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Epic Tales from the Ancient World


Admission requirements

The course is open to MA and Research MA students Classics and Ancient Civilizations. There are no additional admission requirements for students in the MA and Research MA programs.
Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Assyriology/Ancient Near Eastern Studies obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.


The ancient epics from Greece and the Near East are fascinating for numerous reasons. The adventures and misfortunes of heroes like Gilgamesh and Odysseus still appeal to us today, because they are more than just entertaining stories about courageous deeds: they also include reflections on friendship, mortality and the meaning of life -- topics which are as significant now as they were thousands of years ago.

Not only the content, but also the genesis, function and transmission of these epics are intriguing. Though the tales have come down to us in written form, it is clear that they were (also) part of a lively oral tradition, in which multiple variants of these stories circulated.
This course will focus on a selection of well-known, and lesser known, ancient tales and epics from the ancient Near East, Anatolia and the Aegean. It has long been recognized that in antiquity these regions formed part of the same cultural continuum and that e.g. the epics of Homer and the Epic of Gilgamesh show remarkable similarities. By means of several case studies, concepts such as orality and literacy, function and performance and modes of transmission of epic poetry will be discussed. Attention will also be paid to the available archeological and iconographic evidence, as well as the Nachleben of the ancient epics.

Course objectives

Students will:

  • gain insight into recent theories about literacy, orality, oral tradition and the transmission of epic poetry;

  • gain insight into the most important themes of ancient epic tales as well as their historical context;

  • become familiar with discussions and literature about the origins, function and performance of ancient epic;

  • enhance their presentation and writing skills;

  • be able to independently formulate a research question and conduct research about a topic related to ancient epic poetry.


The timetable is available on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction

  • Lecture and seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 ec x 28 hours= 280 hours;

  • contact hours: 26 hours (13 × 2h);

  • class preparation: 72 hours (12 × 6h);

  • oral presentation: 40 hours;

  • assignments: 20 hours (5 x 4h.);

  • writing paper: 122 hours.

Assessment method

  • Oral presentation: 30%;

  • Class Participation & Assignments: 30%;

  • Paper (ca. 4,000 words): 40%.


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


If the overall mark is unsatisfactory, only the paper may be re-written. The mark for the oral presentation, class participation and assignments will still count in such a case.

Exam review

Students will be invited to discuss the term paper and the other results for this seminar (participation/assignments and oral presentation) individually with the teacher, as soon as the results have been published


Blackboard will be used for:

  • communication;

  • course materials.

Reading list

To be announced on Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about registration in uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Exchange and Study Abroad students: please see the Study Abroad/Exchange website for information on how to register.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. W.J.I. (Willemijn) Waal