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Seminar Greek: The Other Socrates: Xenophon's Socratic Dialogues


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), with differential requirements.
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.


Xenophon’s Socratic dialogues show us a Socrates who is a tough and courageous soldier, an impressive drinker and a man of practical wisdom, able to instruct his companions in issues of business, politics and erotics. They also show a Socrates who seems to be constantly in discussion with his Platonic counterpart, defending his life choices in an alternative Apology, expounding his erotic theory in an alternative Symposium, and unfolding an alternative philosophical methodology in the Memorabilia. In short, Xenophon’s Socratic works offer a literary microcosm in which “fanfiction”, ethical and political philosophy, literary polemics and irony blend together.

In this tutorial we will read sections of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Oeconomicus and Symposium in the original Greek, and other parts, as well as the Apology, in translation. We will study some highlights of Xenophon’s Socratic philosophy: his views on sex, erotics and homosexuality (Symposium and Memorabilia), friendship (Memorabilia), ethics, politics and the care for the self (Oeconomicus and Memorabilia), elenchus, dialectics and the philosophical method (Memorabilia). We will contextualize these philosophical themes in the landscape of 4th-century Athenian cultural and social history. To set our interpretation of Xenophon’s work in relief, we will also study some of his most famous contemporaries: Plato and the indirectly transmitted Aeschines of Sphettus. We will reflect on the merits and dangers of “comparative studies”, the notion of “irony”, and historical and historicizing approaches of Xenophon.

Course objectives


  • A thorough knowledge of selected passages of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Oeconomicus, and Symposium in ancient Greek and the ability to explain the grammar, syntax and discourse features of those passages;

  • A firm grasp of the characteristics of the literary genre of the Socratic dialogue, philosophical dialectics and method in both Xenophon’s and Plato’s Socratic works;

  • An understanding of the entirety of Xenophon’s Socratic works, studied in translation: its historical context, philosophical content, major themes, its interaction with works of contemporaries;

  • A firm understanding of central concepts and issues in Socratic philosophy;

  • The ability to understand, synthesize, compare and critique advanced secondary scholarly works about Xenophon’s philosophical oeuvre;

  • A basic understanding of the significance of Xenophon’s philosophical works in the intellectual landscape of 4th-century Greek literature and thought;

  • A basic understanding of some key issues in 4th-century history of ideas, social history and cultural history.


(for differentiation between MA and ResMA, see below under Assessment Methods) (for differentiation between 5 and 10 ec, see below under Assessment Methods)

  • research: formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials, analyzing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions.

  • reading skills: oral translation of Greek text into idiomatic English (during oral presentation, and for international students also during oral exam) or Dutch (for Dutch students during oral exam); ability to discuss grammatical and discourse linguistic features of a text; ability to reflect on implications of textcritical issues.

  • critical assessment of secondary literature according to the standards of academic debate.

  • oral presentation: will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of a specific text passage, making effective use of a handout (mandatory) and, optionally, with other presentation devices.

  • written presentation: the paper will offer a clear and well-structured presentation of original research.

  • the student must demonstrate his or her grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.

  • this course aims at 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.


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:

  • Contact hours 13 x 3 = 39 hours;

  • Reading Greek text = 75 hours;

  • Secondary literature = 56 hours;

  • Preparation oral presentation = 20 hours;

  • Preparation oral examination = 10 hours;

  • Written assignment(s) = 80 hours.

Assessment method

Assessment Method

  • oral examination on the Greek text, secondary literature and topics discussed in class (35%);

  • oral presentation (20%);

  • written assignment(s) (35%);

  • participation (10%).

  • The requirements for MA and ResMA students are differentiated: ResMA students are expected to come up with their own original research topic, find literature, and write a scholarly report; MA students may expect more help in choosing their topic and their papers may consist of an assessment of the status quaestionis on a given topic.


The final mark of 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 oral 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.

Exam review

Students will be invited to discuss their oral presentation and paper individually with the teacher as soon as the results have been published.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • distribution of study material;

  • announcement of assignment;

  • discussion platform.

Reading list

Students are expected to have their own copy of:

  • Sarah B. Pomeroy, Xenophon Oeconomicus. A Social and Historical Commentary, Oxford 1995;

  • Xenophon, Opera Omnia II: Commentarii, Oeconomicus, Convivium, Apologia Socratis, Oxford 1922 (Oxford Classical Text).

An additional reading list, with titles to be found in the Leiden University library, will be made available before the start of the tutorial. A selection of relevant books will be made available on a special bookshelf at the University library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about registration in uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Exchange and Study Abroad students: please see the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. T.A. (Tazuko) van Berkel


  • This seminar is offered for 10 ec. If students have a good reason to take this course for 5 ec, they should contact the lecturer. If the request is approved, the assessment method will be adapted to a 5 ec course load.

  • Students are required to attend the classes, to be fully prepared and to join the discussions. Students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.