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Unit information: Philosophies of Eros: Ancient and Modern in 2020/21

Unit name Philosophies of Eros: Ancient and Modern
Unit code CLAS30043
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Laura Jansen
Open unit status Not open




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


What is eros and how has it been conceived across antiquity and modernity? For both ancients and moderns, eros is a concept charged with paradox, often escaping definition and categorisation. Is eros a romantic, sexual or Platonic idea? Is it a psychological, spiritual or physiological phenomenon? Should we regard eros as a single event or a long-lasting experience? Does eros unite or divide individuals? And is eros only the province of lovers? In this unit, we will survey some of the great classical and modernist writings on love, from Sappho, Plato and Ovid, to Pablo Neruda, Roland Barthes and Anne Carson. While these authors also speak of eros as an emotion, our focus will be instead on how they explore it as the object of philosophical enquiry. As we follow their works, we will concentrate on three intersecting themes: first, what sort of wisdom do their writings, emerging within their own cultures and traditions, attribute to the experience of eros? Second, how do their oeuvres contribute to eros as the history of an idea? Third, what interpretive principles and tools do we use, or have poets, philosophers, and scholars used, in trying to map out the nature and workings of love?

Unit aims:

  1. To survey a range of texts and genres, classical and modern, dealing with the topic of eros/love.
  2. To map out a series of narratives on eros within and across antiquity and modernity.
  3. To explore eros as a central theme in the history of (Western) ideas.
  4. To develop a series of interpretative principles and tools to analyse the concept of eros as a cultural and philosophical enquiry.

Intended learning outcomes

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

  1. explain conceptions of eros/love in their broader contexts, and how these changed over time;
  2. compare modes of thinking about eros across ancient and modern literature and thought;
  3. describe and analyse an appropriate range of primary sources (material and literary) for the study of eros as the history of an idea, 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 in writing at a level appropriate to level H

Teaching details

This unit will involve a combination of independent investigative activities, long- and short-form lectures, and discussion. Students will be expected to engage with materials and participate on a weekly basis. Feedback will be provided for both formative and summative assessments, and this will be supported by meetings with tutors.

Assessment Details

3,000 word essay (100%).

Reading and References

Select bibliography

Bartsch, Shadi & Bartscherer, Thomas (2006) (eds.), Erotikon': Essays on Eros, Ancient and Modern. Chicago.' Calame, Claude (1999), The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece. Princeton.