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Reading classical Greek: language and literature

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This module combines an introduction to classical Greek language with the study of classical Greek culture and literature in translation. It is intended for beginners in Greek and assumes no previous experience of language learning. You'll learn basic vocabulary and grammar, and be set on your way to reading Greek texts in the original. The module uses the JACT Reading Greek series, augmented by Study Guides. Your language learning is also supported by specially designed interactive resources. Alongside your language work, you'll study set texts in English (Euripides’ Medea, Aristophanes’ Clouds and Plato’s Defence of Socrates) from literary, cultural and performance angles.

What you will study

All references to the Greek language in these notes are to classical Greek, not modern Greek.

This module aims to provide a unique insight into Greek language and literature and the rich culture from which they originated. This module looks at the language and literature of classical Greece. It provides an introduction to the basics of classical Greek and allows you to lay solid foundations on which you can later build if you want to go on to read Greek authors in the original. It also develops your knowledge of the culture and literature of the classical era and includes the study, in translation, of three of the era’s most enduring texts: Euripides’ Medea, Aristophanes’ Clouds and Plato’s Defence of Socrates. No previous knowledge of Greek is required. This module is ideal both for students new to the discipline of classical studies and for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge of the rich thought-world of classical Greece.

The structured approach of this module will enable students with a variety of backgrounds to develop an awareness of the cultural and linguistic characteristics of classical Greece. Its specially designed grammar and vocabulary materials make it accessible to people who have not studied an ancient language before. It will also be of particular interest to those who are already taking classical studies modules. It complements other OU level 2 modules, especially Exploring the classical world (A229). 

Whilst this module is designed to be suit those wishing to cover only the basics of classical Greek, it provides a sound foundation for more language-orientated students wanting to study authors in the original. These authors include Plato, Aristophanes, Euripides, Sophocles, Herodotus and Homer. It also offers a suitable grounding in language if you want to go on to postgraduate work in areas such as classical studies or philosophy. As this module examines the culture and literature of classical Athens, it is ideal preparation for studying OU level 3 modules such as Myth in the Greek and Roman worlds (A330).

The linguistic core is based around the second edition of the textbook Reading Greek where you get to grips with the language by reading passages adapted from Greek authors. This emphasis on reading means that new vocabulary and grammar is always met in context, with the added advantage that while studying the language you gain an important insight into the literature and history of classical Greece. The passages you read are adapted from a number of authors such as Thucydides, Plato, Herodotus and Aristophanes.

The Language Study Guide is specially developed for independent learners. It will help you to understand the structure of Greek in greater depth and develop strategies for reading and understanding the language. It is designed to support all students, regardless of whether or not you have any previous experience of language learning. It offers important guidance in using the Reading Greek texts, helps you to pace your learning effectively and provides support throughout your studies. The Language Study Guide is backed up by another key resource: simple-to-use, interactive, web-based exercises that allow you to consolidate the language learning you have done and hone your knowledge. In addition, there is a Language Reference Book that sets out clearly, for quick reference, all the Greek grammar you'll need for your study.

The Literature Study Guide introduces you to a number of texts that you will read in translation, with special attention given to their authors’ use of language and to key cultural concepts. There are three key works that you'll read. Euripides’ Medea is a tragedy about betrayal and bitter revenge. Aristophanes’ Clouds is a bawdy comedy about Socrates and the changing intellectual climate in Athens in the 420s BCE. The final work is Plato’s Defence of Socrates, which provides a version of the defence speech delivered at Socrates’ trial in 399 BCE. During the module you'll study the Greek theatre and the changing thought world of classical Athens as well as gaining an overview (in translation) of some of the major authors of the classical Greek world.

Short audio lectures are provided that cover various aspects of the history, literature, thought and culture of the Greek world. They will also allow you to hear how classical Greek may have been pronounced using a number of readings from texts you'll encounter in the module. There are also audio and DVD resources that support your study of the texts you read in translation. These include a filmed production of Euripides' Medea and specially recorded versions of Aristophanes' Clouds and Plato's Defence of Socrates.

Entry requirements

This is a OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), or The arts past and present (AA100) (now discontinued) and Voices, texts and material culture (A105). These OU level 1 modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities. A111 also introduces the Greek world with Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone

If you have not studied at university level before, you are strongly advised to study at OU level 1 before progressing to OU level 2 study.

Although you don’t require any knowledge of the Greek language, this module does demand consistent work and commitment from the beginning. If you have experience of learning an ancient language you will be aware that regular study sessions are the only way to gain and retain a reading knowledge of the language.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

The specially-prepared interactive website Introducing Ancient Greek provides you with an excellent introduction to the study of the language. If you would like our preparatory leaflet, please send an A4 self-addressed envelope without a stamp to the A275 Curriculum Manager, Faculty of Arts, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA.

What's included

Books, other printed materials, DVD, DVD-ROM, audio CDs, module website.

You will need

CD player, DVD player.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Aristophanes: Sommerstein, A.H. (trans.) Clouds Aris & Phillips £19.99 - ISBN 9780856682100 This book is Print on Demand, please allow at least 2 weeks for receipt following order.
  • Plato: Gallop, D. (trans.) Defence of Socrates, Euthyphro, and Crito Oxford World's Classics £6.99 - ISBN 9780199540501
  • Euripides: Harrison, J. (ed) Medea Cambridge University Press £9.50 - ISBN 9780521644792
  • Osborne, R. (ed) The World of Athens: An Introduction to Classical Athenian Culture (2nd edn) Cambridge University Press £25.99 - ISBN 9780521698535

Note: You need to purchase the specified editions of the set books. The module materials make close reference to these editions and include other information which you are required to read as part of your studies.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit some of your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs). Your assignment booklet will tell you which method of submission you should use for each assignment.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A275 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Reading classical Greek: language and literature starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is not currently planned.

Course work includes:

7 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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