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Pindar and Epinician 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 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. Students with an international degree should contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.

If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact the instructor.


The object of this seminar is to familiarize you with the conventions and Greek of Pindaric (and, to a lesser extent, Bacchylidean) epinician lyric and, most importantly, to explore how this poetry emerges from its cultural context. For many years, Pindar in his victory poetry was viewed as the last great exponent of an Archaic-period conservative aristocratic ethos, wherein noble achievement brings undying fame. Scholars also focused on the technical aspects of his poetic production: structure and formulaic language. While this body of work is of undoubted value, my aim in this seminar is to move beyond questions of form and also beyond the picture of Pindar as a remnant of a sixth-century aristocratic worldview. How, for example, does epinician fit into contemporary programs of commemoration at panhellenic sanctuaries? How does its vision of poetic immortality resonate with contemporary religious beliefs? In what circumstances should we imagine that it performed (or reperformed?), and what is the nature of the poetic voice that emerges from it?

Broadly speaking, the course will move from issues of form to those of context. We will begin by reviewing the formalist criticism of Elroy Bundy and its legacy, but then move to focus on a particular group of odes, those belonging to the years immediately following the Persian invasions of 480-479 B.C. The Olympic Games of 476 generated some of Pindar’s most famous poetry—poetry which looked in part to the foundation of the Olympic Games, but which also showcased the achievements of western Greeks. We will ask how the history of the games, as rendered by Pindar, impacts the presentation of western patrons, and how a poet from the medizing city of Thebes negotiated the aftermath of the Persian Wars. This investigation will entail some consideration of the famously problematic Pindaric “first-person,” but not just as an aspect of performance; rather we will explore the dynamic interaction of individual and group as it is constructed at a particular historical moment.

The odes considered will include Olympians 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, Isthmians 5 and 8, and Bacchylides 5.

Course objectives

Students will acquire:

  • Thorough knowledge of a selection of Pindaric and Bacchylidean lyric odes, together with the ability to explain grammatical, syntactical and literary aspects of these complex texts.

  • Knowledge of the formal features of epinician poetry, including the Doric dialect of epinician lyric.

  • The ability to understand, compare and critique secondary literature on Greek epinican poetry.

  • Insight into the historical and social contextualization of lyric poetry within the early fifth century B.C.

  • Knowledge and understanding of the mythological and religious underpinnings of the ancient Olympic games, and of the function of panhellenic athletic competition.

  • An understanding of theoretical approaches and paradigms that inform our construction of the lyric voice.

  • A nuanced understanding of the roles played by convention and innovation in lyric poetry

Understanding and skills:

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

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

  • Reading skills: oral translation of Greek text into idiomatic English; 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: the student will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of one passage or poem, 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.

  • This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Active participation and preparation (10%)

  • Oral presentation (20%)

  • Prepared response to another student’s presentation (5%)

  • Oral exam on Greek texts (30%)

  • Paper (35%)

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.

Inspection and feedback

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.

Reading list

Pindarus. Carmina cum fragmentis. Pars I Epinicia (Series: Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana), edited by Herwig Maehler and Bruno Snell. De Gruyter, 1997. DOI:

Guide to Academic Skills

An additional reading list, with titles to be found in the Leiden University Library, will be made available before the start of the seminar (via Bright Space). 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 uSis is available on the website.

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Registration Studeren à la carte.
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Not applicable.


Kathryn A. Morgan


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