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Unit information: Communication and the Classics: Messengers, Witnesses, Parasites in 2018/19

Please note: It is possible that the information shown for future academic years may change due to developments in the relevant academic field. Optional unit availability varies depending on both staffing and student choice.

Unit name Communication and the Classics: Messengers, Witnesses, Parasites
Unit code CLAS20038
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Michelakis
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


What does it mean to converse with classical texts? What does it mean to be transported by a powerful narrative? How does the transportation of information through space and the transportation of information through time relate to one another? To what extent does the movement of ideas depend on senders and receivers and to what extent on technical or other processes outside their control? What gets transmitted between sender and receiver and what gets concealed or lost in the process? And how do classical texts from different periods and genres reflect on all this? These questions will be addressed through three types of figures that can be found across classical literature: messengers, witnesses and parasites. All three types offer reflection on how we access the past and how knowledge gets transmitted, and all three of them will be used to address the question of how communication is informed and shaped not by proximity but by distance.


  1. To introduce students to different principles of communication, systems of exchange, and metaphors of experiencing narrative worlds.
  2. To introduce students to key classical texts (in translation) and their reception, with attention to classical narrative as a communication system.
  3. To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials.
  4. To develop academic and creative writing and oral presentation skills through course assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will:

  1. be able to explain and discuss with sophistication literary, critical and philosophical debates about the definition and purpose of communication and cultural transmission.
  2. be able to describe and explain the workings of literary narrative as a system of communication and its engagement with the material transmission of meaning.
  3. be able to apply literary-critical techniques to specific literary works;
  4. have developed skills in critical thinking, oral communication, and academic writing, appropriate to year level.

Teaching details

3 hours of interactive lectures per week.

Assessment Details

1) One coursework essay of 2,500 words (50%)

2) One exam of 90 minutes (50%)

Both elements will assess ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Homer, Iliad, Books 1&24

Homer, Odyssey, Books 21-22

Homeric Hymn to Hermes

Sophocles, Oedipus the King

Aristophanes, Birds

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 2

Plato, Ion

Plato, Phaedrus

Menander, Dyskolos

Debray, R. (2000) Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth, New York: Columbia University Press

Peters, J. D. (1999) Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Krämer, S. (2015) Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press

Danesi, M. (ed.) (2013) Media and Communication, Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Mackay, E. A. (ed.) (2008) Orality, Literacy, Memory in the Ancient Greek and Roman World, Leiden: Brill

Porter, J. I. (ed.) Classical Pasts: The Classical Traditions of Greece and Rome, Princeton: Princeton University Press