BA Ancient History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Greek Tragedy

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE31011
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Classics, Ancient History & Egyptology
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’ and part of the wider reception history of drama.


Pre-requisites: Non-linguists - none; Linguists - Intensive Greek 2 or higher.

Co-requisites: Non linguists – none; Linguists - Advanced Greek 1 or higher. Students concurrently taking Advanced Greek 1 may choose whether to take the non-linguist version or the L2 linguist version (see below). Students concurrently taking Advanced Greek 2 or 3 must take the linguist version.

Anti-requisties: CAHE 21011.


To provide students with a detailed and wide-ranging understanding of ancient theatre as a manifestation of 5th Century Athenian culture.

To provide students with a detailed and wide-ranging understanding of ancient theatre as a  foundation for western drama and a part of the modern theatrical scene.

Knowledge and understanding

A good understanding of the contexts of ancient drama.

A good understanding of the issues involved in the study of ancient drama.

A good understanding of the different theoretical frames which can be applied to ancient drama.

Intellectual skills

Analysing complex literary texts with a range of techniques.

Use of appropriate terminology.

Evaluating different critical perspectives as part of the modern scholarly debates.

Those taking the linguistic option will in addition be able to translate dramatic texts from Greek into idiomatic English.

Practical skills

Ability to access relevant primary and secondary material.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

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

  • construct an argument in written and oral form;
  • assimilate and summarise large quantities of evidence;
  • 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

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

Formative or Summative

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Commentary (1)



Commentary (2)






Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Commentary 1

Detailed formative

Commentary 2, Exam

Summative and formative

One-to-one feedback in consulation hours


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.,

    Study hours

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

    Teaching staff

    Staff member Role
    Emma Griffiths Unit coordinator

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