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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : Ancient History

Undergraduate Course: Mysteria: The Secret Cults of Antiquity (ANHI10095)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryDid the initiates of the cult of the Great Mother really bathe in blood? And how could we possibly know, given that the ancient mysteries were supposed to be kept secret? This course offers an indepth look into Greek and Roman cults based on initiation and secrecy.
Course description Many cults of Greek and Roman antiquity, including some of the most prominent ones, were based on personal initiation. Often this would entail an obligation to keep the cult's core ideas and rituals secret; in some cases, passing them on to non-initiates was punishable by death. For modern scholars, this veil of secrecy creates obvious problems: while many ancient authors offered their own speculations on what was going on in these cults, it is often unclear how they (and hence: we) could possibly know. For some prominent cults, we encounter wild ideas and baseless polemics, whereas for others, we hardly get any information at all. This course offers an in-depth look into what can legitimately be said about ancient mystery cults. Combining literary, archaeological and epigraphical evidence ranging from Classical Athens to Roman East Lothian, students embark on a mission to reconstruct an important aspect of ancient religious life. They learn how to apply (and question) theoretical models of religion, and how to use various forms of evidence to imagine the religious experience of ancient individuals.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements The course is available to all students who have progressed to Honours.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should usually have at least 3 courses in Classics (at least 1 of which should be in Classical Art and Archaeology) at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this) for entry to this course. We will only consider University/College level courses.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  30
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 22, Summative Assessment Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 172 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 40 %, Coursework 60 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework: 4,500 word essay (60%)
Exam: 2 hour paper (40%)
Feedback Students are expected to discuss their coursework with the Course Organiser at least once prior to submission, and are encouraged to do so more often. Meetings can take place with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment. Students will also receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser.
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)2:00
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. understand and analyse written and material evidence relating to ancient mystery cults;
  2. engage primary sources in relation to current scholarship;
  3. critically evaluate different methodological approaches to ancient religion as a whole;
  4. construct, in writing, an independent argument on an important aspect of ancient religious experience;
  5. apply the methodological insights thus gained to religious developments of other epochs, including contemporary developments.
Reading List
J. Alvar, Romanising Oriental Gods. Myth, Salvation and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras, Leiden 2008.

H. Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World, Princeton 2010.

J. Bremmer, Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World, Berlin 2014.

W. Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, Cambridge (MA) 1987.

M. B. Cosmopoulos (ed.), Greek Mysteries. The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults, London 2003.

F. Graf & S. Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife. Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets, London 2007.

J. Z. Smith, Drudgery Divine. On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity, London 1990.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Benedikt Eckhardt
Tel: (0131 6)50 9110
Course secretaryMiss Mel Baker
Tel: (0131 6)50 4030
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