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You are here Courses > Postgraduate > Taught M.Phil in Classics > Curiosity and Crisis in the Late-fifth Century: Receptions of the Sophists

CL7021 Curiosity and Crisis in the Late Fifth Century

This module examines some of the key intellectual figures that challenged traditional values and received wisdom in Athens during the mid to late fifth century BC and traces the popular reception of their ideas against the backdrop of the events of the last decades of the fifth century. It offers a broad survey of the main themes of sophistic debate as a crucial intellectual context for key works of Greek literature and considers how intellectual trends and political history may elaborate each other.
  • Module Organiser:
    • Dr Ashley Clements
  • Duration:
    • One Term
  • Contact Hours:
    • 22 (1 x 2-hour seminar p.w.)
  • Weighting:
    • 10 ECTS
  • Assessment:
    • 100% Continuous Assessment

Introductory Reading

  • Waterfield, R. (2000) The First Philosophers: The Presocratics and the Sophists. Oxford.
  • Romilly, J. (1992) The Great Sophists in Periclean Athens. Oxford.
  • Kerferd, G. B. (1981) The Sophistic Movement. Cambridge.
  • Untersteiner, M. (1954) The Sophists. Oxford.


Topics covered in this module include:

  • The surviving work of, and/or testimonia for, Protagoras, Antiphon, Hippias, Thrasymachus, Prodicus and Gorgias.
  • Sophistic debate on the relation of nomos to phusis; relativism; justice; the nature of language; the origins of human society; the nature of the gods; ontology; epistemology.
  • Greek tragedy andthe sophists
  • The early historians and sophistic thought
  • Plato and the sophists

Learning Outcomes

On successful conclusion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Understand and evaluate ancient and modern, popular, philosophical and literary, receptions of the sophists.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in evaluating our fragmentary evidence for sophistic thought and reconstruct historically and philosophically plausible positions for the sophists studied.
  • Evaluate the relationship between intellectual history and political events by relating particular receptions of sophistic thought to specific historical moments.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in oral presentation and discussion.
  • Analyse and assess the arguments of research papers, articles or books.