Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module CLAS42730: Law and Drama in Classical Athens

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS42730: Law and Drama in Classical Athens

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2019/20 Module Cap


  • Some knowledge of Greek Drama and experience of reading of literary texts (in the original or translation) at Level 3 is normally required.


  • 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 the field of Ancient Greek Law and Drama for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • Seminar 1: Basic Features of Athenian Law; the performance context of Athenian drama - production, finance, and audience (social classes, women and foreigners).
  • Seminar 2: Sophocles' Antigone: nature of nomos, sources of legitimacy, the relationship between the unwritten laws of the gods and the laws of the polis, the image of the tyrant, the duties of citizens towards officials.
  • Seminar 3: Aeschylus' Eumenides. The portrayal of legal procedure in tragedy, the image of the Areopagus in political thought (was it really aristocratic?), the political background (was there a revolution of Ephialtes?), manipulation of myth.
  • Seminar 4: Aeschylus' Suppliants and other suppliant plays. Supplication as a legal and religious procedure, the four steps of supplication and dramatic action, supplication and dramatic space.
  • Seminar 5: Sophocles' Oedipus the Tyrant. Pollution for murder and Athenian Law, attitudes toward moral responsibility in drama and law, homicide law and the guilt of Oedipus, Oedipus as scapegoat?
  • Seminar 6: Aristotle Poetics. Aristotle, moral/legal guilt, and tragic plots.
  • Seminar 7: Aristophanes' Wasps. Comedy as a source for legal procedure, criticism of the courts or criticism of Philocleon?
  • Seminar 8: Menander and the Law. Menander as a source for Athenian Law, democratic ideology or aristocratic bias?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • This module builds on prior acquaintance with some works of Greek Tragedy to provide an examination in greater depth of the genre of Greek Tragedy, Greek Comedy, and Athenian Law. The seminars deal with major issues of interpretation in the study of Greek Drama. By the end of the module, students should have acquired a close familiarity with some important and representative works of Greek Drama and the basic features of Athenian Law as well as a general understanding of the preconceptions and theories with which modern literary critics approach their subject.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will develop skills in literary and legal analysis relevant to the handling of a range of texts by key Greek dramatists. They will become familiar with ancient views (implicit and explicit) the relationship between law and drama. They will also gain experience of a range of modern theoretical approaches to the interpretation of these texts.
Key Skills:
  • The interpretative and analytical skills required by this module are transferable to any field which requires detailed engagement with literary materials and the assimilation, assessment, structuring and presentation of heterogeneous data. Successful students will develop an insight into various methods and categories of induction, and sensitivity to the effect of differing forms of verbal expression. This module 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 by seminar, with each session being structured around a student presentation on a particular topic. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought on the topic(s) for which they undertake the presentation, as well as gaining practice in articulating their conclusions.
  • The seminars are fortnightly, to allow and encourage adequate preparation of the topic by those giving the paper, and preparatory reading on the part of the rest of the participants. They are two hours in length so as to permit detailed discussion of the topic, with an onus on all to engage with the text(s) under discussion, assess the coherence of the interpretation, and encourage critical reflection.
  • Formative assessment will be based on two essays written up from the seminar presentations.
  • Summative assessment will be by one 5000 word essay to be submitted at the end of the year.

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:

Two essays, written up from the seminar presentations, 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