Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS2931: Beauty and Goodness

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS2931: Beauty and Goodness

Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • One module on or related to ancient philosophy or cultural history (e.g. CLAS 1101, 1761, 1601)


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To be able to read critically texts in ancient philosophy and literature.
  • To articulate authors’ ideas in clear and well-structured ways, and to formulate precise objections and challenges.
  • To learn how to reconstruct philosophical arguments.
  • To develop an understanding of the role of beauty and goodness in ancient Greek literature and philosophy.
  • To understand how the ancient notions of beauty and goodness shape our views and still influence debates in ethics, politics and aesthetics.
  • To understand how ancient philosophical ideas were received and modified in the Middle Ages.


  • Beauty and goodness are some of the most important values in ancient Greek literature and philosophy. They are often associated with the pleasant and they are combined in the ancient notion of kalokagathia (beauty-and-goodness). By examining what ancient authors conceive as beautiful and good, this course offers a thematically focused perspective on their views of the world, in particular regarding ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Throughout the history of ancient literature and philosophy, authors thematise the good and the beautiful in different ways. For ancient authors, the best and most beautiful is often what matters most and what they wish to achieve in life. At times, the good and the beautiful are assigned to the same object, while other times, they are impossible to reconcile. Through an analysis of texts about the good and the beautiful this course retraces the intellectual history of these values from Homer to Lucretius. The course ends with a brief discussion of the reception of ancient ideas, for instances in the Middle Ages. Readings may include selections from: the Homeric poems, Sappho, Pindar, Theognis, Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Stoic and Epicurean texts, Albertus Magnus and William of Moerbeke. This course addresses questions such as: do the good and the beautiful go together? What is their relation with the pleasant? Do people agree on what is best and most beautiful? What is the role of the good and the beautiful in ethics, politics and aesthetics? What is the role of motivation and desire in our search for the good and the beautiful? Do the good and the beautiful shape the relation between humans and gods?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An understanding of the development of ideas through a different range of texts in ancient Greek literature and philosophy.
  • An appreciation of how ancient views on beauty and goodness shape debates and developments in ethics, politics and aesthetics.
  • An understanding of the relation between ancient Greek literature and philosophy.
  • Knowledge of representative texts in literature and philosophy and their influence in ancient and modern debates.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to understand, and engage with ancient texts written in a wide range of styles.
  • Critical skills in the close reading and analysis of ancient texts, including the ability to synthesise, interpret and evaluate a wide range of primary and secondary source material.
  • Confidence in handling basic philosophical concepts.
  • Ability to reconstruct philosophical arguments and to formulate objections.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to construct a well-organised argument in written form.
  • The capacity for critical thinking and independent judgement.
  • The ability to engage, assess and compare a range of different arguments and approaches.

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

  • Each class will include a lecture and a discussion component. The lecture will offer an overview of historical, cultural, literary, and philosophical issues, and will also introduce future readings by giving important contextual information about authors, genres, etc.
  • The discussion period offers the chance, through small group and/or general discussion (depending on class size), to ask questions and debate various issues presented in the lectures and the assigned readings.
  • Seminars will afford an opportunity for close reading and extended discussion of key primary texts or critical secondary works.
  • Tutorials will provide an opportunity for the students to get detailed feedback, and discuss more closely the assessments.
  • Assessment will take place through essays.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 1 per week in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 1 hour 20
Seminars 2 1 per term in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 1 hour 2
Tutorials 6 3 per term in Michaelmas and Epiphany Terms 1 hour 6
Preparation and reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Summative Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative Essay 1 1500 words 40% Yes
Summative Essay 2 2000 words 60% Yes

Formative Assessment:

One formative exercise

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