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Seminar Latin: Classical Commentaries – Do It Yourself


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).

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.


Unlike students of, say, English literature, students of ancient Greek and Latin literature work with commentaries all the time. As a ‘genre’ of scholarly writing rooted in antiquity, commentaries have never ceased to play a central role in classical scholarship. This course aims to explore the ‘classical commentary’ on a do-it-yourself basis: participants will write a piece of commentary (in English) on 25 to 30 lines of Latin poetry on which no scholarly commentary is as yet available: Statius Thebaid 5.1-498, an embedded narrative about the gruesome Lemnian massacre.
Writing a piece of commentary forces one to pay attention to all aspects of a text: problems of text and syntax, realia, metre, style, allusions, etc.; ideally, all elements combined sustain a literary interpretation. Since Statius, in this episode as elsewhere, constantly imitates and emulates his literary predecessors, intertextuality will be a major concern. We will especially examine Statius’ reworking of Apollonius Rhodius and Valerius Flaccus. In order to lay bare the intertextual relations with these and other texts, we will make use of various research tools, including digital ones; the development of research skills is a key objective. Another major concern will be textual criticism: participants will enhance their ability to reflect critically on existing editions and to account for their textual choices.
In the first half of the semester, we will prepare the ground: participants will examine and reflect critically upon various kinds of ‘classical commentaries’; they will read the Statian text under consideration as well as the earlier versions of the story by Apollonius Rhodius and Valerius Flaccus; they will learn how to practise textual criticism and how to make effective use of secondary literature and various research tools. In the second half of the semester, the participants will spend most of their time writing their pieces of commentary. Having chosen a passage, they will give a small presentation on its problems; the other participants will have the opportunity to raise questions that they would like the commentator to address. At the end of the semester, the participants will present their final pieces of commentary at a ‘symposium’.

Course objectives

  • Broadening the knowledge of Greek and Latin epic poetry

  • Critical reflection on commentaries as a ‘genre’ of scholarly writing.

  • Enlarging reading and interpretative competence of Latin texts;

  • Practising textual criticism

  • Practising critical assessment of secondary literature

  • Enhancing presentational skills

  • Enhancing writing skills

  • Enhancing research skills, incl. working with digital tools (e.g. TLL, Tesserae)


The timetable is available on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours:

  • Class: 28 hours;

  • Weekly preparation: 102 hours;

  • Reading prescribed primary and secundary literature: 20 hours;

  • Presentation of research project: 10 hours;

  • Research and writing commentary: 120 hours.

Assessment method

  • Oral presentation: 20%;

  • Written presentation (= commentary): 50%

  • Translation (seen): 20%;

  • Participation: 10%.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The oral presentations cannot be repeated. In case the final mark is unsatisfactory, a student will have to rewrite his or her commentary.


Blackboard will be used to distribute course materials and exchange information.

Reading list

Most primary and secondary literature will be made available through the University Library or Blackboard, but each student should have:

  • D.R. Shackleton Bailey (ed.) (2003) Statius Thebaid vol. 1 books 1-7. Loeb Classical Library 207 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA).

  • D.R. Shackleton Bailey (ed.) (2003) Statius Thebaid vol. 2 books 8-12. Loeb Classical Library 498 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA).


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.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. J. Soerink


  1. Language: the course will be taught in English (unless all participants are Dutch-speakers).
  2. Preparation: studens who wish to cover some ground before the start of the semester are advised to start reading Statius Thebaid 5.1-498 (in Latin).