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Tutorial Greek: Iliad 18: a Reflection on the Limits of Epic Poetry


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 Civilization (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.


Iliad 18 marks a turning point within the epic’s narrative. Achilles’ decision to go back to war after the devastating effects of his withdrawal from combat in book 1 bring up two of the narrative’s main concerns: the final realization of the heroic fate and the reward for a short-lived destiny; the latter being embodied by Achilles’ new shield. The ekphrasis of Achilles’ shield is in fact the occasion chosen by the poet to reflect on the theme of heroic fate within the larger context of the epic genre. On the surface of this textual artifact, Hephaestus figures a series of images representing the cosmos and the visible aspects of everyday life on earth. This self-evident world-view becomes problematic when we question its mode of relation to the Iliad’s plot. The Shield is characterized by a delimited visual space within which all characters are anonymous, and their actions are repetitive and remain unresolved. On the other hand, the heroic narrative is characterized by its temporal limits (52 days in a 10 years war) and by the decisive quality of its actions, which take place within a linear narrative framework determined by Achilles’ fate.

A tension is created between the Shield’s image and the heroic narrative. Is there a relationship between the world represented on the shield’s surface and the Iliad’s plot? What does Hephaestus craftsmanship tell us about Homer’s poetry? These questions will be the starting point of our seminar.

Course objectives

At the end of this seminar, the students will:

  • be familiar with recent and ancient scholarship and original source material;

  • 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 Homer;

  • possess knowledge concerning the iconological and narratological models that have shaped our understanding of Achilles’s shield function within the Iliad;

  • 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.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar. Students are required to attend all classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions.

Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours; or 5 ec x 28 hours= 140 hours;

  • class hours: 14 × 2= 28 hours;

  • preparation examination: 52 hours;

  • oral presentation: 40 hours;

  • abstract: 20 hours;

  • paper: 140 hours.

Assessment method

  • Written examination with essay questions (30%);

  • Paper (50%);

  • Abstract, oral presentation (20%).

In case of 5 ec: abstract (20%), oral presentation (30%), written examination (50%).


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


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or retake the examination (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the oral presentation and participation. If the final mark is sufficient, the examination and paper cannot be retaken.


Not applicable.

Reading list

  • Homers’s Iliad, preferably Munro & Allen’s edition (OCT) or M. West’s (Teubner). The Cambridge Commentary (6 vols.) will be a constant referece.

A syllabus will be provided by the teacher in the first class meeting.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
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.




Dhr. Dr. L. (Leopoldo) Iribarren Baralt