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Tutorial Greek: Matricide Three Times Over


Admission requirements

This course is open to MA and research MA students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (specialization Classics). Admission requirements for other students: 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.


All three of the famous Athenian tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, composed a tragedy on the theme of Orestes’ revenge on his mother because she had killed his father. These three tragedies provide a unique opportunity to compare their work, and to gain a better understanding of the maneuvering space of the Greek tragedians in handling their traditional material. The principles of intertextuality will form an important aspect of this course. According to the interests of the participants, research questions may further include issues of:

  • performance;

  • the role of props and material objects, including thinking about ‘the social life of things’;

  • cognitive approaches to literature.
    On all of these aspects introductory material will be made available.

We will study the three plays; students are expected to read Sophocles’ Electra and one other play in Greek with the help of commentaries and other scholarly tools; the third to be read in translation.

NB Please read the three plays in translation as soon as possible, but no later than the second session; since this is a tutorial, our first session will mainly be devoted to the organization of the tutorial and to prolegomena. The program will be finalized on the basis of this first consultation and before the second session.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge of primary texts relating to the theme of the class (Aeschylus’ Choephoroi, Sophocles’ Electra, Euripides’ Electra). Competence to read these texts and understand them within their cultural context;

  • An understanding of the principles of intertextuality, as applied to these texts;

  • Some familiarity with issues of performance, the role of props and material objects, and cognitive approaches to literature;

  • Knowledge of cultural-critical and literary-critical apparatus enabling the student to analyze the material studied in this class;

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature;

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

  • Oral presentation: presenting clearly and on the basis of arguments the results of the student’s research. Effective use of hand-out, illustrations or multi-media techniques;

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

  • 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.

Notice that the tasks set to RMA students and MA students will be differentiated (although it is open to any MA student to work to RMA standards): MA students may ask the instructor to provide them with a topic and some more bibliography. RMA students must define their topic independently (although in consultation with the instructor).

  • ‘Active participation’ includes having studied the relevant reading for every class, including possible study questions. It also includes giving responses and taking part in discussions.

  • For the oral presentation a full session is available (if number of participants necessitates it, we may need to use less time per student; to be ascertained in first session): presentation itself may last max. 40 minutes. Discuss your problem (selected in consultation with instructor) using primary and secondary sources. Active use and interpretation of primary text (in Greek) is compulsory. Please provide a hand-out, and use it to underpin your presentation. Make sure your Greek is presented correctly; this includes breathings and accents.

  • Find your own literature for the position paper: Make sure the problem you wish to discuss is stated clearly. Analyze your material and present the arguments derived from them. State a conclusion that is clearly related to the initial problem statement. Be critical and independent towards the secondary literature.

  • In the footnotes use the author/year system: West 1984, 1-10.

  • Provide a bibliography with full references.

  • Deadline for position paper to be set in consultation with students. Final exam: proposal is Monday, June 16th (to be discussed with students at first session).

Possible topics for presentations include:

  • A comparison of the recognition scenes in two or three tragedies;

  • A comparison of characterization of one or more characters;

  • A comparison of the murder scenes;

  • Any topic the student is interested in, in consultation with the instructor.


Please consult the timetable on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

Tutorial: individualized implementation of the course with some sessions in seminar form, individual study and research, and feedback sessions. Depending on number of participants, the organization of the tutorial will be adapted and finalized after first organizational meeting of class.

Assessment method

When taken for 10 EC the requirements are:

  • Active participation and preparation, including a prepared response to another student’s presentation (10%);

  • A short position paper (5 pp. max.) on the issue of intertextuality between the three plays (20%);

  • An oral presentation (30%)

  • A written or oral exam on two of the three tragedies (40%). Knowledge of the third tragedy in translation is assumed.

When this class is taken for 5 EC the requirements are:

  • Active participation and preparation (10%);

  • A well-informed response to another student’s presentation (20%);

  • A final exam consisting of two parts: one part is about two of the three tragedies (40%), the other about a list of secondary literature of about 150 pages, to be finalized in consultation with instructor (30%). Knowledge of third tragedy in translation is assumed.

Final grade for the entire course is the weighted average of the required tests as stated above; in all cases language acquisition needs to be sufficient.


In this course we make use of Blackboard.

Reading list

We are working from the editions/commentaries by Garvie (Aeschylus); Jebb, Kells or Finglass (Sophocles); and Denniston or Cropp (Euripides).

Initial bibliography will be made available at the first session and through Blackboard; it is expected that the 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 required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Prof. dr. I. Sluiter


  • The course will be taught in Dutch or English, depending on the first language of participating students.