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  • Term Mode
  • Semester 1Campus Attendance





Unit rationale, description and aim

Greco-Roman thinking is remarkable for its promotion of dialogue. For ancient teachers of wisdom, conversation was often preferable to exposition because the interplay of questions and answers makes it possible for students to discover the truth for themselves. Dialogue, therefore, is more than just a particular form or genre to be studied. The term “dialogue” can also denote a way of engaging with texts, even if those texts are not themselves in a dialogue form.

In this unit, students will engage in a thinking dialogue with significant works from the classical or Hellenistic periods in order to acquire a deeper understanding of key philosophical, literary, juridical, ethical, aesthetic, political, and moral questions. The reading of these significant texts will be rooted in the Socratic method of using friendly but probing questions in order to draw out the tacitly held views of one’s interlocuter (as well as oneself) and to make progress towards more stable and consistent positions. 

The aim of this unit is to move from knowledge to application in the very practice of a thinking dialogue with the past, and to recognise that ancient thinkers transcend disciplinary, regional, and chronological boundaries.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Describe some of the central problems in ancient thinking and major positions, theories, or offered by some key thinkers from the ancient worldGC1, GC2, GC3, GC7, GC9, GC11, GC12
LO2Acquire and develop the ability to read a text closely and with careful scrutinyGC1, GC3, GC7, GC9
LO3Apply the skills of close reading and interpretation in effective written communicationGC1, GC3, GC7, GC11
LO4Apply broad skills in graduate-level researchGC1, GC2, GC3, GC4, GC7, GC9, GC11, GC12


Topics may include:

  • The elenchus
  • Socratic irony
  • Socratic ignorance 
  • Aporia 
  • Norms of Socratic Dialogue 
  • Plato on the virtues
  • Plato on truth and knowledge
  • Xenophon’s Socrates 
  • The Hellenistic Schools according to Cicero
  • Cicero on divination 
  • Tragedy
  • Epic
  • Beauty
  • Architecture
  • Sculpture

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit will be taught to students in a small-group setting, in which the texts and thematic concerns of the unit can be discussed and debated in a supportive and inclusive manner. The small-group setting will facilitate the use of the ‘Socratic’ method, in which analytical discussion and dialogue are stimulated through the use of an engaging question-and-answer format to consider texts and ideas from the great wisdom traditions of the west. A portion of class time will be devoted to discussing and debating the value of the dialogue form and studying Socratic techniques for productive conversations and interrogation of one’s own views.

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the semester. To achieve a passing standard in this unit, students will find it helpful to engage in the full range of learning activities and assessments utilised in this unit. The learning and teaching and assessment strategies include a range of approaches to support students’ learning such as reading, reflection, discussion, webinars, podcasts, videos etc.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit continues the strong emphasis on textual analysis of seminal works in the western intellectual tradition. The assessment strategy is designed to require students to demonstrate their understanding of the key ideas in the unit (LO1) through critical analysis of the set texts and the crafting of well-developed positions on them (LO2, LO3). Students will also develop the capacity for careful critical inquiry in both written and oral communication, including seminar discussions (LO2). The focus on writing and research skills (LO3, LO4) is also designed to assess, and assist the student to achieve, the unit learning objectives.

The first task requires students to read with close attention an early set text in the unit. This close reading is designed to challenge and to question disciplinary norms. In other words, conventional assumptions about the discipline or category to which a thinker belongs (e.g. that Plato belongs to philosophy, or Sophocles to literature) must be the object both of understanding and of critical thinking. The second task requires students to choose sections drawn from two assigned texts in order to compare different approaches developed in each. This task requires the student to explore points of commonality and points of difference between the texts. The final task requires students to create their own dialogue in which fictional interlocutors investigate a topic that has implications for more than one discipline. This task will require creativity as well as an understanding of the Socratic method of inquiry.

Minimum Achievement Standards

The assessment tasks and their weighting for this unit are designed to demonstrate achievement of each learning outcome. In order to pass this unit, students are required to submit all assessment tasks, meet the learning outcomes of the unit and achieve a minimum overall passing grade of 50%.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Assessment Task 1: Oral Presentation with written elaboration

Requires students to identify, explain, and discuss one key idea developed in one of the early assigned readings.


LO1, LO3, LO4

Assessment Task 2: Comparative written analysis

Requires students to identify, explain, and discuss one key theme that is differently developed in two of the assigned texts in the unit.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Assessment Task 3: Dialogue

Requires students to write an original dialogue investigating an interdisciplinary topic.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

Representative texts and references

Atkins, Jed, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Cicero’s Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021)

Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Second Edition, trans. by F. J. Sheed (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006)

Cicero, Marcus Tullius, Tusculan Disputations, trans. by J. E. King (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 1971)

Fine, Gail, The Oxford Handbook of Plato (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019)

Homer, The Odyssey, trans. by Emily Wilson (New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2017)

Plato, Symposium, trans. by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989)

Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, trans. by Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin Books, 1984)

Stuttard, David, The Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis (London: British Museum Press, 2013)

Tarmo, Toom, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Augustine’s Confessions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020)

Woodruff, Paul, The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)

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