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Unit information: Women and the Family in Ancient Greek Tragedy 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 Women and the Family in Ancient Greek Tragedy
Unit code CLAS30027
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Lyndsay Coo
Open unit status Not open




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


Wives, mothers, daughters and sisters play pivotal roles in many central stories of Greek mythology. This unit will investigate the representation of female family relations, in particular the concepts of motherhood and sisterhood, with a focus on ancient Greek tragedy. We will ask why the all-male genre of tragedy so often concerned itself with women’s relationships and female family dynamics, and explore how these texts, including Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy, Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Medea, reflected the social and intellectual attitudes and concerns of ancient Athenian society. We will also place these dramas in a wider perspective by examining the representation of women in selections from other genres, and by considering how the reception of these mythological women continues to the present day in feminist criticism and political theory.


To introduce students to a range of key tragic texts, and to consider the relationship between these texts and their conditions of production, performance and reception;

To provide an overview of scholarly approaches to the study of women and the family;

To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials;

To develop written presentation skills through the course assessment.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit students should be able to demonstrate:

(1) in-depth knowledge and critical understanding of key texts from ancient Greek tragedy.

(2) the ability to interpret a dramatic text within its broader contexts of production, performace and reception.

(3) the ability to explain and analyse scholarly approaches to the study of women and the family, and to apply these approaches to their interpretation of the set texts.

(4) skills in critical thinking and in written communication appropriate to level H.

Teaching details

3 hours per week (seminars)

Assessment Details

One essay of 3000 words (50%) and one examination of two hours (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs (1) - (3). The coursework essay in particular will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate ILOs (4).

Reading and References

Core Texts:

Aeschylus, The Oresteia

Sophocles, Antigone, Electra

Euripides, Medea, Hecuba, Electra

Preliminary Background Reading:

Foley, H. P. Female Acts in Greek Tragedy (Princeton 2001)

Loraux, N. Mothers in Mourning (Ithaca, 1998)

Steiner, G. Antigones (Oxford 1984)