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Seminar Ancient Philosophy: The Course of History: Ideas of “Primitivism”, “Progress”, and “Decline” in Greek thought


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) 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.


The seminar will examine the different ways in which mythology (Hesiod), tragedy (Aeschylus) and philosophy (the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle) represent the ideas of “primitivism”, “progress”, and “decline” in cosmogonical and historical narratives. In ancient Greek thought, the origin and ensuing developement of civilization was conceived either as a Golden Age inexorably doomed to “decline”, or as a primitive yet momentaneous state of humankind engaged in continous “progress”. Within these two opposite conceptions of developpement, History (with a capital H) could be envisaged either as a cycle, eternally re-enacting a predetermined course, or as a radically open path to the unknown. As we shall see, ancient Greek representations of “primitivism”, “progress”, and “decline” determine to a large extent the categories we still use when we think of “our” history.

Course objectives

At the end of this seminar, the students will:

  • Be familiar with recent 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 the texts examined in the seminar.

  • Possess knowledge concerning the historiographical models that have shaped our understanding of the ideas of “primitivism”, “progress” and “decline”.

  • 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.

  • 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 Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

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

Assessment method

  • Written examination 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

It is also allowed to make a resit examination for all parts at once. In this case the students will all take the same resit and this resit will cover the entire material of the course and the mark will replace all previously earned marks.



Exam review


Blackboard will be used to:

  • Provide students with secondary literature

Reading list

We will read the following texts:

  • Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days (Loeb edition)

  • Pre-Socratics philosophers: selected passages from Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Democritus (Loeb edition).

  • Aeschylus: Prometheus Bound (Loeb edition).

  • Plato: selected passages from the Statesman, the Protagoras, the Timaeus-Critias, the Laws (OCT).

  • Aristotle: selected passages from On Generation and Corruption, the Meteorology, the Politics (OCT).

A list of secondary literature will be provided at the begining of the seminar.


Registration through Usis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dhr. dr. Leopoldo Iribarren Baralt