Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module CLAS3581: Writing Alexander

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3581: Writing Alexander

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or CLAS1601


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To enhance students' understanding of historiography and the classical tradition, through the figure of Alexander the Great;
  • To increase the depth and sophistication of their readings of the ancient historians;
  • To enrich their awareness of engagements with the ancient world within different cultural and religious traditions.


  • From the moment of his death, the life of Alexander the Great began to be retold. In Josephus, he sacrifices to the God of Israel at the Temple of Jerusalem. In Persian folklore, he visits the river where the sun sets, the land of monstrous spiders, and the realms of giants and fairies. From religious sage to cross-dressing hero(ine) of a Victorian burlesque, Alexander has been insistently reinvented; never has he been safely remembered.
  • Tracing a quicksilver Alexander from the lost work of Callisthenes, through the portraits of Arrian and Plutarch, to the medieval Alexander Romance and beyond, this course will offer an insight into history and narrative at their most magical and elusive. It will examine how remembrance of Alexander became an integral part of many cultural identities: from the heroic Macedonian of nineteenth-century America to the villainous barbarian of the nineteenth-century Parsees of India. Crossing the boundaries between cultures, between self and other, the identity of Alexander has often become richly, provocatively fluid.
  • King and conqueror, sage and prophet, undersea explorer and voyager to the stars, borne aloft by eagles; to remember Alexander is to skirt the limits of history. To study his representation is to explore a fractured past and to engage with the rich complexities of the relationship between the ancient world and later cultures; to understand how (our own) remembrance of that world may be shaped, at the crossroads of history and imagination.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A critical understanding of the theory and practice of classical reception studies, both within the ancient world and later cultures.
  • A broad and sophisticated overview of the life and later reception of Alexander the Great.
  • A deeper appreciation of the place of the ancient world within non-Western cultures particularly India and the Islamic world.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • A deeper critical awareness of historiographical practices within antiquity and later cultures.
  • An ability to understand, and engage with, diverse cultural approaches to the ancient world.
  • Critical skills in the close reading and analysis of ancient texts, including the ability to synthesize, interpret and evaluate a wide range of primary and secondary source material.
  • Greater competence in conducting self-directed primary research, using archival sources.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to construct a lucid and sophisticated argument in written form.
  • The capacity for critical thinking and independent judgement.
  • Information technology skills, including word-processing and the use of electronic resources.

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

  • Lectures will provide an overview of the material, and engage closely with relevant primary and secondary sources.
  • Suggested bibliography for each lecture will encourage students to develop their own areas of interest within the course as it progresses.
  • Seminars will afford an opportunity for close reading and extended discussion of key sources.
  • Tutorials will be designed to provide individual feedback on the student's essays.
  • Students will be encouraged to utilize the extensive range of electronic resources available for primary research within classical reception (digital newspaper archives etc.).
  • Assessment will take place through essays, enabling students to develop their own areas of interest within the course through self-directed research, engaging closely both with primary sources and with broader questions of historiography and reception.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 1 per week 1 hour 20
Seminars 6 3 in Michaelmas Term and 3 in Epiphany Term 1 hour 6
Tutorials 4 2 in Michaelmas Term and 2 in Epiphany Term 1 hour 4
Preparation and reading 170
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay 1 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 2,500 words 100% Yes
Component: Essay 2 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 2,500 words 100% 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