Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module CLAS44230: Dreams in the Ancient World

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS44230: Dreams in the Ancient World

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 independent and self-motivated research on ancient literary and philosophical sources.


  • In the Greco-Roman world, dreams were an important object of reflection and investigation, but the way in which they were conceived, interpreted and explained underwent significant changes through time. Numerous properties were attributed to them: they were believed not only to reveal one’s innermost intentions and passions, but also divine pronouncements, medical diagnoses and therapies, as well as unknown or future events, and they could even affect individual and public life and decisions. Dreams were variously categorised, according to their provenance (internal, external), origin (psychical, physical, material, divine) and function, and received divergent, even contrasting, explanations, in line with diverse theoretical approaches, contexts and the purposes they served (e.g., narrative, polemical).
  • This module will analyse a selection of passages from philosophical and literary works, in order to explore the conceptions developed around dreams throughout antiquity. The authors examined will include: Homer, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Lucretius, Cicero. In order to investigate changes in attitudes towards dreams from the II century AD onward, attention will also be paid to: Plutarch of Chaeronea, Galen, Lucian of Samosata, Aelius Aristides, Artemidorus of Daldis, Synesius of Cyrene. All texts will be studied in translation.
  • Emphasis will be placed in particular on the following themes: ancient explanations and interpretations of dreams; the role and function of dreams in antiquity within a specific narrative or set of arguments (whether these be reported, merely mentioned, or even called into question); the perceived relation between dreams and politics, or more widely history; the truth-value of dreams, and the information they might convey regarding the self, the cosmos, the transcendent realm, and the future.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module, students will gain a critical perspective on attitudes towards dreams in antiquity. They will also be familiar with the main disputes involving the nature of dreams and their cognitive functions. Students will also appreciate the complex ways in which dreams interact with the spheres of myth, religion, magic, science, and specific fields of philosophical enquiry (psychology, epistemology, theology).
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will develop the critical skills necessary for studying a range of ancient sources within their specific historical-cultural context. They will gain an understanding of some fundamental categories for the study of the ancient world (e.g., ‘belief’, ‘scepticism’, ‘religion’, ‘atheism’, ‘science’), and be able to ground that understanding in the conceptual and lexical apparatus of the sources analysed.
Key Skills:
  • Students will gain the ability to identify and examine relevant ancient sources and modern scholarship, and on that basis formulate an independent view of the subjects studied; present well-structured arguments and interpretations, both in written and oral forms, clearly and effectively; and work and research independently, by using the library, IT resources, online databases.

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

  • Teaching will be by fortnightly seminars. Lessons will be organised around a student presentation on a given topic; this will encourage independent work and research and will promote an inclusive discussion in which all the participants are invited to present their own views and express their knowledge in a critical, convincing and coherent way.
  • Formative essay of 2,500 words, developed from in-class presentation. Summative essay of 5,000 words. Formative and summative assessment will help students develop the capacity of presenting their knowledge and views, based on the study of the sources and the relevant secondary literature, in a well-structured way and according to the standards of scholarly research.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 4 in Michaelmas term, 4 in Epiphany term 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:

One essay (2,500 words), developed from in-class presentation

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