Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)


Department: Classics and Ancient History


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap None.


  • 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.
  • In accordance with the pathway in Ancient Epic, to study and comment in detail on one book of Homer, using ancient and modern commentaries; to develop the skills needed to write a commentary on Homer; to develop a clear understanding of the relevant theoretical issues, to relate Homeric poetry to the study of Near-Eastern and Roman epic.


  • The precise content changes yearly, but will always be based on a selection of Greek epic texts. Typically students will be asked to prepare approximately 100 lines of verse per fortnightly seminar, and also to read four to six chapters or articles in the scholarly literature per seminar. By the end of the module, students will have read the equivalent in terms of length of one book of epic, and will also have read a substantial proportion of the relevant scholarly discussion on the selected texts. Texts which are more difficult to read, because they are in a fragmentary or mutilated state, may be shorter than this. Students will be encouraged to engage with ancient as well as modern commentaries on the text.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The module builds on previous knowledge of classical literature and ancient Greek and focuses on Homeric epic, as well as on the history of the classical commentary. It works on Homeric epic by making full use of the insights gained by comparing it to other epic traditions. It addresses the theoretical issues raised by the practice of writing commentaries; and develops the specific knowledge required to comment on one particular book of Homer. By the end of this module, students should have acquired detailed knowledge of Homeric poetry and the relevant secondary literature; they will be familiar with the theory and practice of writing commentaries, and will be able to discuss some larger issues faced by all commentators on ancient epic, whether Greek, Roman or Near-Eastern (e.g. impact of oral delivery, relationship to other genres of poetry, diachronic development, heroism, the gods etc.).
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the technical, linguistic and literary skills needed to write a commentary on Homer: they will learn to understand the apparatus criticus of their text, to use concordances, electronic word-search 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 commentating.
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), as well as providing the opportunity to develop skills of oral presentation. 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 on specific aspects of Homeric epic and on sample commentaries of a passage of Homer chosen by the student (of about 100 lines), written up from the seminar presentations. Summative assessment will be by one 5,000-word submission comprising: two short introductory essays on key issues in the interpretation of Homeric epic (1,000 words each) and a sample commentary of about 100 lines of Homer (3,000 words). Submissions should demonstrate the connection between close reading (as exemplified by the commentary) and overall discussions of key aspects of Homeric epic (as explored in the essays). For example: an understanding of formulas from a comparative perspective should affect their treatment in the commentary section.

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: Sample commentary with two essays Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Sample Commentary on Greek Epic 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Sample commentary and essays. These will be written up from oral presentations made in the seminar.

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