogs: use the edition of K. Dover (Oxford 1993). Callimachus, Hymns to Apollo and Delos: use the edition of R. Pfeiffer (Oxford 1953). Theocritus 26: use the edition of A.S.F. Gow (Cambridge 1952).

Aims and objectives

  1. To trace the development of literary representations of two central Greek divinities from the archaic to the Hellenistic period.
  2. To explore the relationship between Greek cult and religious thought and literary representations of that cult and thought.
  3. To understand the political and intellectual contexts of changing representations of divine action and their reception.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2017–18

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 2018-19 this paper will be replaced by 'Women and Greek Literature'.

Course description 


(24 L: Lent)

Much of the modern conception of ancient Greece is shaped around a supposed tension between the Apolline - rational, hard-headed, political - and the Dionysiac - irrational, ecstatic, unbound. This course will seek to examine this grand vision through the close reading of particular texts, including some of the great masterpieces of Greek literature. Just who or what are the divine figures of Greek literature? Is the Dionysus of Athenian cult the same as the Dionysus of the Frogs? In what sense is tragedy Dionysiac? Can tragedy be Apolline or prophecy Dionysiac? Why is Apollo so often associated with political power? We will trace both continuity and change (why is Dionysus always both old and new?), and seek to understand the various ways in which poets sought to explain and celebrate the threatening power of divinity.

A full bibliography and past papers are available on Moodle. The most useful preparatory reading will be to get on with the ‘Prescribed texts’ over the summer; any text (OCT, Aris & Philips etc) will do.

To orient yourself in Greek religion have a look at J.N. Bremmer, Greek Religion (Greece & Rome New Surveys 24, 1994); W. Burkert, Greek Religion (trans. J. Raffan, Oxford 1985) pp. 143-9 (Apollo) and pp. 161-7 (Dionysos);
On mythology and what myths mean: R. Buxton, Imaginary Greece (Cambridge 1994); Useful introductions to the two gods are: R. Seaford, Dionysus (London 2006), F. Graf, Apollo (London 2009);

Among the various English translations of Nietzsche’s Die Geburt der Tragödie we recommend Douglas Smith, Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Oxford 2000 (Oxford World’s Classics); a good introduction to The Birth of Tragedy is M.S. Silk and J.P. Stern, Nietzsche on Tragedy (Cambridge 1981) pp. 166-85.


Paper A3: Ovid Metamorphoses

Course Director: Dr E Gowers

Aims and objectives

  1. To read this great Augustan hexameter poem in full.
  2. To assess and form critical responses to the poem and appreciate its generic creativity and its engagement with earlier Greek and Latin literature.
  3. To explore the central themes of the poem: relations among gods, animals, plants and men, creation and violence, love, sexuality, change and identity, and the rise and fall of cities.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2017–18

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 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(16 L, 4 C: Lent)

This course will provide an in-depth guide to reading one of the best-loved and most multi-layered of Latin poems. Ovid’s fifteen-book unbroken narrative of myth and history unfolds an alternative story of the world from the beginnings of the cosmos to the age of Augustus, binding together its fluidly generated tales according to the overriding principles of instability and change. Ovid is one of the first and most acute readers of Virgilian epic, whether through the tales of destruction and contingency that challenge the idea of the eternal city and the destined regime or through the fantastical transformations and bizarre love stories that eclipse or sideline global events. He probes the boundaries of gender and family relationships through his fascination with incest, sex-change, bestiality and thwarted attraction. He revisits tragic questions about identity, responsibility and victimization in his world of sentient plants, trapped beasts and hostile gods.

There will be 12 lectures: some will be introductory and follow a roughly chronological order; some will address specific themes, such as metamorphosis and metaphor, generic creativity, allusion and intertext, narrative and rhetorical techniques; others will explore the rich afterlife of the Metamorphoses in two millennia of literature, music and art. In addition, there will be 4 x 1-hour classes offering the chance to discuss central passages in detail.

The text to be used is R. Tarrant’s OCT. There is a good basic two-volume commentary on the first ten books by W. S. Anderson (Oklahoma). Other commentaries will be recommended. A good translation is by A. Melville (Oxford World’s Classics). See the following for a range of approaches to the Metamorphoses and its afterlife: F. Ahl, (1985) Metaformations. Ithaca; L. Barkan (1986) The gods made flesh. New Haven; Bate, J. (1993) Shakespeare’s Ovid. Oxford; A. Feldherr (2010) Playing gods: Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the politics of fiction. Princeton; I. Gildenhard and A. Zissos (eds.) (2013), Transformative Change in Western Thought: A history of metamorphosis from Homer to Hollywood. Legenda; P. Hardie (2002) Ovid’s poetics of illusion. Cambridge; P. Hardie, A. Barchiesi and S. Hinds (1999) Ovidian transformations: essays on the Metamorphoses and its reception. Cambridge Philological Society Suppl. 23; G. Liveley (2010) A reader’s guide to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. London; C. Martindale (1988) Ovid renewed: Ovidian influences on literature and art from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Cambridge; S. Myers (1994) Ovid’s causes. Ann Arbor; J. Solodow (1988) The world of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Chapel Hill.


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

(in 2017-18 with special reference to Sophocles, Electra 1-471; Catullus 17, 22, 62, 64)

Course Directors: Prof. S P Oakley and Dr L Prauscello

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 2017-18

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 2018-19 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged. 

Course descriptions


(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; 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.



(16 C (1 hr each): Lent)

Greek Textual Criticism, with special reference to Sophocles, Electra 1-471. Basic bibliography: L.D. Reynolds & N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars (ed. 3, 1991); H. Lloyd-Jones & N.G. Wilson, Sophoclis Fabulae (OCT 1992, 2nd imprint) and Sophoclea (1990). Edition recommended: P. Finglass, Sophocles, Electra, Cambridge (2007). After an introduction on the transmission of dramatic texts in antiquity, the course will focus on a line-by-line examination of some significant passages of the prescribed text (Sophocles' Electra). A detailed handout will be provided also for the passages not covered during the lectures. The Palaeography classes will provide an introduction to reading and studying Greek papyri and manuscripts, with special attention to Electra. They are intended primarily to supplement A4 lectures, but open to anyone interested in the history of texts.

Suggested preliminary reading: L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars (ed. 3, 1991), E. Turner, Greek Manuscripts of the Ancient World (introduction). More detailed reading list available on the Faculty website.



(10 L: Easter)

Discussion of all the main Greek and Latin metres. These metres will be examined roughly in ascending order of difficulty or unfamiliarity, beginning 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, and they may find the later lectures, which will acquaint them with the less familiar metres, beneficial.

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