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Paper A1: Homer, Odyssey and Virgil, Aeneid

Course Directors: Dr R Laemmle (Odyssey) and Prof. 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 2023–24

The paper will be divided into two sections. Candidates must answer at least one question from each section, and three questions in all.

Section A will contain three questions. Question A1 presents several passages from each of the Odyssey and the Aeneid. Candidates should discuss (separately) any two of the passages, translating wherever translation will help clarify their argument. Question A2 presents the same passages as question A1. Candidates should discuss (separately) any two of the passages not already commented on in A1, translating wherever translation will help clarify their argument. Question A3 presents several pairs of passages, including at least one pair taken both from the Odyssey, one pair taken both from the Aeneid, and one pair of which one passage will be taken from the Odyssey and the other from the Aeneid; candidates should discuss any one of the pairs, translating wherever translation will help clarify their argument.

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

In 2024-25 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


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)

The Odyssey is 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 poem’s major themes, the lectures will first proceed 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 gods, geography, gender, class, narrative, similes, language, song, performance, neoanalysis and oralism, and much besides.

Please read as much of the text as possible in Greek beforehand and bring a Greek text to each lecture.


Recommended editions:

Allen, T.W. (2nd edn, 1917) Homeri Opera Tom. III and IV (Oxford) [from which examination passages will be set]

van Thiel, H. (1991) Homeri Odyssea (Hildesheim, Zürich, and New York)

Other editions:

West, M.L. (2017) Homerus Odyssea (Berlin/Boston)

von der Mühll, P. (3rd edn, 1962) Homerus Odyssea (Munich and Leipzig)


Recommended commentaries on the entire poem:

A Commentary on Homer’s Odyssey (Oxford 1988–1992); Vol. I: Introduction and books I–VIII, edd. A. Heubeck, S.R. West, J.B. Hainsworth (1988); Vol. II: Books IX–XVI, edd. A. Heubeck, A. Hoekstra (1989);  Vol. III: Books XVII–XXIV, edd. J. Russo, M. Fernández-Galiano, A. Heubeck (1992).

Homer, Odyssey; Vol. 1: Books I–XII, Vol. II: Books XIII–XXIV, ed. with introduction and commentary by W.B. Stanford (London, 2nd ed. 1959, repr. 2001)

de Jong, I.J.F. (2001) A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey (Cambridge)


Recommended commentaries on individual books of the Odyssey:

CUP Green and Yellows (all Cambridge)
Garvie, A.F. (1994) Odyssey VI-VIII
Bowie, A.M. (2013) Odyssey XIII and XIV
Steiner, D. (2010) Odyssey XVII and XVIII
Rutherford, R.B. (1992) Odyssey XIX and XX

Other commentaries on individual books or segments of the Odyssey
Pulleyn, S. (2019) Homer, Odyssey I, edited with an introduction, translation, commentary, and glossary (Oxford)
Jones, P. (1991) The Odyssey 1&2, with an introduction, translation and commentary (Warminster)


Paper A2: Greek Poetry of the Roman Empire

Course Director: Prof. T J G Whitmarsh

Aims and objectives

  1. To explore the range and variety of poetic texts composed in Greek in the Roman Empire through a representative sample.
  2. To understand the cultural context within which poetry was produced and consumed.
  3. To understand how the changing political and religious climate of the Roman Empire was reflected and processed in Greek poetry.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2023–24

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 2024-25 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course description 


(16 L, 3 C: Lent)

This paper surveys the Greek poetry of the Roman Empire, from the second through to the fifth centuries CE, covering lyric poetry, epigram, fable, didactic poetry, mythological epic and Christian poetry. This is an area of Greek literature that is seeing some of the most exciting work in contemporary scholarship, yet there are few opportunities for students to explore it at undergraduate level. This course will set the poetry against a background of cultural, political and religious change; it will introduce them to poems in a variety of metres, and on a range of topics; it will explore the reasons for crucial changes over time in metrical practice and pronunciation, and in the social functions of poetry; it will also cover the relationship between late poetics and oracular poetry and inscribed verse. Most of all, however, it will explore some extraordinarily rich, influential and eye-opening material, with emphasis laid upon poetic technique, intertextuality, sophisticated play, eroticism and political and religious commitment.


Content notes:

War, military violence and expugnation (Quintus of Smyrna, Triphiodorus).

Conflict between animals (Babrius) and fish (Oppian).

Consensual sex between humans (Anacreontea, Musaeus, Agathias).

Voyeurism and sexual assault (Nonnus).

Religious conflict (Gregory of Nazianzus).


Recommended reading:

Accorinti, D. ed. 2016. Brill’s Companion to Nonnus of Panopolis. Leiden.

Bowie, E.L. 1990. ‘Greek Poetry in the Antonine Age’. In Russell, D. ed. Antonine Literature. Oxford: 53–90.

Carvounis, K. and Hunter, R. eds. 2008. Signs of Life? Studies in Later Greek Poetry = Ramus 37.1–2.

Goldhill, S. 2020. Preposterous Poetics: The Politics and Aesthetics of Form in Late Antiquity. Cambridge.

Greensmith, E. 2020. The Resurrection of Homer in Imperial Greek Epic: Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica and the Poetics of Impersonation. Cambridge.

Kneebone, E. 2020. Oppian’s Halieutica: Charting a Didactic Epic. Cambridge.

Miguélez Cavero, L. 2007. Poems in Context: Greek Poetry in the Egyptian Thebaid 200-600 AD. Berlin and Boston.

Shorrock, R. 2011. The Myth of Paganism: Nonnus, Dionysus and the World of Late Antiquity. London.

Whitmarsh, T. 2013. Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism. Berkeley. (chs. 9–12)


List of texts:

Babrius, prologues 1–2 and Mythiambs 75, 103, 108 (Mythiambs in in Hopkinson 1994; prologues in Loeb)

Anacreontea 1–6 (in Hopkinson 1994)

Mesomedes, Ecphrasis of a sponge (in Hopkinson 1994)

Selected Epigrams from the ‘Cycle of Agathias’ (in Hopkinson 1994)

Oppian, Halieutica 1.338–59, 1.446–508, 2.389–418, 3.482–527, 5.612–74 (all in Hopkinson 1994)

Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 13–14

Triphiodorus, The Sack of Troy

Gregory of Nazianzus, Concerning His Own Life; Complaint Concerning His Own Calamities

Nonnus, Dionysiaca Books 5, 8, 11–12, 15–16

Musaeus, Hero and Leander (in Hopkinson 1994)


Recommended editions (from which passages set in examinations will be taken):

Hopkinson, N. 1994. Greek Poetry of the Imperial Period: An Anthology. Cambridge

Hopkinson, N. 2018. Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica. Loeb. Cambridge, MA. (Available online)

Miguélez Cavero, L. 2013. Triphiodorus: The Sack of Troy. A General Study and a Commentary. Berlin. (Available online)

Perry, B.E. 1965. Babrius and Phaedrus. Loeb. Cambridge, MA. (Available online)

Rouse, W.H.D. 1940. Nonnos, Dionysiaca. With an English Translation by W.H.D. Rouse, Mythological Introduction and Notes by H.J. Rose and Notes on Text Criticism by L.R. Lind, Vol. 1 (Books 1–16). Loeb. Cambridge, MA. (Available online)

White, C. 1996. Gregory of Nazianzus: Autobiographical Poems. Cambridge. (Available online)


Recommended commentaries:

Renker, S. 2020. A Commentary on Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 13. Bamberg.

Carvounis, K. 2019. A Commentary on Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 14. Oxford.

Hopkinson, N. 1994. Greek Poetry of the Imperial Period: An Anthology. Cambridge.

Miguélez Cavero, L. 2013. Triphiodorus: The Sack of Troy. A General Study and a Commentary. Berlin. (Available online)

Montiglio, S. 2020. Musaeus’ Hero and Leander: Introduction, Greek Text, Translation and Commentary. London. (Available online)

Simelidis, C. 2009. Selected Poems of Gregory of Nazianzus: I.2.17; II.1.10, 19, 32. A Critical Edition with Introduction and Commentary. Göttingen. (On the Complaint only.) (Available online)


Paper A3: Horace's Odes

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 2023–24

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 2024-25 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


(12 L: Michaelmas)

A3 offers students the chance to study all 103 of Horace’s celebrated Odes – his masterpiece and the most significant collection of short poetry in Latin. You will discover love poems, drinking poems, moralizing reflections on life, political poems, and poems about poetry. The Odes provide an ideal training ground for a variety of critical approaches; new criticism, post-structuralism, reader response, feminism, and much else have all contributed to our understanding.

There will be 12 lectures on general themes such as the symposium, Horace’s poetic career, genre, metapoetics and metre, addressees, gender and patronage. To supplement these, there will be 4 classes to allow students to present their own readings in seminar form and discuss poems together.

Introductory readings:

David West’s lively running commentaries on Odes1–3 (Oxford, 1995, 1998, 2002) are always thought-provoking. See also Gregson Davis, Polyhymnia (Berkeley, 1991); S.J. Harrison (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Horace (2007); E. Oliensis, Horace and the Rhetoric of Authority (Cambridge, 1998). See also the extensive bibliography on Moodle.

Recommended edition (from which passages set in examinations will be taken):

Oxford Classical Text (E. C. Wickham, 2nd edn revised by H. W. Garrod)

Cambridge Green and Yellow texts: Mayer (Book I), Harrison (Book II); Woodman (Book III); Thomas (Book IV).


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

Course Directors: Prof. S 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 2023-24

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 2024-25 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.

After two lectures on the history of transmission, we move on to practical classes on palaeography before making our way through the set text and discussing how it should be constituted.

Graduate students, as well as all undergraduates, are most welcome.


List of texts(s): Sophocles OT 1-462


Content notes:

Our play, famously, involves incest, patricide, and self-harm.


Introductory reading:

P.J. Finglass, ‘The Textual Transmission of Sophocles’ Dramas’, in K. Ormand (ed.), A Companion to Sophocles, Malden, MA, 2012: 9–24.

L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 4th ed., Oxford 2013.

E.M. Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Palaeography, Oxford 1912.

M.L. West, Textual Criticism and Editorial Technique, Stuttgart 1973.


Recommended editions/commentaries of texts:

R.D. Dawe, Oedipus Rex. Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006 (2nd revised edition); the Oxford Classical Text 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).




(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.

Prescribed poems: 1-8, 62, 69-116.

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. Postgraduate students are also invited to attend throughout; they may find the later lectures, which will acquaint them with the less familiar metres, particularly beneficial.

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