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Classical Views of Literature & the Visual Arts - Essays

Assessed Essay Titles (Term 1)


1. Give an account of the various views of poetry in authors before Plato. Do these testimonies have anything in common with each other?

Rosemary Harrison Poetry and Criticism before Plato London 1969

Colin Macleod Collected Essays (Oxford 1984): ‘Homer on poetry and poetry in Homer’

P. Murray in Gransden, Murray, Winnifrith (ed.) Aspects of Epic

P. Murray Journal of Hellenic Studies 101 (1981), 87-100

G. Kennedy (ed.) Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (1989), 1-69

D.A. Russell Criticism in Antiquity (1981)


2. Give an account of Plato’s theory of literature in Republic Book 3. What are its drawbacks? What are are its redeeming features?

G. Kennedy (ed.) Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (1989), 108-41

I. Murdoch The Fire and the Sun

J. Annas An Introduction to Plato’s Republic Ch 10.

G. Genette Architext

Gould ‘Plato’s Hostility to Art’ Arion (3) 1964, 70-91


3. In what ways is the idea of genre useful for the understanding of ancient literature How useful is genre for the appreciation of literature in general?

F. Cairns Generic Composition in Greek and Roman poetry Edinburgh 1972, revised Ann Arbor 2007 (contrast Jasper Griffin Latin Poets and Roman Life London Duckworth 1985)

H. Dubrow Genre London Taylor and Francis 1982

John Frow, Genre. London: Taylor & Francis, 2006

T. Rosenmeyer ‘Ancient Literary Genres- A mirage?’ in A. Laird ed. Ancient Literary Criticism Oxford OUP: 2006

A. Fowler Kinds of Literature

G. Genette Architext

T. Todorov Introduction to Fantastic Literature

4. In what ways is the idea of inspiration useful for the understanding of ancient literature How useful is inspiration for the appreciation of literature in general?

(see handout to be provided for seminar) Homer Iliad 1.1, 2.484f.,   Plato Ion

Cambridge History of Literary Criticism Vol 1 (1989) chapter 1 especially 24ff

D.A Russell Criticism in Antiquity (1981): Ch 5

P. Murray  ‘Early Greek views of inspiration’Journal of Hellenic Studies (1981)

R. Harriott Poetry and Criticism before Plato (London : 1969)



5. In what ways do the views in Plato’s Republic and/or Horace’s Epistles on poetry help us to understand the purpose or function of literature in antiquity? Are those views still relevant to readers of modern literature today?

Cambridge History of Classical Literature Volume II (Roman Literature) (1985), 379-81

D. A. Russell ‘The Ars Poetica’ in Costa (ed.) Horace (London), 1973, 113-34

Cambridge History of Literary Criticism Vol 1 (1989), 254-66

Horace Literary Epistles (Cambridge)

D.A Russell Criticism in Antiquity (1981)

Assessed Essay Titles (Term 2)


In what sense can Aristotle be said to be Plato’s successor as well as his critic in the debate on the value of poetry? [not for students who wrote on Republic Book 3 in Term 1]


What features of Aristotle’s Poetics indicate that the author is more a philosopher than a literary critic?
On Aristotle generally:

J. BARNES Aristotle Oxford 1986

Essays in A. Laird, Ancient Literary Criticism Oxford 2006
•The edited collections of essays listed here contain some very important material.

ANDERSEN, Ø. and HAARBERG, J. ed. (2001) Making sense of Aristotle: Essays in Poetics (London: Duckworth)

BARNES, J., SCHOFIELD, M., SORABJI, R. ed. (1979) Articles on Aristotle, Vol 4: Psychology and Aesthetics (London: Duckworth)

BELFIORE, E. (1992) Tragic Pleasures: Aristotle on Plot and Emotion (Princeton).

COPE, E. M., (1867) An Introduction to Aristotle’s Rhetoric (London and Cambridge).

FORD, A. (2004) ‘Catharsis: the power of music in Aristotle’s Politics’ in P. Murray and P. Wilson ed. Music and the Muses: Song, Dance and Word in Classical Athenian Culture (Oxford).

HALL, E. (1996) ‘Is there a Polis in Aristotle’s Poetics?’ in M. S. Silk ed. Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond (Oxford), 295-309.

*HALLIWELL, S. (1986) Aristotle’s Poetics (London: Duckworth)

HEATH, M. (1989) ‘Aristotelian comedy’ Classical Quarterly 39: 344-54.

––– (1991) ‘The universality of poetry in Aristotle’s Poetics’ Classical Quarterly 41: 389-402 (reprinted in L. Gerson ed. (1999) Aristotle: Critical Essays (London: Routledge), 4.356-73).

HOUSE, H. (1956) Aristotle’s Poetics (London).

JANKO, R. (1984) Aristotle on Comedy: towards a reconstruction of Poetics ii (Berkeley).

JONES, J. (1962) On Aristotle and Greek Tragedy (London).

NUTTALL, A. D. (1996) Why does Tragedy Give Pleasure? (Oxford).

OLSON, E. ed. (1965) Aristotle’s Poetics and English Literature: A Collection of Critical Essays (Chicago). (This contains criticism by Thomas Twining, Thomas Taylor, Quiller-Couch, and other interpreters from the 18th – 20th centuries.)

*RORTY, A. O. ed. (1992) Essays on Aristotle’s Poetics (Princeton).

––– ed. (1996) Essays on Aristotle's Rhetoric (Berkeley: University of California Press).

SCHRIER, O. (1998) The Poetics of Aristotle and the Tractatus Coislinianus: a bibliography from about 900 till 1996 (Leiden).

SEGAL, C. (1996) ‘Catharsis, Audience, and Closure in Greek Tragedy’in M. S. Silk ed. Tragedy and the Tragic: Greek Theatre and Beyond (Oxford), 149-72

SIDWELL, K. (2000) ‘From Old to Middle to New? Aristotle’s Poetics and the history of Athenian comedy’ in D. Harvey and J. Wilkins ed. The rivals of Aristophanes: studies in Athenian old comedy (London), 247-58.

*SOLMSEN, F. (1941) ‘The Aristotelian Tradition in Ancient Rhetoric’ American Journal of Philology 62: 35-50, 169-90.

*STINTON, T.C.W. (1975) ‘Hamartia in Aristotle and Greek Tragedy’ Classical Quarterly 25: 221-54 (reprinted in Stinton, Collected Papers on Greek Tragedy (Oxford, 1990)).


7. Explain and evaluate Longinus’ theory of the sublime. Is it more pertinent to rhetoric than poetry?

INNES, D. C. (1995) ‘Longinus, Sublimity and Low Emotions’ in D.C. Innes, H. Hine and C. Pelling ed. Ethics and Rhetoric (Oxford), 323-33.

––––– (2002) ‘Longinus and Caecilius: Models of the Sublime’ Mnemosyne 55.3: 259-84.
––––– (1996) Cambridge History of Literary Criticism: Vol. 1 Classical Criticism

––––– (2006) Longinus: Structure and Unity in A. Laird ed. Ancient Literary Criticism (Oxford 2006)

*RUSSELL, D. A. (1981) ‘Longinus revisited’ Mnemosyne 34: 72-86.

––– (2006) Rhetoric and criticism in A. Laird ed. Ancient Literary Criticism (Oxford 2006)

*SEGAL, C. P. (1957) ‘Peri hupsous and the problem of cultural decline’, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 64, 121-45.

–––– (1987) ‘Writer as Hero: the Heroic Ethos in Longinus, On the Sublime’ in J. Servais ed. Stemmata: Mélanges offerts à Jules Labarbe, 207-17.

•‘Longinus’ and sublimity in later criticism and theory:

BRODY, J. (1958) Boileau and Longinus (Geneva).

HENN, T. R. (1934) Longinus in English Criticism (Cambridge).

LAMB, J. (1997) ‘The Sublime’ in H.B. Nisbet and C. Rawson ed. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticsm iv: The Eighteenth Century (Cambridge).

LOMBARDO, G. and FINOCCHIARO, F. (1993) Sublime Antico e Moderno: una bibliografia (Palermo).

MONK, S. H. (1960) The Sublime (2nd edn.) (New York).


8. What are Horace’s preoccupations and principles as a critic? [not for students who have answered on Horace in Term 1]


9. Is it significant that Horace’s prescriptions on poetry are written in letter form? What are the implications of this choice? [not for students who have answered on Horace in Term 1]


10. Discuss the issues raised for literary criticism and theory by the Ars Poetica and/or Tristia 4.10 [students who answered on Horace in Term 1 may only answer on Tristia 4.10]

Janet Fairweather, 'Ovid's Autobiographical Poem, Tristia 4.10' Classical Quarterly 37 (1987) 181-196 [JSTOR]

B. R. Fredericks 'Tristia 4.10: Poet's Autobiography and Poetic Autobiography' Transactions of the American Philological Association Vol. 106, (1976), pp. 139-154 [JSTOR]
R. Tarrant, 'Ovid and Ancient Literary History' in P.R. Hardie ed. Cambridge Companion to Ovid Cambridge 2002, 13-33 9 (online via Warwick library)
G. Williams Banished Voices: Readings in Ovid's Exile Poety Cambridge 1994
–---- Ovid's Exile Poetry in P. Hardie ed. Cambridge Companion to Ovid 2002, ch. 14


11. What are the aspects of poets’ lives Suetonius presents in his biographies? What do these presentations accomplish?

12. “Simonides calls painting ‘silent poetry’, and poetry ‘talking painting’.” Plutarch, Moralia 346f Discuss the validity and implications of this statement.

Plato Republic 10, Phaedrus (Week 5 handout), Shields of Homer and Virgil,

G.E. Lessing Laocoon esp. chs. 12, 18 (numerous editions and English translations)

M. McCall Ancient rhetorical theories of simile and comparison

S. Chatman ‘What novels can do and films can’t’ in W. Mitchell ed. On Narrative (Chicago 1981)

W. Mitchell Iconology (Chicago 1985)


13. In what ways might ekphrasis offer useful insights on the way visual art might have been viewed or interpreted?

Norman Bryson Looking at the Overlooked ch. 1

Michael Baxandall Patterns of Intention

A Laird Ut figura poesis in J. Elsner ed. Art and Text in Roman Culture (Cambridge 1996)

––– (2000) Design and designation in Virgil’s Aeneid, Tacitus’ Annals and Michelangelo’s Conversion of Saint Paul in H. Morales and A Sharrock ed Intratextuality (Oxford)


14. To what extent did specific ancient texts influence Renaissance ideas about the visual arts?

Horace Ars Poetica, Quintilian Institutio Oratoria,

Alberti On Painting (Penguin translation)

M. Baxandall Giotto and the Orators (OUP 1970)

Brian Vickers ‘Rhetoric and the Sister Arts’ in In Defence of Rhetoric (Oxford: OUP 1989)


The assessed essays should be word-processed and properly printed out, have proper bibliographical references, and be clearly and accurately expressed (correct spelling, good grammar, and well-structured sentences). The number of words used, as close as possible to 2500 words (including footnotes, not including bibliography), should be given on the cover sheet.

Submission deadlines must be heeded: the University has regulated that essays will attract a penalty of 5% for each day they are late. If you foresee difficulties in meeting the deadline, it is imperative that you contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

You may not submit essays by email, but should hand them in to the departmental office, with a cover sheet filled in, before 12 noon on or before the date posted.


Plagiarism, defined as ‘the attempt to pass off someone else’s work as one’s own’ is a variety of cheating or fraud. It is taken very seriously by the University and students who are caught can suffer penalties which are extremely detrimental to their career.