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BA Latin and French

Year of entry: 2020

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Course unit details:
Greek Tragedy

Unit code CAHE31012
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Classics & Ancient History
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The dramas of 5th Century Athens can be deceptively familiar, known to us as the basis of western theatre and often studied as A-Level texts. This module will show that tragedy is a far more problematic and complicated genre than we might realize. It challenges us to consider what it is to be human, and how we understand the nature of reality. Passages of great lyric beauty and philosophical reflection are combined with an unflinching portrayal of the darkest aspects of life and death. The dramas can appear both as strikingly modern and yet terrifyingly alien.  Plays by each of the three great tragedians (Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides) are studied, and we will consider contemporary views as seen in the works of Aristotle and Aristophanes. The plays will be analysed as part of the 5th Century Athenian 'performance culture' with close attention to issues of staging. Those taking the linguistic versions will read selections of two texts in the original Greek.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Greek Tragedy CAHE21012 Anti-requisite Optional

Pre-requisite units

Non-linguists: none; Linguists: (at least) A-level/Intensive Greek 1 or equivalent (higher is fine).

Co-requisite units

Non-linguists: none; Linguists: (at least) Advanced Greek 2 or equivalent (higher is fine).



This course is designed to provide students with a detailed and wide-ranging understanding of ancient Greek tragedy, as a manifestation of 5th Century culture and as a foundation for western theatre.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

Demonstrate a good understanding of the contexts and issues presented by the study of ancient drama.

Discuss the current scholarly debates and evaluate new approaches.


On successful completion of the course students will have explored the dynamics of individual plays, the characteristics of each playwright’s work, and the nature of the genre as a whole. Topics for discussion will include aspects of production, including music, and the Athenian civic context. We will also consider a range of synoptic topics such as the roles of women in tragedy and the representation of the gods.

Teaching and learning methods

  • 2 x 1 hour lectures per week;
  • 1 x 1 hour seminar per week;
  • 1 dedicated consultation hour per week;
  • Blackboard: course material, handouts and other supporting materials;
  • Additional eLearning content: self-administered quizzes, group discussion boards, coursework FAQ pages, advice on revision.

Plenary lectures will introduce key themes with examples, and provide a framework to guide students’ engagement with primary and secondary reading. Tutorials will provide opportunities for detailed study of particular texts and allow students to develop their own arguments in oral and written form.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a good understanding of the issues we confront when dealing with texts in translation;
  • use appropriate terminology when discussing dramatic and literary devices.

Those taking the linguistic option will also be able to translate into good English and discuss the linguistic features of tragic language.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • analyse a literary text with a range of approaches;
  • synthesise material from different sources to produce diachronic and synchronic analyses.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • access relevant primary and secondary materials.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • construct an argument in written and oral form;
  • pose questions about complex issues;
  • assimilate and summarise large quantities of evidence;
  • locate and retrieve relevant information from primary sources;
  • conduct bibliographic searches;
  • present the results in a professional manner with appropriate reference to sources and modern published scholarship;
  • use e-resources and gain knowledge of research methods and resources;
  • manage time and resources;
  • engage in critical discussion.

Employability skills

The course involves a large number of important employment skills, most notably an ability to analyse and examine a large amount of often difficult information, an ability to see both sides of an argument, the ability to synthesise an argument in a cogent form, the ability to retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a compelling and cogent fashion.

Assessment methods

Assessment task


Weighting within unit


3000 words

0% formative


3000 words

50% summative


2 hours

50% summative


Feedback methods

  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment).
  • Written feedback on formative and summative assessment (see above); The first piece of formative coursework is a draft commentary which will receive detailed feedback. Students are encouraged to use this to present a more developed commentary on the same topic to be assessed summatively.


Recommended reading

Plays will be chosen from the set text, which all students must buy:

Greek Plays: Sixteen Plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, M. Lefkowitz & J. Romm, Ballantine Books (2nd ed. 2017), ISBN: 978-0812983098.

Linguists will also read passages provided from Aeschylus’ Eumenides and Euripides’ Bacchae.


Secondary reading:

  • CSAPO, E., & SLATER, W., The Context of Ancient Drama (Michigan 1994) 
  • DUNN, F., Tragedy’s End (New York 1996) 
  • DOBROV, G., Figures of Play: Greek Drama and Metafictional Poetics (Oxford 2001) 
  • EASTERLING, P., The Cambridge Companion To Greek Tragedy (Cambridge 1997) 
  • GOLDHILL, S. & OSBORNE, R. (edd.), Performance Culture and Athenian Democracy ( Cambridge 1999)
  • GRIFFITHS, E. M., Euripides: Heracles (London, 2006) 
  • GRIFFITHS, E. M., Euripidean letters and Thucydides’ Athens, Politics of Orality (C. Cooper ed., Leiden, 2007) 
  • MOST, G., ‘Apollo’s last words in Aeschylus’ Eumenides’ CQ 56 (2006), 12-18

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 156

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Emma Griffiths Unit coordinator

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