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Common Course: Ancient Cosmogonies


Admission requirements

This course is open to and compulsory for Research Master students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (all specializations).


How did the world come to be and why? All ancient civilizations have speculated about the origins of the present world order in cosmogonic myths, from the Babylonian Enūma Eliš to the Hebrew creation narratives in Genesis, and from various Egyptian stories about the First Time and the cosmic egg to Hesiod’s Theogony and the Orphic Theogonies in ancient Greece. The project was carried further by the first Greek philosophers, who framed their new, rationalizing approach to this old question as superior to previous mythical accounts. It was Plato who, in his dialogue the Timaeus, managed to overcome this distinction between myth and philosophy with his philosophical myth about the divine Demiurge.
The various cosmogonies from the ancient world did not develop in isolation but were shaped and reshaped in a complex process of interaction. While, for example, ancient Near Eastern cosmogonies informed Hesiod’s Theogony, the Babylonian intellectual Berossos reread the Enūma Eliš through the lens of Greek philosophy, just as the Jew Philo did in the case of the Genesis account. The motif of the cosmic egg, known from Egyptian and Phoenician sources surprisingly resurfaces in Greek Orphic texts. In this course we will study various cosmogonies from ancient cultures in themselves and reflect on the mechanisms of cultural interactions that (re)shaped these.

Course objectives


  • Knowledge of various cosmogonies from ancient Egypt, Babylonia, the Levant, and the Graeco-Roman world.

  • Knowledge of philosophical speculations about the origins of the cosmos in the Graeco-Roman world.

  • Knowledge of the ways in which these cosmogonies and philosophical speculations intersect and interact.

  • Knowledge of some theoretical concepts and paradigms that help us to understand ancient cosmogonies, related philosophical speculations, and their interactions.

Understanding and skills:

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

  • Reading skills: interpreting primary sources on cosmogonies in at least one ancient language (Akkadian, Sumerian, Hittite, Egyptian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Latin);

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature according to the standards of academic debate;

  • Oral presentation: the student will give a clear and well-argued interpretation, making effective use of a handout or other presentation devices;

  • 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.
    The common course contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4b and c (to give a clear and well-argued oral presentation for a wider audience; and a written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the Research Master study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Individual book review (20%)

  • Oral group presentation (15-20 minutes) (30%)

  • Written collaborative paper (4000-4500 words) (40%)

  • Active participation in class (10%)

If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, the student can either revise the paper or rewrite the book review (after consultation with the teacher). The exact form of the resit of an unsufficient oral presentation must be agreed upon with the teachers. There is no resit for the participation.

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 have to be organized.

Reading list

Relevant literature for the sessions will be made available via Brightspace.


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)