GRC20040 Greek Tragedy

Academic Year 2024/2025

*** Not available in the academic year indicated above ***

Greek tragedy has had profound influence on Western culture, and many of the 32 surviving plays are still regularly performed. This module will examine the social and theatrical context of the original performances in 5th-century Athens, and study a selection of plays in detail. We shall focus in particular on Aeschylus' great trilogy The Oresteia (458 B.C.), which deals with fundamental issues of revenge, justice, and the role of women in the state. We shall also be reading Sophocles' Electra and Euripides' Electra (both c. 420 B.C.), which deal with the same part of the myth as Aeschylus' Libation Bearers, the central play of The Oresteia, and give a good opportunity to compare the styles of the three main Greek tragedians. The final play in the module is Euripides' Medea (431 B.C.). The module does not require any prior knowledge of Greek tragedy, and all the plays are studied in translation.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module students should be able to:
* synthesize information about the social and theatrical context of the prescribed plays;
* demonstrate critical understanding of the prescribed plays as works of literature;
* evaluate modern interpretations of the prescribed plays.

Indicative Module Content:

Lecture List

1. No lecture
2. The Festival of Dionysus in Athens
3. The Athenian Theatre
4. Aeschylus, Agamemnon (myth; Agamemnon’s dilemma)
5. Aeschylus, Agamemnon (staging)
6. Aeschylus, Libation Bearers
7. Aeschylus, Eumenides
8. Sophocles, Electra
9. Introduction to Euripides
10. Euripides, Electra
11. Euripides, Medea
12. No lecture


There will be five tutorials in small groups, in alternate weeks starting in either Week 2 or Week 3. There will typically be an introductory tutorial on the ancient Greek theatre, two tutorials on Aeschylus' Oresteia, and one tutorial each on Sophocles and Euripides.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours




Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This module is taught through a combination of lectures and tutorials. The lectures give basic information about the Greek theatre, and discuss the main issues in the interpretation of the plays. The tutorials look at the plays in more detail, and allow students to express their own views and ask questions. Achievement of the learning outcomes is tested mainly by an end-of-semester essay (70%). Students also write a learning journal after each tutorial, which gives a record of their engagement with the module through the trimester; 30% of the final grade is for the learning journal and overall contribution to the tutorials. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
GRC2004E - Aeschylus' Oresteia, GRC30200 - Greek Tragedy and Myth

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade

Not yet recorded.

Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

The tutor will give feedback on tutorial contribution throughout the trimester, and feedback on the learning journal in Brightspace. The module co-ordinator will give feedback on the final essay in Brightspace.

Prescribed Texts

Aeschylus, Oresteia, tr. C. Collard (Oxford World’s Classics)
Sophocles, Electra, in Electra and Other Plays tr. D. Raeburn (Penguin)
Euripides, Medea and Electra, in Medea and Other Plays tr. P. Vellacott (Penguin)

Indicative secondary reading

O. Taplin, Greek Tragedy in Action (London, 1978)
E. Segal (ed.), Oxford Readings in Greek Tragedy (Oxford, 1983)
M. Lloyd (ed.), Aeschylus (Oxford Readings in Classical Studies; Oxford, 2007)
E.R. Dodds, ‘Morals and politics in the Oresteia’, in The Ancient Concept of Progress (Oxford, 1973), 45–63; reprinted in Lloyd (ed.), Aeschylus, ch. 8
M. Lloyd, Sophocles: Electra (London, 2005)
W.G. Arnott, ‘Double the vision: a reading of Euripides’ Electra’, Greece and Rome 28 (1981), 179–92
H.P. Foley, Female Acts in Greek Tragedy (Princeton, 2001)
J.P. Gould, ‘Law, custom and myth: aspects of the social position of women in classical Athens’ Journal of Hellenic Studies 100 (1980), 38–59
Name Role
Ms Suzanne Lynch Tutor