nl en

Ancient Literary Criticism


Admission Requirements

Only for BA3 students GLTC


Why is Homer the best poet? What determines the quality of a good poem? What role does literature play in society? Who wrote the best tragedies, Aeschylus or Euripides? Is poetry a matter of inspiration or does the poet apply the rules of his art (tekhnê)?

These and similar questions concerning literature were asked in antiquity. This seminar presents an overview of ancient literary criticism and literary theory from Homer to Horace. We will concentrate on some important and influential texts: Aristophanes’ Frogs, Aristotle’s Poetics, Demetrius’ On Style, Dionysius’ On Composition, Horace’s Ars Poetica and Longinus’ On the Sublime. These texts will be read in translation. Selected passages will be read in Greek (or Latin).

We will pay special attention to the contexts in which ancient ideas on literature were formulated. An important question is the following: can ancient literary criticism help us when we evaluate Greek and Roman authors and their literary texts?

Course objectives

  • Basic knowledge of ancient literary criticism

  • Acquaintance with key terms such as kairos, mimêsis, enthousiasmos, organic unity, lexis, sunthesis, psuchagôgia, etc.

  • Familiarity with some influential texts, including Aristophanes’ Frogs, Aristotle’s Poetics, Demetrius’ On Style, Dionysius’ On Composition, Longinus’ On the Sublime and Horace’s Ars Poetica

  • Reflection on the variety of aesthetic values in ancient and modern times



Mode of instruction

Lectures and seminar:

  • The instructor will lecture on all texts to be read in translation.

  • The students will give (short) presentations on specific Greek (or Latin) text passages that have to be studied in detail.

Assessment method

  • an oral presentation (50%) and

  • a written examination (50%).

The written examination contains questions about
(a) the texts to be read (in Greek, Latin and in translation),
(b) secondary literature and
© the topics presented and discussed during the lectures.


Blackboard will be used.

Reading list

Compulsory literature:

  1. D.A. Russell, Criticism in Antiquity, Berkeley / Los Angeles 1981 (Bristol Classical Paperbacks).
  2. D.A. Russell & M. Winterbottom, Ancient Literary Criticism. The Principal Texts in New Translations. Oxford 1972 (Paperback).

Recommended literature:
editions and translations of the texts to be read. Particularly useful is the Loeb-edition containing Aristotle, Poetics, Demetrius, On Style, Longinus, On the Sublime (Loeb Classical Library, L199, 1995, reprint 1999).


Via uSis

Contact information

Dr C.C. de Jonge


Studenten die bij dit werkcollege hun BA eindwerkstuk willen schrijven, nemen contact op met de docent.