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Level 6

6AACTL77 Ideas of Power and the Power of Ideas: Ancient Political Philosophy II

Credit value: 15
Module convenor 2019/20: Dr Michael Trapp 
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment 2019/20: 1 x 3,000 word essay (100%)

Assessment patterns pre-2019/20

Undergraduate: 1 x 3-hour exam (100%)

Graduate Diploma: 2 x 2,000 word essays (50% each)


Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

How should power be understood and distributed within a city or a state, kingdom or empire? Is there a place in politics for truths, wisdom and expertise? What is the nature of political authority? In what wider framework of ideas should questions of solidarity, deference and obligation be understood? How do political theory and political practice relate to one another?

In this module, we will explore these and similar questions in relation to a diverse range of thinkers and texts – some very well known, other less often studied – from the fourth century BC to the second century AD. Beginning with Aristotle’s classic analysis of the essential nature and key benefits of the city state, composed on the eve of its eclipse as the prime political unit, we will move on to consider the debates that arose with the ‘Hellenistic’ schools of thought – Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism Neo-Pythagoreanism and Middle Platonism – and continued to hold the field under the Roman Empire. Seneca, Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom will be the main thinkers to be discussed, for their ideas on politics at both imperial and local level; but we will also look at the differing kinds of rejection of formal politics offered by Cynic and Epicurean thinking. A final session will consider the issue of harmony and civic solidarity, and question the relevance of ancient theorizing on this topic to the modern world.

This module forms the second part of two related but independent modules (see 6AACTL76: Ideas of Power and the Power of Ideas: Ancient Political Philosophy I). Students interested in acquiring a fuller picture of ancient political philosophy are encouraged to take both modules, but it is possible to take one module without the other (and students will not be disadvantaged by doing so). 

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Arruzza, C. (ed.) (2016), Philosophy and Political Power in Antiquity. Studies in moral philosophy, 10. Leiden.
  • Balot, R.K. (ed.) (2009), A Companion to Greek and Roman Political Thought. Malden.
  • Kraut, R. (2002), Aristotle: political philosophy. Oxford and New York.
  • Laks, A., and M. Schofield (eds) (1995), Justice and Generosity: studies in Hellenistic social and political philosophy. Cambridge.
  • Lane, M. (2014), Greek and Roman Political Ideas. Harmondsworth.
  • Rowe, C., and Schofield, M. (2000), The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought. Cambridge.
  • Salkever, S. (ed.) (2009), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought. Cambridge.
  • Schofield, M. (1999), The Stoic Idea of the City. Chicago.
  • Trapp, M. (2007), Philosophy in the Roman Empire: Ethics, Politics and Society, Aldershot
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