Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2007-2008 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2007/08


  • Ability to read Homeric Greek (students must have taken Intermediate Greek, or equivalent), some work in ancient literature at Level 3.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • In accordance with the general aims of the MA in Classics, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.
  • The specific aims of the module are:
  • Study the history of classical commentaries
  • Develop a clear understanding of the relevant theoretical issues
  • Develop the skills needed to write a classical commentary
  • Study in detail one book of Homer, using ancient and modern commentaries


  • Seminars will alternate between practical sessions in which students are expected to comment on portions of the text, and theoretical sessions in which some fundamental aspects of commentary-writing are discussed. Topics will include:
  • the history of the classical commentary;
  • the place of the commentary in classical scholarship;
  • criteria for the selection and presentation of material;
  • the relationship between text, commentary and introductory essays.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The module builds on previous knowledge of classical literature and ancient Greek and focuses on the history of the classical commentary, on the theoretical issues raised by the practice of writing commentaries, and the specific knowledge required to comment on one particular book of Homer. By the end of this module, students should have acquired detailed knowledge about the theory and practice of writing commentaries.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the technical, linguistic and literary skills needed to write a classical commentary: they will learn to understand the apparatus criticus of their given text, to use concordances, electronic word-serarch engines, lexicons, historical grammars, ancient commentaries and scholia, as well as acquire the ability to do bibliographical research and identify the most important publications relating to their section of text. They will also learn to relate their practice as commentators to the history and theory of the classical commentary.
Key Skills:
  • The skills learned in order comment on a specific section of Homeric text are useful for any research project on classical literature and, indeed, in any field that requires close-reading of demanding texts.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminar, which will be structured around a student presentation on the topic for the week. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought (viz. on the topics for which they make a presentation), and that they gain practice in articulating their conclusions. The presentation will be followed by a discussion in which there is an onus on everyone to engage in thought about the scope of the evidence and the coherence of the interpretation presented, encouraging critical reflection. The seminars are fortnightly and 2 hours long rather than (e.g.) weekly and one hour sessions in order to allow and encourage significant preparation, and detailed discussion.
  • Formative assessment will be based on essays and sample commentaries written up from the seminar presentations. Summative assessment will be by one 5,000-word submission comprising: two short introductory essays on specific aspects of the text (1,000 words each) and a sample commentary of about 3,000 words. The submission is meant to mirror the kind of sample that University Presses actually require from prospective commentary authors. Students will be given the actual guidelines offered by Cambridge University Press to authors publishing in their 'Green-and-Yellow' series. This exercise will make students reflect on the best way to present material (e.g. what are suitable topics for the short introductory essays, what is best covered in the notes), it will enable them to understand the kind of choices which commentators have to make, and will help them develop the kind of judgement and discrimination needed in order to write a useful commentary.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation and Reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Sample commentary and essays.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University