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Seminar Greek: Greek Literature in the Roman World: Past, Present, Politics


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements.
Admission requirements: a BA degree in Classics, obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.
If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact the instructor.


In this seminar we will read and examine a diverse selection of Greek literature in the Roman world. Texts to be studied will include epigrams from the Garland of Philip, speeches and dialogues of Dio of Prusa, Lucian of Samosata’s satiric science fiction, and Longinus’ On the Sublime. How do these texts present the relationship between the classical Greek past and the Roman present? This will be the central question for our seminar. Greek imperial literature responds in different ways to the realities of the Roman Empire, from praise and agreement to irony and (veiled) criticism. One central characteristic of Greek imperial literature is its consistent focus on the literary and historical past of classical Greece. Allusions to Homer, Plato and Euripides help Greek authors to construct their Greek cultural identity within a world that it is politically dominated by Rome. This does not mean, however, that Geek literature of the first centuries CE ignores the present altogether. As many of these authors are writing from the margins of the Empire (Prusa, Samosata, Mytilene) and travelling or migrating through the Empire, their works appear to adopt outsider’s perspectives on Rome. Like their authors, the texts and narratives also move between cultures and identities. We will examine the different strategies that Greek authors of the Empire adopt to respond to Roman politics and Roman culture, including competition, resistance, silence, and moral critique. Close readings of specific passages will cast light on the diversity of Greek literature in Rome, the complex processes of negotiating identities (Greek, Roman, local) and the cultural interaction between Greece and Rome in the early Roman Empire.

Course objectives


  • knowledge of a selection of Greek prose and poetry composed in the Roman world, and the ability to translate the Greek texts and to explain grammatical, syntactical and literary aspects.

  • knowledge of the history of Greek literature of the Roman world (genres, authors, context).

  • knowledge of recent approaches to Greek literature of the Roman Empire in secondary literature.

  • knowledge of (a) theoretical concepts that help us to understand Greek litetature in the Roman world, including classicism, Hellenization, migrant literature, in-betweenness, (b) scholarly approaches, including reception studies and intertextuality, and (c) ongoing scholarly debates, e.g. on the notion of the Second Sophistic and on ‘Being Greek under Rome’.
    Understanding and skills: (for differentiation between MA and ResMA, see below under Assessment Methods)

  • research skills: formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

  • reading skills: translation of Greek text into idiomatic English; ability to discuss grammatical and discourse linguistic features of a text; ability to reflect on implications of textcritical issues.

  • critical assessment of secondary literature according to the standards of academic debate.

  • oral presentation: the student will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of a text passage, making effective use of a handout (mandatory) and, optionally, with other presentation devices.

  • written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research.

  • students must demonstrate their grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.

  • this course aims at active participation and preparation: the student demonstrates involvement in the topic by asking well-informed and constructive questions and making contributions to the collective progress, based on antecedent independent preparation.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Examination on the Greek texts, secondary literature and topics discussed in class (30%)

  • Oral presentation (30%)

  • Written Paper (3000-5000 words) (30%)

  • Participation (10%)
    The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated:
    The paper of an MA student will present a specific text passage with translation and commentary.
    The paper of a ResMA student will take the form of a scholarly article that presents the innovative and well-argued interpretation of a text passage, with a clear research question, an argument and a conclusion.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average combined with one additional requirement: the grade for the examination on the Greek texts, secondary literature and topics discussed in class must be satisfactory.


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or retake the oral examination (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the oral presentation and participation.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Students are expected to have their own copy of:
D. Clay, Lucian, True History: introduction, text, translation, and commentary. Oxford / New York 2021.
J.W. Cohoon, Dio Chrysostom. Vol II, Discourses XII-XXX. Cambridge, MA / London 1977. [Please not that you need to have only the second volume of this Loeb edition.]
J. König, Greek Literature in the Roman Empire. Classical World Series. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2009.
Guide to Academic Skills
An additional reading list, with titles to be found in the Leiden University Library, will be made available before the start of the seminar (through Brightspace). A selection of relevant books will be made available on a special bookshelf at the University Library.


Enrolment through My Studymap (Login | Universiteit Leiden) is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Students are required to attend the classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions. Students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.