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Seminar Greek: What Greek Myths Do



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/other degree have to contact the study advisor to check admissibility.


The corpus of Greek myth is one of the most distinctive – and enduring – legacies of classical antiquity. The ‘universal’ value, appeal, and utility of these stories is seemingly incontrovertible. In this course, we approach them from a very different perspective: we will seek to understand Greek myth as a living tradition of storytelling and to relocate these stories precisely in their ancient contexts.

We will analyse mythical paradigms and allusions in Greek literature to build up an appreciation for Greek myth as a conceptual repertoire of stories and story types shared across disparate communities. We will focus on the creation of mythic meaning not through the recognition of inherent significance in a narrative form, but through sensitivity to the effects that these stories created in particular retellings. In short, we will uncover what Greek myths did in antiquity.

Readings in Greek will consist of passages drawn from a wide variety of prose and poetic authors including Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, Callimachus, Herodotus, Pausanias, Galen, and Ps-Apollodorus.

Course objectives


  • of the major mythic narratives of antiquity;

  • of the most important literary and social contexts for mythic storytelling in Greek antiquity;

  • of important modes of analysis of myth.


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

  • critical assessment of secondary literature; oral presentation: the oral presentation will give a clear and well-argued interpretation of specific textual passages, making effective use of a handout and/or PowerPoint;

  • 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.


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

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours:

  • Contact hours 13 × 2 = 26 hours;

  • Reading of Greek text (ca. 65 pp OCT) = 50 hours;

  • Secondary Literature = 30 hours;

  • Preparation Oral Presentation = 20 hours;

  • Preparation Written Examination = 14 hours;

  • Written Paper (4000-6000 words) = 140 hours.

Assessment method

  • Written examination on the Greek text and topics discussed in class (30%);

  • Primary research assignment and oral presentation (30%);

  • Paper (30%);

  • Participation (10%).

The requirements for MA and Research MA students are differentiated: MA students will write a paper of 4000 words on a given topic, whereas ResMA students will write a paper of 6000 words on a topic of their own choice.


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of the assessement components. The translation component of the written examination must be passed with at least a 5.5; an unsatisfactory mark for other components, however, can be compensated with other satisfactory parts (if the average of all marks is satisfactory).


In case of a failure, the translation component of the final examination can be redone once. If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can revise the paper (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.

Exam review

Students will be invited to discuss their paper and their results for this seminar (participation, oral presentation, written examination, paper) individually with the teacher, as soon as the results have been published.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • the distribution of study material;

  • the announcement of assignments.

Reading list

Students should acquire:

  • R. Buxton, Imaginary Greece: The contexts of mythology (CUP, 1994);

  • R. S. Smith & S. M. Trzaskoma, Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae: two handbooks of Greek mythology (Hackett, 2007).

An additional reading list, with titles to be found in the Leiden University Library, will be made available before the start of the seminar. 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 registration in uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Exchange and Study Abroad students: please see the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. G. (Greta) Hawes


  • This seminar is offered for 10 ec. If students have a good reason to take this course for 5 ec, they should contact the lecturer. If the request is approved, the assessment method will be adapted to a 5 ec course load.