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The Heritage of the West: The Classics & Intertextuality in Art & Literature


Admission requirements

This course is open to all BA students. No specific knowledge of Latin or Greek required. Students of Classics are also most welcome.

This class is also a part of the minor Retorica.


The great texts from the Classical tradition have continuously influenced major texts and art works in the (early) modern Western European tradition. The way in which these later ‘hypertexts’ and ‘hyper-icons’ interact with their earlier ‘hypotexts’ is called intertextuality. In this class we study several pairings of ancient Greek and Roman hypotexts with modern texts and/or art works. A leading question will be why artists in the European tradition continue to appeal to Greek and Roman examples. A leading hypothesis is that the appeal to Classical texts and stories is always connected to the rhetorical aims of the hypertexts, that is to say to the way in which modern artists and authors try to influence their audiences. The appeal to the ancient tradition can help, for instance, to address issues that would otherwise be too delicate or dangerous to address directly (‘double speech’). The appeal to the authority of a Classical text can also lend a voice to social groups under pressure. On the level of dramatic tension, audiences who know the classical examples are more engaged recipients of modern texts, as they are more acutely aware of what may ‘go wrong’ in the story that is presented to them (‘dramatic irony’). Texts and art works to be studied include (provisionally): Ovid Metamorphoses, Shakespeare The Winter’s Tale & the representation of Pygmalion in Baroque art; Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray; Vergils’s Aeneid & Vondels Gysbrecht, Medea by Euripides, Seneca & Christa Wolff, Plato Symposium & Thomas Mann Death in Venice, and the figure of Scipio in Livy and early modern engravings and paintings.

Course objectives

The course aims to demonstrate the rhetorical/persuasive functions of intertextuality by confronting pairs of classical and (early) modern works of art.


Please consult the timetable on the website of the Colleges voor keuzevakstudenten Griekse en Latijnse taal en cultuur.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Course load for 5 ec x 28 hours = 140 hours:

  • lectures: 26 hours;

  • assessment: 4 hours;

  • primary literature: 66 hours;

  • secondary literature: 44 hours.

Assessment method


Written examination with short open questions and essay questions:

  • mid term examination: written examination with short open questions concerning the theory of intertextuality and the subjects covered in the first part of the term;

  • final exam: written examination with an essay question regarding a specific case of intertextuality, as well as short open questions concerning the subjects covered in the second half of the course.


The final mark is established by determining the weighted average of the two examinations (50% both).


Both exams can be separately taken at the resit.

Exam review

The results of the mid term examination will be discussed in class; for the final examination, a separate session during the examination period (May-June) will be organised. The dates for both these sessions will be announced in the time schedule for this class at the start of the semester.


Blackboard will be used for for powerpoints and additional material.

Reading list

  • Graham Allan, Intertextuality, Routledge: London 2011 (pbk);

  • Euripides, Medea. Transl, R. Warner. Dover 1993 (pbk.) (or any other translation);

  • Livy, The War with Hannibal. The History of Rome from Its Foundation, Books XXI-XXX, transl. Aubrey De Selincourt, Penguin Classics, London etc. 1965 (and many reprints) (pbk.) (or any other translation);

  • Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Stories, translated and introduced by David Luke, London: Vintage Classics 1998;

  • Thomas Mann, De dood in Venetië en andere verhalen, vertaald door Pé Hawinkels, Amsterdam: Arbeiderspers 2009.

  • Plato, Symposium and Phaedrus, translated by Benjamin Jowett, Dover Thrift Editions 1993;

  • Seneca, Medea, transl. and introd. Frederick Ahl, Ithaca, NY 1986 (pbk.) (or any other translation);

  • an edition of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, preferably: The Arden Shakespeare “The Winter’s Tale.” Edited by John Pitcher. London: A & C Black, 2010;

  • Christa Wolf, Medea, with an introduction by Margaret Atwood, New York 1998 (pbk.);

  • Ovid, Metamorphoses. Transl. Arthur Golding. Ed. with an introd. and notes by Madeleine Forey. Penguin books. 2002 [Or any other translation.]
    A more detailed bibliography and the exact passages to be read will be communicated in the class.


Via uSis.
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

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Dhr. Dr. A.M. Rademaker