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Tutorial Greek: Hesiod and the Presocratics: Poetry, Cosmogony, Ethics


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) or Philosophy (basic working knowledge of Greek needed), with differential requirements.
Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics or Philosophy 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.


Hesiod’s poems were a permanent, almost inevitable, reference for Presocratic philosophers, notably for those composing in verse (Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Empedocles). Despite their polemic objections to the popular views of the gods canonized in Hesiod’s poetry, the Presocratics pursued his all-encompassing inquiry into both the true nature of things and the general conditions of human existence. The seminar will explore the different modes in which the cosmo-theological, ethical, and epistemological questions raised by the Presocratic philosophers stand in relationship with the doctrines contained in Hesiod’s poems, the Theogony and the Works and Days.
Central question will be: How do the Presocratics ‘anchor’ their innovations in Hesiod’s mythological framework and at the same time differentiate their own intellectual practice from his? A full syllabus will be made available in the first session of class.

Course objectives

At the end of this seminar, the students will:

  • Be familiar with recent scholarship and original source material, in particular Hesiod’s poems and the fragments of Xenophanes, Parmenides and Empedocles.

  • Have the skill to read and assess these sources, and understand them within their cultural context, as demonstrated in written examination.

  • Possess knowledge of the history of scholarship concerning Hesiod and Presocratic philosophy.

  • Possess knowledge concerning the historiographical models that have shaped our understanding of philosophy’s realtionship to myth.

  • Be capable of critical assessment of secondary literature.

  • Research MA students: 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.
    MA students: Research skills as above, but with fewer materials and more help, as specified in the first session of class.

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

  • Written presentation: setting out research results effectively, clearly and in a well-structured manner. The student will be capable to demonstrate in writing their grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and to test and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.


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

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load, if taken for 5 ec = 140 hours, for 10 ec = 280 hours.

10 EC = 280 hours

Rough division:

  • class: 24 hours

  • preparation and oral presentation: 46 hours

  • reading list and examination: 70 hours

  • paper: 140 hours

Attendance of the classes is compulsory.

Assessment method

  • Written examination (based on reading list Hesiod/Presocratics) with essay questions (30%)

  • Paper (50%)

  • Abstract, oral presentation (20%)

To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following: the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average. The oral presentation cannot be repeated. In case the final mark is unsatisfactory, a student can resit the the written paper.



Reading list

  • Loeb, Most, Hesiod vol. 1

  • Fragments of the Presocratics by the teacher.

  • The list of secondary literature will be provided in the first meeting.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University.


Dr. L. Iribarren Baralt