Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2012-2013 (archived)

Module CLAS43030: Ancient Philosophers on Origins

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS43030: Ancient Philosophers on Origins

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap None.


  • Some knowledge of reading philosophical texts (in the original or translation).


  • 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 ancient philosophy and further the students’ theoretical and practical skills necessary to pursue independent academic research in the field. This module is meant for MA students with good undergraduate background in Classics, Philosophy, or both.


  • Seminar 1. Introduction: The Western Conditions of Evaluating the Past Main texts: Selections from The Epic of Gilgamesh (Trans. Dalley) and the Songs of Kumarbi and Ullikummi (Trans. Beckman); Homer’s Iliad (I. 247-84 and IV.301-25; Trans. Fagles)
  • Seminar 2. Poets and Mythographers on the Origins of Humankind (Hesiod, Orpheus, Pherecydes) Main texts: Hesiod’s Works and Days 69-201 (Trans. Athanassakis); Selections from R. Fowler’s Early Greek Mythography Vol. 1 (Trans. Fowler) and A. Bernabé’s Poetae Epici Graeci Vol. 2, No. 1 (Trans. West); The Derveni Papyrus (Ed. And Trans. Kouremenos, et al.)
  • Seminar 3. Presocratics and Pythagoreans on the Origins of Understanding (Heraclitus, Parmenides, Ps.-Aeschylus, Philolaus, Archytas) Main texts: Selections from various specific collections of fragments (Eds. Kahn, Coxon, Griffith and Huffman; Trans. McKirahan, Huffman)
  • Seminar 4. The Sophists and Plato on the Origins of Culture Main texts: Homeric Hymn to Hephaestus; Plato’s Protagoras (320d1-324d1); Fragments of Anonymous Iamblichi (Ed. Pistelli; Trans. Dillon and Gergel) and Antiphon the Sophist (Ed. and Trans. Pendrick)
  • Seminar 5. The Presocratics and Plato on the Origins of the Cosmos Main texts: Selected fragments of Anaxagoras (Ed. and Trans. Curd) and Empedocles (Ed. and Trans. Inwood); Selections from Plato’s Timaeus (27d5-34b9) (Trans. Zeyl)
  • Seminar 6. Aristotle and the Origins of Philosophy Main texts: Aristotle, Fragments from Rose’s Collection (esp. On Philosophy) (Trans. Barnes) and Selections from Metaphysics A (Trans. Ross)
  • Seminar 7. Aristotle and Theophrastus on the Origins of Motion (Space-Time) Main texts: Selections from Aristotle’s Metaphysics L, On Generation and Corruption and Physics (Trans. Ross); Selections from Theophrastus, Metaphysics (Trans. Van Raalte)
  • Seminar 8. Epicureans on the Origins of the Afterlife Main text: Lucretius, On the Nature of Things I.1-264, III.1-93 (Trans. Smith)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students will -
  • be closely familiar with some of the main ancient philosophical discussions of what the general concept of an “origin” might mean as well as ancient speculations on the origins of particular subjects as evidenced in the central texts relevant to these topics;
  • achieve familiarity with the larger cultural and social valences of the discourse of “origins”, both Greek and Non-Greek;
  • understand how the ancient views concerning origins represent an early mode of sophisticated inquiry into the universe, both in terms of cultural history as well as the history of science, that remains relevant today;
  • understand the main philosophical problems involved in those discussions and how they remain relevant to current debates in history, anthropology, and the theoretical sciences.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Furthering the students’ ability to understand philosophical texts of a wide range (linguistic, stylistic, and chronological), and the historical, intellectual, and literary contexts that help to inform the discourse of “origins”;
  • Furthering the students’ ability to handle fundamental philosophical concepts and terminology;
  • Furthering the students’ ability to interpret fragmentary evidentiary sources;
  • Furthering the students’ ability to locate and use correctly relevant secondary literature;
  • Promoting the students’ ability to use their philological, historical and philosophical skills to produce research essays at a reasonable level of sophistication, and to adopt the required academic conventions and style.
Key Skills:
  • The module aims at furthering the students’
  • Capacity to sustain clear, well-structured and well-defended arguments both in oral and in written form;
  • Capacity to give constructive feedback and to receive it with profit;
  • Willingness to approach sympathetically ideas and arguments which might sometimes appear alien and surpassed;
  • Effective use of library and IT resources.

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

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly two-hour seminar, which will be structured, typically, around at least one student’s presentation on the topic for the week, which will be usually flexible enough to accommodate the students’ interests (if the number of students should be insufficient to cover all the sessions, some seminars could consists in joint discussion of some particularly significant pieces of the primary and secondary literature on the topic). The presentation will be followed by a discussion in which every student is strongly encouraged to bring a generous and personal contribution and to provide constructive feedback on the content and form of the presentation. Texts in Ancient Greek and a variety of translations, to be distributed by module leader, will be employed.
  • Formative assessment will consist of two essays (of about 3,000 words each) written up from the seminar presentations. Formative essays will be evaluated not only by the instructor, but also by at least one other student, who will be asked to provide detailed feedback to his/her colleague.
  • Summative assessment will be by one 5,000 word essay, to be submitted at the end of the year. It will test the level reached by the students in using their philological, historical and philosophical skills to write research essays at a reasonable level of sophistication and with the appropriate academic conventions and style.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecture/seminar 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 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Two essays of about 3,000 words each (one to be submitted in Michaelmas Term and one 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