BA Ancient History and Archaeology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Greek Epic Poetry

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE31041
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The epics of ancient Greece are among the most powerful works of literature ever written, and form the key models for Latin epics including Virgil’s Aeneid and later poems such as Milton’s Paradise Lost. We examine this key ancient genre principally through two epics from very different periods. The first is the Iliad of Homer, the first surviving work of Western literature, composed in Archaic Greece and telling the story of the clash between Achilles and Hector, the two greatest warriors of the Greeks and Trojans respectively, in the final year of the Trojan War. The second is the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, written under the Ptolemies at Alexandria in Egypt in the Hellenistic period, which tells the story of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece. You will also be introduced to surviving fragments of some of the lost epics of ancient Greece, including the Cypria, which contained many of the most famous episodes from the Trojan War, including the Judgement of Paris.  All students will read and study both major poems in their entirety in translation.


Pre-requisite units



Co-requisite unitsAnti-requisite: this course cannot be combined with CLAH 21041/2 Greek Epic Poetry.



• To introduce students to two key poems (Iliad, Argonautica) within the genre of Greek epic, and their wider contexts
• To enable the appreciation of the main lines of criticism on these poems
• To give students an appreciation of the differences between Homeric and later epic
• To introduce students to the study of texts surviving only in fragments (the Epic Cycle) and the challenges, problems and opportunities involved

Knowledge and understanding

• show a knowledge and critical understanding of the content, form, conventions, and background of two very different major epic poems and their place within the genre of epic
• show an appreciation of some aspects of the nature of poetry composed in a oral tradition
• show an understanding of, and the ability to illustrate, the influence of Homer on Apollonius of Rhodes as well as the profound differences between them
• show an understanding of the nature of studying fragmentary texts and their potential for shedding light on better preserved texts

Intellectual skills

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

  • show the ability to respond thoughtfully to difficult and complex texts, and to comment critically upon them

Practical skills

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

  • manage time and resources


Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will have:

  • improved their verbal and written expression, the organisation of personal study, and the use of IT resources

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

Formative Practice Gobbets 0%
Gobbets/Commentaties 35%
Essay 65%


Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on formative and summative assessment (see above); all coursework feedback is designed to contribute formatively towards improvement in subsequent assignments.
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment).

Recommended reading

In general on the Iliad:

Postlethwaite, N. (2000). Homer’ Iliad: A Commentary. Exeter.

Jones, P. V. (2003) Homer’s Iliad: A Commentary on Three Translations. Bristol.

Edwards, M. (1987).  Homer. Poet of the Iliad.

Schein, Seth L. (1984).  The Mortal Hero: An Introduction to Homer's Iliad.  Berkeley; London.

Silk, M. S. (1987).  Homer. The Iliad.  Cambridge.


In general on the Argonautica:

DeForest, Mary Margolies (1994).  Apollonius Argonautica: A Callimachean Epic.  Leiden.

Hunter, R. L. (1993).  The Argonautica of Apollonius: Literary Studies.  Cambridge.

Knight, V. (1995). The Renewal of Epic. Leiden.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

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