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Seminar Greek: Myth, Poetry, Dialectic: Reading Plato’s Protagoras


Admission requirements

This course can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics).
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.


Plato’s Protagoras has all the charms of a lively Socratic dialogue. It centers on familiar themes like the unity of virtue, the correct use of language, and the erroneousness of hedonism. Socrates’ use of the dialogue form, however, runs counter to his own principles in many respects. Apart from the creation myth told by Protagoras to support his claim as a teacher of professional politicians, we are treated to the meticulous interpretation of a poem by Simonides supposedly involving contradictory expressions of moral judgement. Plato’s aim in Socrates’ handling of the sophist Protagoras in this dialogue is a much debated issue.

In this seminar we will analyse Plato’s Protagoras, concentrating the function of the myth, the use of dialogue, argumentation, and the moral & political views involved.
For individual research and presentations students are invited to concentrate on specific passages (such as the myth, the interpretation of Simonides’ poem), ways of reasoning (use of fallacy?), syntactical and semantic questions, and also on the more general issue of Plato’s motives for this particular portrayal of Protagoras and his confrontation with Socrates.

Course objectives

  • Competence to read and interpret an ancient Greek prose tekst;

  • Competence to analyze and describe the characteristics of Platonic dialogue;

  • Competence to investigate the semantics of Greek moral terminology;

  • Competence to analyze and evaluate complex and biased ways of argumentation;

  • Critical assessment of relevant secondary literature;

  • Research skills (advanced use of the scholarly apparatus of the discipline; formulating a research question, formulating and evaluating arguments, drawing conclusions);

  • Oral presentation (making use of a handout or Powerpoint): clear presentation of the research question, crucial steps/ complications met with during the research, and (provisional) conclusions;

  • Written presentation: presenting clearly and in a well-structured argument the research question, the status quaestionis, the research process and its results;

  • Cooperation skills: active participation in discussions, demonstrating a critical and cooperative attitude.

Research MA-students will be expected to show a more independent scholarly attitude (in formulating and working out the research question; quantity/ complexity of literature). It is, however, open to MA-students to work on Research MA-standards, in consultation with the teacher.


The timetable is available on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

Seminar: presentations and discussions in class based on individual study and research (supported by feedback sessions). The organization will depend on the number of participants, and will be decided after the first class.

Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours; or 5 ec x 28 hours= 140 hours:

  • Class hours: 14 × 2= 28 hours;

  • Greek pensum: 62 hours;

  • Oral presentation: 50 hours;

  • Paper: 140 hours.

Assessment method

When taken for 10 ec the requirements are:

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

  • oral or written examination (25%);

  • oral presentation (15 %);

  • paper (50%).

When taken for 5 ec the requirements are:

  • preparation and active participation in class, including a prepared response to another student’s presentation (20%);

  • oral or written examination (45%);

  • oral presentation (35%).


The final mark for 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/written examination (after consultation with the teacher). There is no resit for the oral presentation and participation.


Blackboard will be used for communication.

Reading list

  • Plato, Opera, Vol. 3, ed. J. Burnet (OCT), Oxford 1903;

  • English translation of Plato’s Protagoras (e.g., Adam Beresford, Plato. Protagoras and Meno. London (Penguin) 2005).


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.




Mw. Dr. M. (Marlein) van Raalte