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Tutorial MA/ ResMA Greek: Inherited guilt and postponed punishment in Greek Literature


Admission requirements

MA students Classics


In the ancient world many believed in divine justice (Dike) administered by Zeus. The unfortunate fact, though, is that many villains sucesfully evade punishment. In order to justify their belief in divine justice, many Greeks assumed that in those case the descendants of the original criminal would pay the price. The great classicist E.R. Dodds refers to this idea as ‘inherited guilt’. He describes it as “the characteristic archaic doctrine” that “is the teaching of Hesiod, of Solon and Theognis, of Aeschylus and Herodotus.” The idea was consequently adopted by those philosophers who defended the existence of divine Providence, such as the Stoics and the Platonists.But now a new problem presents itself: how can it be justified that the innocent child suffers for the crime of the father? In this tutorial we shall discuss a number if texts in which the notion of ‘inherited guilt’ occurs . We shall especially concentrate on Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Zeven against Thebes.



Course objectives

Training in the analysis of Greek texts and scholarly literarture.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Pensum/ tentam



Reading list

  • Greek text and translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Zeven against Thebes, e.g.

  • A. H. Sommerstein, Aeschylus , 2 vols, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2008 (= Loeb)

  • N.J. Sewell-Rutter, Guilt by Descent. Moral Inheritance aand Decision Making in Greek Tragedy, Oxford 2007 (nb available in paperback)


via uSis

Contact information

R. M. van den Berg


This course will be given in English if required; in Dutch if possible