Literary-Stream Qualifying Examinations

General Description and Expectations

The qualifying exams specific to the literary stream consist of two open-book, take-home examinations (one in Greek, one in Latin literature). Students are asked to write a critical examination of a selected passage, which demonstrates their skills in literary analysis and their familiarity with crucial aspects of ancient literature. There is a wide range of issues that students may choose to address in their discussion, including (but not limited to):

  • formal qualities: language, diction, meter etc.
  • genre
  • literary motifs and themes
  • salient intertextual and/or intratextual relationships
  • scholarly trends in the criticism of the passage, work, and/or author different theoretical or methodological avenues for interpretation
  • the relationship to other texts of the same era
  • the passage’s relation to its social, cultural or historical context reception of the passage, work, and/or author

A good discussion will first and foremost closely engage with the text at hand, offering a substantial and coherent analysis. It will also demonstrate knowledge of the larger work, oeuvre, genre, and/or literary history to which it belongs. Students should not attempt to cover all of the aspects mentioned above, but to focus on issues they consider to be most relevant for a better understanding of the passage; they are free to choose from which angle to approach the text, and are encouraged to draw connections between (or to synthesize) different approaches. The essay should offer a thoughtful and, ideally, original close reading of the passage. Students may wish to engage with scholarly debates on the passage or work, but please note that this is not supposed to be a research paper (i.e. no footnotes vel. sim.).


ONE passage out of four (2 prose, 2 poetry).


Students have 3.5 days to complete the qualifying exam, which will typically be given over a weekend (e.g. pick up the exam at Thursday, 5pm – submit it by Monday 9am).


The examinations committee will select passages from authors/genres familiar to the students from the Reading List or closely related to them. Students will NOT be tested specifically on reading list texts, but on their general ability to engage with ancient texts from a literary perspective.


The discussion should not exceed 10 double-spaced pages.

Examination committee:

The exams will be given and evaluated by a team of two faculty members to be nominated by the Chair for any given year.


The literary-specific qualifying exam will be offered twice a year, in October and April.

Program requirements:

Students will need to pass the literary-specific qualifying exam in one language by the end of Year 2 (October examination), in the other by the end of Year 3 (October examination) with a grade of B+ or higher. Those entering the program before September 2019 may request to take the exam pass/fail. Normally students will first have passed the Reading List translation exam in that language, but students may also attempt the literary-specific qualifying exams beforehand.

Notification of intent:

Students should notify the Graduate Coordinator by September 30/March 30 whether they intend to write the exam that term.


Preparations for the reading list translation exams and the stream-specific qualifying exams should go hand in hand and mutually enforce each other. Students are encouraged to read broadly about ancient literary and study a wide variety of genres and authors. It is advised that they read standard texts only partially represented on the reading list in their entirety, at least in translation.

A good way to learn more about specific genres, authors, literary eras etc. is to consult the articles in relevant Companions (published by Cambridge, Oxford or Blackwell) and to follow up on “further readings”. Students are also invited to ask faculty members for reading recommendations (both with regard to secondary literature and commentaries). Last but not least, Research Seminars will expose students to a variety of texts, methods and scholarly discourses and help them hone their skills in literary analysis.