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Comedy, Tragedy and the Art of Living: Ancient Philosophy and Literature

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The cultural achievements of the ancient Greeks and Romans have never been surpassed, or perhaps even equalled, in the millennia following their downfall.

On this module, we will explore some of the greatest philosophy, poetry and rhetoric that western civilisation has ever produced.

A wandering hero kills a one-eyed giant. A philosopher proves the stupidity of his fellow men, and is put to death by way of thanks. The King of Thebes finds his predecessor's killer, and does Sigmund Freud a huge favour in the process. The women of Athens go on an anti-war sex-strike (and it works). And Ovid shares dating tips.

Widen your horizons and find out what the ancients did for us. This course is for anyone with an interest in literature or philosophy and the enthusiasm to take that interest further. It operates as part of the Inside Narratives pathway, and will equip you with the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help you to study other courses in the pathway.

Learning and teaching

These sessions will include lectures, class discussions and group-work, source analysis activities and exercises to develop your academic skills. There will also be an opportunity for learning outside of the classroom, facilitated by the University's Virtual Learning Environment, Learning Central.

Coursework and assessment

Students will be expected to complete two pieces of assessed work: a 500-word close analysis and a 1,000-word essay. Advice and support will be provided for both assignments and you will receive detailed feedback relating to strengths and areas for improvement on both pieces of work.

Reading suggestions

  • Aristophanes, Lysistrata and other Plays, trans. Alan H. Sommerstein (London and New York: Penguin Classics)
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (Multiple versions available)
  • Homer, The Odyssey (Multiple versions and translations available)
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses (Multiple versions available)
  • Plato, Symposium (Multiple versions available)
  • Seneca, Moral and Political Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  • Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, trans. by Robert Fagles (London and New York: Penguin classics)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.