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Seminar Greek: Ancient Greek and Roman Theories of Beauty and Art


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.


Why is the Parthenon generally considered to be a beautiful building, but the Lipsius lecture hall not? And if Greek tragedies make people cry, why do people keep on reading and staging them? Do we like being sad and unhappy?

These questions (well, perhaps not the one about Lipsius), and many others, were widely discussed in the ancient world, yet few or none of the ancient authors are generally included in the contemporary discussions of the same or similar questions. This is partly owing to the fact that to contemporary readers, aesthetics is primarily recognizable as the discipline that arose in the 18th century. This tradition posed very strict limits to what kind of theories count as ‘aesthetics’. As ancient Mediterranean people did not share their sensibilities with the 18th century Germans, these discourses were generally put firmly in the category of ‘not aesthetics’. Greeks, it would seem, knew how to make beautiful art but had no idea how to reflect on it or theorize about it. In recent years, this assumption has been successfully challenged, and ancient aesthetics has become a new and exciting area of study within the field of Classics, with a variety of methodologies proposing how we can study ancient texts.

In this course, we are going to read in Greek some of the key texts that shaped the discourses in ancient aesthetics and examine the theories, conceptualizations and reflections on beauty and art. Most of the material covered in this class will come from philosophical texts. Some previous knowledge of ancient philosophy might be useful, but it is not necessary. Among the key texts, there will be sections from various dialogues of Plato (Republic, Symposium, Phaedrus); Plotinus; Xenophon; Aristotle; Stoic and Epicurean fragments; Ps. Longinus. It is also worth noting that the course material will be primarily focused on the texts that theorize ancient aesthetics; however, there will also be some discussion of ‘applied’ aesthetics, that is, we will look at whether/how a theory found an expression in literature and other arts. It will be possible to focus on the ‘applied’ aesthetics in the final essay too.

Course objectives

Knowledge and insight:

  • Thorough knowledge of the key texts that theorize ancient aesthetic concepts in ancient Greek (Plato, Aristotle, Stoic and Epicurean fragments, Plotinus), as well as the ability to explain the grammatical, syntactical, literary and dialectical features of those texts.

  • The ability to contextualize these texts within their appropriate historic, philosophical and philological circumstances; good understanding of the significance of these circumstances.

  • A good understanding of the scope, the key themes and the preoccupations of ancient theories of art and beauty.

  • A good understanding of the central concepts, as well as their reception, and the ability to analyze the prominent theories of aesthetic phenomenon in these texts (e.g. functional theory of beauty, the sublime, katharsis, etc.) and to recognize the polemical aspects of the discourses on these theorizations.

  • The ability to engage with relevant scholarship critically and productively.

  • An ability to apply appropriate research methods and paradigm analyses to the material covered in the course.

Skills: (for differentiation between MA and ResMA, see below under Assessment Methods)

  • Research skills: formulating a complex research question, collecting relevant material, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

  • Methodology and reflection: engagement with a variety of methods commonly employed in ancient studies and the humanities more generally; the ability to evaluate critically different approaches, to reflect on their advantages and to pick the most suitable/productive one for their project.

  • Reading skills: oral translation of Greek text into idiomatic English (either during oral presentation or a written exam, depending on the class size); the ability to discuss the grammatical, semantical, discourse linguistic and, where relevant, text critical aspects of a text.

  • Productive engagement with secondary literature, both critically and constructively.

  • The final essay: the paper must offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research. The student must demonstrate a good grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.

  • Oral presentation: A clear and well-structured analysis of a chosen passage or a small number of selected passages (up to 3), presenting a distinct original argument, making effective use of a handout (and/or slides). The presentation should demonstrate a good understanding of both primary sources as well as engagement with recent pertinent scholarship.

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, on the basis of antecedent independent preparation.

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

  • Lecture

Assessment method


  • Participation

  • Oral presentations

  • Oral/written examination

  • Written assignment (the final essay; 5000-6000 words)

The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated: ResMA students are expected to come up with their own original research topic, find literature, and write a scholarly report; MA students may expect more help in choosing their topic and their papers may consist of an assessment of the status quaestionis on a given topic.


  • Participation: 10%

  • Oral presentations: 30%

  • Oral/written examination: 20%

  • Written assignment: 40%

The final mark of the course is established by (i) determination of the weighted average combined with the (ii) additional requirement that the final essay has earned a passing grade.


If the additional requirements have not been met, the student can revise/retake the component.
If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper. There is no resit for the presentations and the participation. If the final mark is sufficient and if the additional requirements have been met, the examination and paper cannot be retaken.

Inspection and feedback

The time and the manner of an exam review will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

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

A reading list of primary and secondary sources, with titles to be found in the Leiden University library, will be made available before the start of the tutorial. A selection of relevant books will be made available on a special bookshelf at the University Library.
They will include (not exhaustively) the following:

  • Bychkov, Sheppard, Bychkov, O. V. & Sheppard, A. (2010). Greek and Roman Aesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Destrée, P., & Murray, P. (2015). A Companion to Ancient Aesthetics. Chicester: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • Halliwell, S., Fyfe, W.H., Russell, D., Innes, D.C., Roberts, W. Rhys. (1995). Aristotle: Poetics.; Longinus: On the Sublime; Demetrius: On Style (Loeb Classical Library No. 199).

  • Murray, P. (1996). Plato on poetry: Ion; Republic 376e-398b9; Republic 595-608b10. Cambridge [etc.]: Cambridge University Press.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar. For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Not applicable.