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Tutorial Greek: Plato and the poets


Admission requirements

This course is open to MA and research MA students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (specialization Classics).

The course will be taught in Dutch or English, depending on the first language of participating students.


It has been a long-standing source of worry to classicists and other Humanities scholars alike: why does one of their classical authors dislike some of the others so much? Why does Plato disapprove of the poets? Why does he banish Homer from his ideal state? And why does Socrates force the rhapsode Ion to admit that his presumed expertise in all matters Homeric is an illusion? Is there such a thing as an ‘ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry’?

In this tutorial students will study the major texts in Plato, in which he discusses poetry, poets, poetic inspiration, and the nature of being an ‘expert in poetry’. There will be a number of supervisions, arranged in consultation between students and instructor, but the format of the tutorial allows a lot of input from the students in the way the classes will be set up.

The texts come from the Ion, Republic, and Phaedrus. We will be using standard editions and commentaries, but a useful collection of materials may be found in: Penelope Murray, Plato and the Poets, Cambridge Green & Yellow series 1996.

For a short introduction to the topic, see: Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry via the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Course objectives

At the end of the course the students will:

  • Possess good working knowledge of the Platonic views on poetry, based on a reading of the original sources;

  • Have the skill to read and assess these original sources, and understand them within their cultural context, as demonstrated in an oral examination;

  • Possess knowledge of cultural-critical and literary-critical apparatus enabling the student to analyze the material studied in this class;

  • Understand the way these Platonic texts fit into a history of ‘ancient views on poetry’;

  • Be capable of critical assessment of secondary literature;

  • RMA 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 less 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, illustrations or multi-media techniques;

  • Written presentation: setting out research results effectively, clearly and in a well-structured manner. The student will be capable to demonstrate in writing (and through one case study) their grasp of critical issues in recent scholarship, and to test and assess recent scholarly contributions by confronting them with the original source material.

This course also 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.


See timetables Classics and Ancient Civilizations

Mode of instruction

Introductory lecture; several seminars planned in consultation with the students; discussion of and feedback on written and oral presentations by the students. Research by the students.

Assessment method

Full details will be announced at the first session of class, including the way assessment of ResMA students will be differentiated from that of MA students.

When taken for 10 EC:

  • Active participation and preparation, including a prepared response to another student’s presentation (10%);

  • an oral presentation (30%);

  • a short position paper (5 pp. max.) (20%);

  • an oral exam on primary texts (40%).

When this class is taken for 5 EC: requirements are the final oral exam on source texts (plus a list of secondary literature of about 100 pages, to be finalized in consultation with instructor); in addition a well-informed prepared response to another student’s presentation (70-30% of grade).


Blackboard will be used to post instruction materials and announcements about the organization of the course. Also to enable students to read and comment on each other’s work.

Reading list

Plato on Rhetoric and Poetry via the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Penelope Murray (ed.) Plato on Poetry (Ion; Republic 376e–398b9; Republic 595–608b10); Series: Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Paperback (ISBN-13: 9780521349819 | ISBN-10: 0521349818)


Via uSis


  • Complete instructions on all parts of this course will be given in writing in the first session of class.