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The course of history: ideas of “primitivism”, “progress”, and “decline” in Greek thought.


Admission requirements

  • BA students in Classics: Propaedeutic diploma Classics and Introduction to “Ancient Philosophy 2: from Aristotle to Neoplatonism”:

  • BA students in Philosophy: Propaedeutic diploma Philosophy and basic reading knowledge of Ancient Greek.


The course will examine the different ways in which mythology (Hesiod), tragedy (Aeschylus) and philosophy (the Presocratics, Plato and Aristotle) represent the ideas of “primitivism”, “progress”, and “decline” in cosmogonical and historical narratives. In ancient Greek thought, the origin and ensuing developement of civilization was conceived either as a Golden Age inexorably doomed to “decline”, or as a primitive yet momentaneous state of humankind engaged in continous “progress”. Within these two opposite conceptions of developpement, History (with a capital H) could be envisaged either as a cycle, eternally re-enacting a predetermined course, or as a radically open path to the unknown. As we shall see, ancient Greek representations of “primitivism”, “progress”, and “decline” determine to a large extent the categories we still use when we think of “our” history.

Course objectives

  • Have the skill to assess the sources and understand them within their cultural context, as demonstrated in oral presentation and written exam.

  • Critical assessment of secondary literature.

  • Active participation in discussions.


The timetable is available on the Classics website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 5 EC x 28 hours= 140 hours

  • Lectures: 13 x2 hours = 26 hours

  • Preparation lectures: 30 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 70 hours

  • Preparation exam: 14 hours

In consultation with the lecturer, Philsophy students can take this seminar for 10 EC. Basic level of Greek is required.

Assessment method


  • Oral presentation (20-30 minutes): 40%

  • Written examination with essay questions: 50%

  • Active participation in the debates: 10%

Regular assistance is compulsory.


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


If the final grade is insufficient, there is one opportunity to resit the form of a written test: the result of this test determines the final mark.

Exam review

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.


Blackboard will be used to provide students with secondary literature.

Reading list

We will read the following texts:

  • Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days (Loeb edition)

  • Pre-Socratics philosophers: selected passages from Xenophanes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Democritus (Loeb edition).

  • Aeschylus: Prometheus Bound (Loeb edition).

  • Plato: selected passages from the Statesman, the Protagoras, the Timaeus-Critias, the Laws (OCT).

  • Aristotle: selected passages from On Generation and Corruption, the Meteorology, the Politics (OCT).

A list of secondary literature will be provided at the begining of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. Leopoldo Iribarren Baralt