Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module CLAS43730: Plutarch of Chaeronea: Platonism at the Turn of the Second Century A.D.

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS43730: Plutarch of Chaeronea: Platonism at the Turn of the Second Century A.D.

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • 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 sub-discipline of ancient philosophy for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.


  • The size and breadth of Plutarch’s surviving philosophical corpus makes him the most accessible representative of the Platonist movement which, in the first two centuries AD, was starting to have a significant impact on the philosophical agenda. He also is also one of the most important sources for our knowledge of earlier Platonism and the views of the Hellenistic schools, making a knowledge of Plutarch a precondition for the study of philosophy in the early Academy, and of Hellenistic as well as Post-Hellenistic philosophy. At the same time his works, which are very varied in form and rarely systematic in exposition, demand careful reflection on the reader’s generic and philosophical expectations, and therefore offer good higher-level training for the reading of ancient philosophical texts.
  • The module classes will focus on texts drawn from the so-called moralia to explore Plutarch’s views on a full range of philosophical topics. Texts which students will know especially well by the end of the course will typically include: De virt. mor., De ser. num. vind., De gen. Soc., De fac., Q. Plat., De an. proc.
  • Students will also be asked at the begninning of the year to research some particular topic through the whole of Plutarch’s corpus (not excluding the Lives, where philosophical themes are put to use, even if not thematised): the summative assessment will normally require them to write this research up in the light of the understanding of Plutarch’s philosophical system that they have acquried through the seminar work. (Examples of suitable might include Plutarch on fate, or daemons, or forms, or courage . . . etc., depending on the interests and research needs of the student.)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • The module builds on previous knowledge of ancient philosophy: suitable background includes good knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, or the Hellenistic schools, or broader knowledge of all of them. It looks at the construction of the best evidenced Platonist system form the 1st / 2nd centuries AD, a system which assimilates and self-consciously engages with all these philosophical systems. By the end of the module, students will have an overview of Plutarch’s entire corpus, and close familiarity with texts needed for reconstructing the cardinal points of his system in the round.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will need to develop the historical and philosophical skills relevant to the handling of the written evidence for ancient philosophical ideas and debates, across a range of genres and in a range of subject-areas (especially ethics, metaphysics, epistemology). In particular, they will be asked, sometimes on the basis of contested or indirect evidence, to develop and defend philosophically plausible reconstructions of Plutarch’s system, and to situate it with a meaningful dialectical context.
Key Skills:
  • The analytical and interpretative skills required for the successful completion of this module are transferable to any field which demands inference from limited evidence, and a capacity for disinterested reconstruction of other (and sometimes alien) views. 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 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.
  • Students will be encouraged to attend undergraduate lectures in appropriate subjects where available and an appropriate source of relevant material (e.g. Stoicism; Knowledge and Doubt in Hellenistic Philosophy).
  • Formative assessment will be based on essays written up from the seminar presentations – two during the year. Summative assessment will be by one 5,000 word essay to be submitted at the end of the year. These exercises will foster the ability to provide clear and detailed written articulation of philosophical positions and historical reconstruction, provide practice for the use of appropriate conventions and style in setting out written research, and ensure that research and assimilation of secondary literature is carried out at the appropriate level.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation for seminars 160
Preparation for assessed work 124
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, one to be submitted in Michaelmas term and one to be submitted 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