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Seminar MA/ ResMA Greek Prose: Greece and Mesopotamia. Dialogues in literature



This course is open to MA and ResMA students in Classics. Non-Greek texts will be studied in translation.


What does the Epic of Gilgamesh have to do with Homer? Who invented the barbarian? How did Berossos explain Babylon to a Hellenistic Greek audience? These are some of the questions addressed in this course. Our starting point will be Salvatore Settis’ claim that ‘the essence of the classical emerges from cultural mixture and exchange’. (Futuro del ‘classico’, p. 113). We will be testing that claim by looking at a range of Greek and Mesopotamian texts, asking how they interact, and what might be appropriate ways of framing their interaction, from ‘literary borrowing’ to postcolonial models such as ‘mimicry’ and ‘writing back’.

The course is divided into three parts.

  • Part 1, on the Archaic Period, focuses on early Greek epic (Homer and Hesiod) and Akkadian narrative poetry (chiefly Gilgamesh and Enuma elish). We will be studying the parallels collected by Martin West and others, and consider alternative approaches to interpreting them. Particular attention will be paid to recent debates about the origins of ‘Western culture’ (e.g. Martin Bernal, Black Athena).

  • Part 2, on the Classical Period, looks at how Greek authors such as Herodotus and Ctesias invented Mesopotamia – and how Mesopotamian authors in turn invented Greece. We will pay particular attention to the Persian Wars and their fallout in Greek literature, from the crossing of the Hellespont to the ‘invention of the barbarian’.

  • Part 3, on the Hellenistic Period, focuses on the work of Berossos, a priest of Bel who wrote about the history and culture of his native Babylon for a Greek audience. We will ask what Berossos tried to achieve; how he presented himself as a ‘barbarian’ author; and how he engaged with existing Greek accounts of Mesopotamian history and culture.


  • The competence to read and interpret relevant Greek and Mesopotamian texts (the latter in translation) as regards their interaction

  • Basic knowledge of the invention and presentation of the ‘barbarian’ in Greek and Mesopotamian literature (Greek authors about Mesopotamia and vice versa);

  • A nuanced awareness of the interaction between East and West in the Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic Period;

  • A good understanding of various problems and scholarly debates related to hybridity, cultural exchange and the origins of Western culture;

  • Knowledge of, and ability to assess, current models of comparative literary study and their applicability to the ancient world

  • Advanced research skills: independent formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials (both primary texts and results of earlier research). Analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature;

  • Oral presentation: presenting clearly and making effective use of hand-outs, illustrations and/or multi-media techniques;

  • Written presentation: setting out research results effectively, clearly and in a well-structured manner.


This course is a concentrated seminar. Classes two times a week.


  • Lectures;

  • individual research and

  • presentation by participating students


When taken for 10 ects:

  • Active participation and preparation (10%),

  • Oral presentation (30%),

  • paper (60%). Notice that ResMA students are required to present original research in this seminar (i.e. a survey of a problem based on the secondary literature is not sufficient): please consult your instructor at an early stage!

When this class is taken for 5 ects, no final paper is required.
The final grade will consist of

  • participation/preparation (20%) and

  • the oral presentation (80%)




All students should own:

  • Greek text of Homer, Iliad;

  • Greek text of Herodotus, Histories;

  • A. George, trans. and ed., The Epic of Gilgamesh, London 1999;

  • S. Dalley, Myths from Mesopotamia, revised edn., Oxford 2000.

A text of Berossos, Babyloniaca, is available online in Brill’s New Jacoby, with commentary and translation. A pack with additional materials and an initial bibliography will be available at the beginning of the course. It is expected that students will actively search out more material relevant to the topics they have selected. Some literature is made permanently available in the Classics reading room (these books will not be lent out).

Students are encouraged to read through the complete translation of the Iliad, Gilgamesh and Herodotus as soon as possible.


Via uSis


Dr. J. H. Haubold