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Unit information: Futures Thinking in the Ancient World in 2020/21

Unit name Futures Thinking in the Ancient World
Unit code CLAS30042
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Eidinow
Open unit status Not open




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


Do you believe in Fate or Luck? How people think about the future can tell us a lot about their culture. This unit examines evidence for both the theories and the practices of divination in the ancient world and explores what they reveal about ancient society. As well as activities such as oracle consultation, we will explore the beliefs and ideas that shaped them, including concepts of Fate and Luck. Comparative material will include anthropological case studies, literary sources and visual culture, as well as a range of modern approaches to thinking about and planning for the future.

Students will be expected to deliver a formative group presentation.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. explain divinatory ritual practices in their broader contexts, and how these practices changed over time;
  2. compare modes of thinking about the future across ancient and modern cultures;
  3. describe and analyse an appropriate range of primary sources (material and literary) for the study of ancient divination and modern futures thinking, making connections between these sources, and situating them within their wider historical and cultural contexts.
  4. explain, evaluate, and apply a range of different theoretical and methodological approaches to the material.
  5. construct coherent, relevant and persuasive arguments on different aspects of the subject.
  6. communicate orally and in writing at a level appropriate to level H.

Teaching details

1 x two-hour seminar per week

1 x one-hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

One summative 3,000-word Essay (50%). [ILOs 1-6]

One summative 120-minute exam (50%). [ILOs 3, 4, 6]

Reading and References

Barton, Tamsyn. 1994. Ancient Astrology. London: Routledge.

Bowden, Hugh. 2005. Classical Athens and the Delphic Oracle: Divination and Democracy. Cambridge.

Curry, Patrick. and Angela Voss, eds. 2007. Seeing with Different Eyes: Essays in Divination and Astrology. Newcastle.

Eidinow, Esther. 2007. Oracles, Curses, and Risk Among the Ancient Greeks. Oxford.

Eidinow, Esther. 2011. Fate, Luck and Fortune: Antiquity and its Legacy. London.

Johnston, Sarah I. Ancient Divination.