Department of Greek & Latin


UCL Greek and Latin Essay Competition 2020 (for secondary-school students)

UCL Greek and Latin Essay Competition 2020 (for secondary-school students)

To inspire students to explore the ancient world, the UCL Department of Greek and Latin is advertising an essay competition with two categories: one for school students in years 12 and 13 in the UK (or equivalent); the other for those in years 10 and 11 (or equivalent) in the academic year 2019/20. Engaging with the essay topics and the suggested bibliography is a great way for students to get a taste of university-level research and to challenge their understanding of the ancient world. The word limit is 2000 words, including any footnotes, but not the bibliography. Each student can choose between two essay titles, posted below. The essay competition is open to all school students in the respective years of study, and it does not require previous knowledge of the subject.



Students wishing to submit an entry for the competition can submit their essay as an attachment (in Word or PDF format) at classics.office@ucl.ac.uk by 4 30 pm Monday 31st of August 2020. Please include the completed coversheet as the first page of your submission.

The winning entries in each category will receive a prize of  £50. There will be a prize of £30 for the two runner-up entries.

If students have any questions about the essay competition, they should contact Dr. Elena Cagnoli Fiecconi at e.fiecconi@ucl.ac.uk

Essay Questions and Bibliography

Question 1: Early Greek Religion

What do the early Greek poets tell us about sacrifice as a form of communication and sociability between gods and humans?


For early Greeks, animal sacrifice was an essential part of their religion’s basic ritual and symbolic language. Not only did it constitute a means of serving and communicating with the gods, but it also, through the ritual feast which followed, one of the fundamental methods of tying a family, a community or another social group together. Under the heading “primary texts” below you will find several interesting texts that describe the sacrificial ritual from the early Greek epic poets.  These are all what we can call representations of sacrificial ritual in myth. The Iliad-poet (8th century BC?) describes a sacrificial ritual to restore the Achaean army’s broken relations to the god Apollo, their enemy; Hesiod’s Theogony (early 7th century BC?) describes what the poet conceives as the very first sacrifice, which not only establishes a ritual but powerfully and finally separates humans (who earlier had feasted at the same table as the Olympians) from the gods they worship; and the poet of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes describes what seems to be the inauguration, by the newborn god Hermes, of a form of sacrifice to the Twelve Gods which was carried out in his own day at Olympia. You can think about how these narratives describe, explain, justify and legitimate real-world ritual practice; and how myth relates to ritual in the context of ancient Greek religion. You will find some of the fundamental readings listed below as well as some other interesting online resources. Feel free to consult some or all of them. You should also feel free to look at commentaries and any articles and resources that you find online, as well as handbooks like the Oxford Classical Dictionary or the Blackwell Companion to Greek Religion. Write your own answer to the essay question in the light of what you have discovered.

Primary texts:

Homer, Iliad 1, 428-474.

Hesiod, Theogony 507-616.

Homeric Hymn to Hermes (H.Hom. 4), 105-141.


Secondary sources:


Bataille, Georges. (1989). Theory of Religion. New York: Zone Books.

Bloch, Maurice. (1992). Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Burkert, Walter. (1983). Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (Translated by P. Bing). Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

M. Detienne and J.-P. Vernant (1989), The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks. Chicago.

Ian Rutherford and Sarah Hitch, eds. (2017) Animal Sacrifice in the Ancient Greek World. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

E. Eidinow and others: online podcast series on Greek religion and ritual.

Faraone, Christopher A., and F. S. Naiden, eds. (2012). Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Sarah Hitch (2009), King of Sacrifice: Ritual and Royal Authority in the Iliad. Washington, DC: Centre for Hellenic Studies-Harvard University Press.


Question 2: Philosophy.

In Plato’s Symposium, different characters take turns in singing the praises of love. Choose one of the speeches and analyse it: what does it tell us about love? Is its analysis of love plausible?

Plato’s Symposium is, alongside the Lysis and the Phaedrus, the primary source for Plato’s views on love and friendship. Plato does not speak in his own voice, but he depicts a number of participants to a dinner party as they give speeches in praise of love in different styles. These speeches are beautifully written and show us Plato’s ability to move seamlessly between different styles and themes. They also contain interesting insights about why we fall in love, or what good (if any) love does to us. Read the dialogue as whole first, and then choose the speech you like the most. Summarise the speech and comment on its style and content, with a focus on whether or not you find the views it expresses plausible.

Primary texts:


Secondary Sources:






Question 3: Heroism.

Compare heroism as it appears in the Homeric poems with heroism in the modern world.

In the Iliad and in the Odyssey, we find a fascinating representation of the deeds and the weaknesses of Achilles, Odysseus and other heroes. Hero cults were prominent in ancient Greek religion and society and there is a lively debate in current scholarship about whether we find evidence of these cults in the Homeric poems. In this essay, we ask you to reflect on how heroes are represented in Homer and to think about the role of heroes in ancient Greece. Compare these representations to the way in which heroes feature in contemporary culture. You could focus on a specific superhero, like Wonder Woman, Black Panther, or Superman. You could also think about heroism in general and refer to several examples.

Primary texts:

Iliad https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Ilhome.php

Odyssey https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Greek/Odhome.php

Secondary Sources: