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Common Course: Commentary: Paratext and Metatext


Admission requirements

All students admitted to the Research MA Classics and Ancient Civilizations are admissible.


A shared characteristic of the ancient cultures studied in our RMA is the important role of writing and texts. From ancient times onwards, texts as bearers of cultural and religious identity became the objects of transmission and exegesis. This resulted in the production of ‘textual supports’ of various kinds on the same writing surface (titles, headings, marginal indications of various kinds, mark-up of special features of the text, such as (divine/royal) names etc.): this is known as ‘paratexts’. It also produced exegetical work of different kinds, e.g. lexicographical, exegetical, supplying background information etc. These texts characterized by their ‘dependence’ on a source text are ‘metatexts’ (or: commentary). Finally, in our own day we still make texts accessible in different ways by the production of ‘text about text’. But what is it that people do when they treat a source in this way? What are the cultural effects? How is it done? In this common course we will study what will be called for short ‘commentary’ in all its aspects.

Course objectives

At the end of this course:

  • students understand theoretical principles of the production of metatexts and has acquired a comparative perspective on this material.

  • students have familiarized themselves with a number of examples of metatexts in the original language;

  • students are familiar with the intellectual background to the ‘textual practices’ in ancient cultures (e.g. etymology, ideas on language, educational and other contexts)

  • students know how to assess (modern) commentaries on ancient texts and are capable of making reasoned choices in commentaries they themselves produce on ancient sources;

  • students are capable of reporting the results of their research in oral and written form (see below).


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

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

To be discussed in class.

Assessment method

  • Participation in class (10%)

  • Short paper (brief analysis of two or three modern commentaries on a passage in an ancient text) (20%)

  • Oral group presentation of 20 minutes (20%)

  • Final paper, based on at least 150 pp secondary literature and independent study of metatexts (50%)


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


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, students can take a resit of those parts that were insufficient. There is no resit for the participation and oral presentation.


Blackboard will be used for the distribution of handouts and other course documents

Reading list

Initial bibliography is made available; it is expected that the students will actively search out more material relevant to the topics they have selected.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Mw. prof. dr. Ineke Sluiter Dhr. Prof. dr. Olaf Kaper Dhr. Dr. Jan Gerrit Dercksen Dhr. Dr. Benjamin Suchard