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Seminar Latin: Orpheus in Latin Poetry


Admission requirements

A BA degree in Classics, obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact the instructor.
The number of participants for this course is limited to 17.


The figure of Orpheus is as capacious as it is elusive. In the Greek tradition, he appears as a mythical poet whose song can alter nature; as a hero who joined the Argonautic expedition; and as a legendary theologian of mystery cult to whom a rich variety of pseudepigraphical literature was ascribed.
This seminar aims to study the figure of Orpheus in some of the most important authors in Latin literature of the 1st century BCE and 1st century CE. The Latin tradition clearly inherited the multifaceted Orpheus of Greek culture. Throughout these two focal centuries of Latin literature, he is frequently evoked as a symbol of the power of poetry (e.g. in Propertius and Horace), but also as a mythical character with a personal history centring on his experience as an Argonaut (e.g. in Valerius Flaccus) and his spectacular death (e.g. in Vergil and Ovid). Less frequent, yet still relevant, are references to his theological activity (e.g. in Cicero).
Being such a versatile figure, Orpheus features across several literary genres, primarily in poetry. References to him occur with particular frequency in the poetry of the Late Republican and Early Imperial Age, when Rome, enduring a long period of internecine war, edged towards total dominion of the Greco-Egyptian East. He enjoys a revival in poetic popularity during the Flavian Age, when a new dynasty’s rise to power after a turbulent civil war opened new horizons while at the same time rekindling ancient fears of self-annihilation. A figure with such a complex identity as Orpheus’ served as an emblematic icon for many Latin poets of these two periods, writing in contexts of massive political, social, and religious change.
To what extent is the depiction of Orpheus by Latin writers of these two centuries conditioned by literary genre? What can the multifaceted figure of Orpheus reveal about how the Latin poets of the Augustan and Flavian Ages conceived of their role within a rapidly evolving society and the relation of their poetry with the ideological values of the principate? How can Orpheus contribute to refining our understanding of the poetic and politico-religious category of the Augustan uates? These are some of the questions that we shall be concerned with during the seminar.
For information on teaching materials, see ‘Reading list’ below.

Course objectives


  • Knowledge of the complex figure of Orpheus

  • Knowledge of the history of Greek literature of the Roman world (genres, authors, context).
    Understanding and skills

  • Advanced research skills: independent formulation of a complex research question, collecting materials (both primary texts and results of earlier research); analysing results, constructing arguments, formulating conclusions;

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature;

  • Oral presentation: presenting clearly and making effective use of hand-outs, illustrations and/or multi-media techniques

  • Written assignment: setting out research results effectively, clearly and in a well-structured manner.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Active participation/co-operation in class/group (25%)

  • Oral presentation (25%)

  • Abstract and paper (50%)
    The requirements for MA and ResMA students are the same, with the exception that MA students may expect more help in choosing their topic for the paper. All students will prepare a three-minute presentation of an abstract outlining the proposed research question for the paper, to be delivered in the final seminar. The paper (5000 words) is to be submitted on 8 January 2024.


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


In the event that the paper is judged to be unsatisfactory, a second improved version will have to be submitted. In such cases, the marks for active participation and for the oral presentation will still count.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

*Vergil, Eclogues 6
S. Ottaviano (2013), Berlin-Boston: De Gruyter.
W. Clausen (1994), Oxford: Clarendon Press.
A. Cucchiarelli (forthcoming, 2023), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

*Vergil, Georgics 4 (esp. 315–566)
G.B. Conte (2013), Berlin-Boston: De Gruyter.
A. Biotti (2022), Publio Virgilio Marone: Georgiche. Libro IV, 2nd ed., Bologna: Patron Editore.
R.A.B. Mynors (1990), Virgil: Georgics, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
R.F. Thomas (1988), Virgil: Georgics, 2 vols., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

*Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.1–11.84
R. Tarrant (2004), Oxford: Oxford Classical Text.
J.D. Reed (2013), Ovidio: Metamorfosi. Volume V (Libri X-XII), Milano: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla.
F. Bömer (1980), P. Ovidius Naso: Metamorphosen. Buch X-XI, Heidelberg: Winter.

Orpheus’ testimonia and fragments and other relevant works:
A. Bernabé (2004/2005), Poetae epici graeci 1, II 1/2, München-Leipzig: K.G. Saur Verlag.
G. Ricciardelli (2000), Inni orfici, Milano: Fondazione Lorenzo Valla.
C. Segal (1989), Orpheus, The Myth of the Poet, Baltimore-London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
M.L. West (1983), The Orphic Poems, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

N.B.: there is no need to purchase any of these books: a reader will be provided. A fuller bibliography will follow in due course, and general books on the topic will be made available on a special shelf in the Library when the class starts.
Students are expected to arrive at the first class of the semester having read Vergil, Eclogues 6 and Georgics 4.315–566 and Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.1–11.84 (marked with * in the Reading List above) both in Latin and in translation.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website

Registration À la carte education, Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of À la carte education (without taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

Information for those interested in taking this course in context of Contract teaching (with taking examinations), eg. about costs, registration and conditions.

For the registration of exchange students contact Humanities International Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: [Naam Onderwijsadministratie](link naar contactgegevens OA)


Students are required to attend the classes regularly, to be fully prepared, and to participate actively in discussions.