nl en

Tutorial Greek: Greeks on the History of Their Language


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.


Languages naturally change over time, and ancient Greek was no exception. But Greeks came into contact with the history of their own language over many centuries, because they kept reading Homer and the great works of Classical Greek literature. In addition, Greeks were taught to spell using a highly conservative spelling system, like that of English, which encapsulated aspects of the history of the language.

The language itself also offered tantalising clues to its own prehistory. Many similarities between words are obviously no accident, and must have come about somehow: διδάσκω and διδάσκαλος, for example, were in some way made to go together. Differences between different Greek dialects were noticed too, and fed into reflections on the histories of the different dialects and their speakers. Similarities between Greek and Latin prompted reflections on the relationship between these two languages.

In this course we will consider how Greeks grappled with the history of their own language. A final list of topics and readings will be determined in consultation with the students, but the following topics and readings are likely to be included:

  • Who put the language together in the first place, and how? (Plato’s Cratylus, selections);

  • The history of Greek dialects and their speakers (Herodotus, selections; Gregory of Corinth, selections);

  • What was peculiar about Homeric language? (Selections from the Iliad, together with a selection of ancient and Byzantine reading aids to Homer: glossaries, commentaries, and paraphrases preserved on ancient papyri and in Byzantine manuscripts);

  • Scholarly reflections on Homeric language: why was Homer peculiar? (A selection of Homeric scholia);

  • Did Romulus speek Greek? The relationship between Latin and Greek (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquitates Romanae, selections; Priscian, selections in English);

  • Byzantine insights into ancient Greek pronunciation (London scholia to Dionysius Thrax, selections; Pseudo-Theodosius, Περὶ γραμματικῆς, selections).

A final list of readings will be determined in consultation with the students. It will include works in Greek (equivalent to about 65 OCT pages), together with modern scholarship and Latin works in translation. Selections of the following texts are likely to be read in Greek: Homer’s Iliad, Plato’s Cratylus, Herodotus, Gregory of Corinth, Περὶ διαλέκτων, Homeric glossaries, commentaries, and paraphrases preserved on ancient papyri and in Byzantine manuscripts, Homeric scholia, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Antiquitates Romanae, London scholia to Dionysius Thrax, Pseudo-Theodosius, Περὶ γραμματικῆς; and Priscian, Institutiones grammaticae (selections in English).

Course objectives


By the end of the coure, students will have gained insight into:

  • Ancient approaches to the Greek language and especially its history;

  • How these approaches differ from modern approaches to the subject.


By the end of the course, students will have acquired knowledge of:

  • primary sources for the study of Greek linguistic thought;

  • modern bibliography and scholarly resources for the study of Greek linguistic thought.


By the end of the course, students will have strengthened their skills in the following areas:

  • ancient Greek reading;

  • academic writing;

  • critical analysis;

  • research.

In addition, students will have gained (or strengthened) some basic skills in reading Byzantine manuscripts.


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:

  • Seminar hours: two hours per week for the full semester = 28 hours;

  • Preparation for seminars (including reading and homework): 5 hours/week = 140 hours;

  • Practical work with papyrus and/or manuscript photographs = 26 hours;

  • Contact time for individual guidance on the essay = 1 hour;

  • Time to prepare the essay (including reading and research) = 84 hours;

  • Assessment: oral exam on Greek texts = 1 hour.

Assessment method

  • Class participation and preparation (10%);

  • Assessed homework (20%);

  • Essay (30%);

  • Oral examination (40%).


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


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can revise his/her essay or retake the oral examination (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the class participation and preparation, and assessed homework.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for making the syllabus and selections of primary texts available.

Reading list

A list of secondary reading will be provided at the beginning of the seminar.


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.


Prof.dr. P. (Philomen) Probert


  • 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.