Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS3661: Lives & Afterlives of the Greek and Roman Poets

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3661: Lives & Afterlives of the Greek and Roman Poets

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or CLAS1601 or CLAS2151


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • This module explores the reception of ancient poetry through the lens of a particular mode of reception from antiquity to modernity: "biography", broadly conceived as the narrativization, dramatization, depiction and impersonation of the life and/or death of an author through different media. In doing so, it will enable students to enhance their awareness of the key theoretical and methodological challenges involved in reception studies and issues of authorship more broadly. It will also enable students to extend their breadth of knowledge and depth of analytical skill by exposing them to unfamiliar material within broad chronological horizons, developing independent learning through in-depth case studies.


  • Recent trends in Classics have increasingly begun to view the lives of the Greek and Roman poets not so much as a form of factual "history" but rather as a mode of literary interpretation: lives of the poets, in other words, are a means of interpreting their works. This course takes that approach, but instead of focusing on the ancient lives alone, it will move the discussion forward to examine various instances of lives as reception from antiquity to the present day. The lives of the ancient poets largely take their material from the poems themselves. But rather than seeing this as a ˜problem", we will be looking at life-writing as a creative mode of reception. Many of the sources will be text-based, but we will also be looking at visual culture where relevant (e.g. tombs and portraits). Among the key questions explored will be: what is an author? How is an author constructed by later ages? How do different genres or media (e.g. drama, poetry, portraiture) impact on that construction?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • An enhanced critical understanding of theories of authorship, biography and life-writing.
  • A broad and sophisticated overview of biography as a mode of reception.
  • A deeper understanding of the reception of ancient poets within and beyond the limits of antiquity.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An understanding of biography as a mode of reception within the wider framework of classical reception studies.
  • Building on level 2 work, developed critical skills in the close reading and analysis of texts and other media, including the ability to synthesize, interpret and evaluate a wide range of primary and secondary sources across a range of periods.
  • Enhanced competence in conducting self-directed primary research using a variety of sources.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to construct an in-depth and lucid argument in written form.
  • The capacity for critical thinking and independence.
  • Research skills, including the sourcing, selection and analysis of a range of relevant and previously unfamiliar information.

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

  • Lectures will introduce key concepts and authors, with case-studies of individual poets used to illustrate and develop methodological issues relevant across the module.
  • Suggested bibliography for each lecture will encourage students to shape and develop their own areas of interest within the module as it progresses.
  • Seminars will afford an opportunity for more in-depth investigation of key issues through close discussion of primary and secondary sources.
  • Assessment will be primarily essay-based, enabling students to develop their own areas of interest within the module.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 1 per week 1 hour/2 terms 20
Seminars 5 3 in Michaelmas term and 2 in Epiphany term 1 hour/2 terms 5
Preparation and reading 175
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative essay 1 3,500 words 60% Yes
Summative essay 2 2,500 words 40% 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