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


  • Work in Classical 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 in a specific aspect of the ancient world, i.e. ancient epistolography, for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • The focus of the course will be on letter-writing in the ancient Greek world. This includes the study of documentary letters preserved on stone, lead or papyrus; of literary letters; of letters (fictional or otherwise) embedded in literary texts; and more generally the study of the perception and of the role of letter-writing in respect to the other forms of communication in the ancient world. The overall interpretive approach will be centred on socio-cultural (genre- and gender-related) and historical issues. On the other hand, the use of different types of letters will allow for discussion of various technical aspects, such as problems to do with epigraphical or papyrological evidence, or literary (mainly narratological) issues in the case of embedded letters.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • close knowledge of a wide range of documents, literary, papyrological and epigraphical;
  • a rich understanding of the importance of epistolary writing in the ancient Greek world;
  • appreciation of the methodological questions raised by the study of this type of material.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the historical and philological skills relevant to the analytic evaluation of a wide range of sources. They will be challenged to construct plausible arguments about complex historical data and develop a wide variety of skills to do with the sophisticated understanding of cultural production (such as the emergence and evolution of a literary genre, textual hermeneutics, the functioning of oral and written communication, the relationship between ideology and media of communication).
Key Skills:
  • The analytical and interpretative skills required for the successful completion of this module are transferable to any field, which demands sophisticated understanding of texts and their meaning and the construction of plausible arguments about historical and literary evidence.
  • It also requires the effective use of library and IT resources and good written presentation skills.

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

  • Teaching will be in classes, in which the time will be split between survey introductory lectures given by the instructor, and student presentations based on in-depth individual research. Assessment will take the form of one formative essay (c. 2500 words), based on an in-class presentation, and to be handed in early in Epiphany Term; and one summative essay (5000 words) based on a second in-class presentation, to be handed in in May. Classes and introductory lectures will help the students to orient themselves in the field; student presentations offer the opportunity for early and constructive feedback before the written assignments are due; formative essay after Christmas ensures writing practice and early written feedback, in good time for it to be of use for the summative work.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
class 8 fortnightly 2 16

Summative Assessment

Component: Long essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

One formative essay (c. 2500 words), based on an in-class presentation, and to be handed in early in Epiphany Term

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