Department of Classics

PhD Qualifying Examination in Greek/Latin Literature (Writtens)

Part I. Close-Readings: Context and Interpretation, Translation and Commentary

Instructions. Analyze three passages (at least 1 prose and 1 poetry) from a selection of five passages (2 of one (prose or poetry) and 3 of the other).

Part I of the Qualifying Examination in Greek/Roman Literature is written outside of class during the 13th (Latin) and 14th (Greek) weeks of the spring semester. The passages are drawn from the authors, but not necessarily the texts, included in the syllabi for the surveys of Greek and Latin literature. The authors/texts/lines/chapters are identified for you. Passages are distributed on Thursday and are due the following Tuesday.

Each of your analyses should include:
  • Context and Interpretation
    • An introduction to the passage (of at least 500 words) that indicates how the specific passage relates to its larger context(s), suggests a comprehensive interpretation of the passage, and provides specific examples from the passage that effectively support those ideas. 
    • Specific features that you might want to touch on include: how the passage relates both to its immediate context and to the text more generally, key themes, images, exempla, form and style, distinctive features of this author or genre, etc.  This is not a checklist – do not feel obligated to say something about all of these.
    • word total: 500-750 words
  • Translation and Commentary
    • Provide your own translations of a couple of problematic lines/passages; this might include alternative possible translations.
    • Point out a major gap(s) and/or question(s) not adequately addressed by the scholarship you have read, which might be open questions. To the extent that your ability and inclination permit, suggest possible avenues for addressing these questions.
    • Cite and/or discuss informative parallels or intertexts (either within this work or in others, or both) for a couple of point/s of diction, style, imagery, etc. That is, comment on a couple of specific examples of how the text articulates what it says.
    • You do NOT need to offer definitive conclusions or answers to these problems.
    • Word total: 500-750 words
  • Bibliography
    • Include a bibliography of all of the sources that you consulted.
    • Any standard format is permissible, provided it is used consistently and includes complete bibliographic information

Allowable resources/procedures for citing scholarly works.  You are free to use any relevant scholarly sources, of course with proper citations and bibliography.  You should NOT consult any LIVE HUMAN resources (other students, your professors past or present, etc.). 

Formatting. Please double-space, put your name in the header, and use page numbers.

Length. Each analysis should not exceed 1250 words, for a total of no more than 3750 words (not including the Bibliography).

Part II. In-Class Essays (1.5 hours total)

The in-class essays are written on campus at an assigned time during finals week of the spring semester. In addition to the material covered in the surveys of Greek and Latin literature, your essays should engage with material (authors, texts, scholarship) that lies outside of the scope of the surveys. The point here is NOT to demonstrate your mastery of all of Greek and Latin literature, but rather your ability to apply the skills you have learned to material that the surveys do not cover.

Short Essay (30 minutes). Literary Historical Prompt

Instructions: Select one of the following two prompts.

The prompts for the short essays focus on a particular author, genre, or period. Prompts for this essay are fairly concrete and specific, and the kinds of examples that are appropriate to discuss in your answer are correspondingly specific and focused. A strong essay

  • addresses the prompt directly,
  • selects the most relevant and appropriate evidence to mount a strong argument, and
  • engages in detail with the supporting evidence.

Some examples from recent literature exams follow. For others, see Beth Chichester.

Greek 1. Who were some of the principal poets of Middle Comedy, and what do we know about their plays? Discuss the transition from Attic Old Comedy to Middle Comedy. How does Middle Comedy differ from its predecessor, and what are the political and economic factors that lie behind the changes?

Greek 2. Discuss the origins and development of epideictic prose from its origins through the Classical Period.

Latin 1. Roman drama survives in two floruits: in the mid-Republic ad again in the early Empire. What sorts of similarities and differences do we see in these two floruits? How had the practice and function of drama changed from the Republic to Imperial Rome? What factors -- cultural, literary, and historical -- might have shaped its forms of production and survival? Be sure to include a range of examples in your answer.

Latin 2. For a writer who wishes to narrate past events, what literary forms are available to choose from? What sorts of criteria might shape his preference for one form over another? What role does the structure associated with individual forms play? In what ways does form interact with the historian’s literary and historical aims? Be sure to include a range of examples in your answer.

Long Essay (60 minutes). Comprehensive Prompt

Instructions: Select one of the following two prompts.

The prompts for the long essays are more open-ended and are designed to elicit interpretive essays with a broader scope than the short essays. The two prompts for the long essay typically include one option that is thematic (e.g. the afterlife; animals in Greek/Latin literature) and one that is more formal/structural in nature. A strong essay

  • addresses the prompt directly,
  • includes a clear, specific, and valid thesis statement, and
  • detailed discussion of specific examples that effectively support the thesis.

Prompts often request that your essays include specific examples drawn from both prose and poetry, or include specific examples from several genres.

Some examples from recent literature exams follow. For others, see Beth Chichester.

Greek 1 (thematic). Anger is a prominent factor in much of Greek literature. Discuss some characteristic ways in which anger figures in the design, presentation, and effects of works from at least three genres. Do you find significant differences in the handling or presentation of anger tied to genre, occasion, or other factors?

Greek 2 (literary/structural). “Beginning is more than half the whole.” Discuss the way(s) that openings orient the audience and create expectations for the works they introduce.

Latin 1 (thematic). The city -- its founding, history, and potential destruction -- is perhaps the most important institution in ancient accounts of specifically human development. Trace the uses of the theme of the city across several genres and, ideally, across the full chronological scope of Latin literature.

Latin 2 (literary/structural). Please identify and discuss some of the specific ways that Roman authors signaled in their own writings their reading of other texts. How and to what ends did they indicate their familiarity with and participation in a broader literary culture? What sorts of citation techniques did they utilize? Some possible examples (this is not a comprehensive list): ekphrasis, translation, and the inclusion of a text with a letter.