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Greek Values - 10 credits (HS3309)

Staff: Louis Rawlings

The central norms and values of the ancient Greeks had profound effects both on their society, economy and politics, and on the nature of the literary and documentary evidence they have left us. The module traces the development of a number of these values and ideals (e.g. those associated with competition and excellence; honour and shame; self-control, piety and friendship) from the eighth to the fourth century BC. Throughout, the module compares and contrasts ancient Greek values with those of modern Western culture.

Optional for: all Ancient History degrees
Availability: spring semester in alternate years
Teaching: 10 lectures and 2 seminars
Assessment: one essay (50%) and one 1-hour examination (50%)

Syllabus content

  • differences and similarities between Greek, modern and Mediterranean values
  • some central values in Greek thought: competition and excellence (arete); honour and hybris; aidos and nemesis; self-control and moderation (sophrosyne); piety
  • the roles of greed and generosity in Greek life and thought
  • concepts of love, friendship and enmity


To enable understanding of the nature of Greek values and ideals, and their gradual development; the ways in which Greek values and ideals affect Greek society, economy and politics; and the ways in which values and ideals affect the contents and reliability of Greek literary and documentary evidence.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, the student will demonstrate:

  • a knowledge of the documentary evidence for a number of centrally important Greek values and ideals.
  • an ability to interpret the sources to obtain an understanding of role played by such values and ideals in ancient Greek society.
  • an awareness of the relationship between cultural values and social behaviour.
  • an awareness of similarities and differences between Greek culture on the one hand, and modern cultures on the other.
  • an ability to discuss these issues in written work with coherent and logical arguments, clearly and correctly expressed.

Primary sources (to be bought)

The Culture of Athens (LACTOR 12), eds. J.P. Sabben-Clare and M.S. Warman (second edition, 1991)

Preliminary reading

A. Adkins, Moral Values and Political Behaviour in Ancient Greece (1972)
M. Blundell, Helping Friends and Harming Enemies: A Study in Sophocles and Greek Ethics (1989)
D. Cohen, Law, Violence and Community in Classical Athens (1994)
W. Donlan, The Aristocratic Ideal and Selected Papers (1999)
K. J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality (1974)
M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus (1977)
N. R. E. Fisher, Social Values in Classical Athens (1976)
N. R. E. Fisher, Hybris: a Study in the Values of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greece (1992)
D. Konstan, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (2006)
M. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness (1986)
H. van Wees, Status Warriors (1992)
B. Williams, Shame and Necessity (1993)

Related modules

Prerequisite module: HS3101 Introduction to Greek History

Other modules to consider taking in conjunction with this one:

HS3314 Expansion and Conflict in the Greek Poleis

HS3315 Kingdoms, Cities and Hellenization

HS3362 Gender and Sexuality in Greece and Rome

HS3372 Greek and Roman Medicine