CLAS 201-01: Classics Seminar: Tyrants, Assassins, and Demagogues: Seizing Power in Ancient Greece (.5 Credit)

MEETING DAYS, TIMES, AND PLACE: TTh, 3:30-4:45, Wallace 115, for the first half of the semester



Dr. Robert Holschuh Simmons

Office: 21 Wallace Hall

Office Phone:  309-457-2378


Office Hours: Monday-Friday 11-11:50 AM, and by appointment.





This course is designed for anyone interested in the world of ancient Greece and/or in ways in which Greeks rose to power that continue to resonate in the modern world.  While Classics majors and minors should find this course something for which they are particularly well-prepared, thoughtful students in any major can succeed in this course.  It will be particularly well-suited for students who are willing to be intellectually active in their analysis of the works under study, and who can recognize the implications of those analyses for our contemporary world.  



While classical Athens gained fame as the world’s first democracy, it was not always that way, and even when it was, that democracy was not always tidy.  Long before democracy took root in Athens, that city-state and many others in Greece were dominated by tyrants, leaders who came to power by unconstitutional means.  One way to remove a tyrant was to plot and carry out his death; one such assassination was the step Athens took before moving into democracy.  After decades of that democracy, leaders called demagogues unsettled elite Athenians by making their political appeals directly to common Athenians.  One result: two attempts to overthrow the democracy, one of which resulted in a civil war.  In short, Greece in general, and Athens in particular, was a bastion of political experimentation and turmoil, which we will study in this course.  The reading material will include segments of the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, the Old Oligarch’s Constitution of the Athenians, and Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Assemblywomen.  The class’s culminating project will be a researched term paper.  This class can fulfill partial requirements for a major in Classics, Latin, or Greek. 


One caution: this course will be dealing with a number of topics that were prominent parts of Greek life through the centuries, some of which may make certain people uncomfortable.  Among things that may make some students uncomfortable about our readings, video clips (if I end up showing any), and other ideas presented and/or discussed in class are the following: violent behavior in the readings and in some video clips (again, if I decide to show any); depictions of male and female nudity in ancient vase paintings; portrayals of ancient slavery in our readings; and ancient stereotypes of sexes and cultures that come up in readings, which we will discuss in class.  While I will do my best to make our discussions inclusive, kind, and academic, some of the content of this course may not be ideal for students who are particularly sensitive to the sorts of matters mentioned above.  If you take issue with any of the material or discussions in this course, please contact me.



Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to do the following, and more:

1)      Understand the Greek senses of tyranny and demagogy, and how those systems of leadership came into place in ancient Greece.

2)      Examine social, cultural, and historical factors influencing the institution and development of tyranny and demagogy in ancient Greece.

3)      Know several of the primary sources (mostly written, but also some visual) from which we can come to understand tyranny and demagogy in ancient Greece as we do, and that depict challenges to and seizures of power in other ways as well.

4)      Analyze those primary sources in speech and writing to understand them as documents of their times and cultural contexts.

5)      Explain connections and overlaps between tyranny, demagogy, and democracy in the ancient and modern worlds.



1)      Think critically about the Classical World, including knowing what questions to ask and how to answer them.

3)  Know the broad overview of Greek and Roman history (the difference between the Republic and Imperial periods, for example), the values prevailing within each culture and period, and the factors that led to changes in the political, social, and economic structures.

4)  Be familiar with Classical literature, including the major authors, genres, groupings, and relationship of literature to history and culture.

5)  Understand the role of Classics in the modern world.




This will be a highly active and interactive class.  We will be spending a lot of time talking and writing about the things we have read and otherwise learned for, and in, class.  Thus it is critical that you be willing to take active part in class, both intellectually and physically.  To do the best job in carrying out class activities, it will be important for you to be well prepared for each class.  Thus a significant part of your grade will come from your participation in class and your preparation for it.  Your grade in this category will be based on a combination of my observations and notes and your own assessment of your performance in this area. 


To help both you and me keep up with your preparation and participation throughout the semester, you will have your own Preparation and Participation (P&P) folder that contains a self-assessment instrument.  At the beginning of each class, you will write in a score for yourself for your level of preparation for the class, and at the end of each class period, you will assess your participation based on your engagement in class, the quantity and quality of your contributions to class discussion, etc.  I will review your self-assessments and, if needed, alter them to reflect my assessment of your participation based on observation and evidence.  At one or more points in the class, you may need to provide an overall assessment of your preparation and participation based on your daily logs.  At the end of the term, I will average the daily scores, consider your written assessments, and incorporate my own observations to determine your final Preparation and Participation grade.



Because attendance is crucial to your success, and because our class meetings are where a great deal of the course’s value comes, I will hold you to a high standard of attendance.  You may occasionally, however, need to miss a class for illness or other reasons.  Thus you will not be penalized for your first two absences, whatever the reason for them.  If you miss more than two classes, however, your grade or status in the class will be affected according to the following parameters:

Normally, the two-absence cushion should account for matters outside of your control that would keep you from attending class, so the third one, even if it could be excusable on its own, serves as the consequence for classes missed previously that were within your control, and it underscores the importance of your being present: any absence, for whatever the reason, detracts from your learning in the class.  However, I recognize that a person can, at times, run into circumstances that can keep her or him out of class on several occasions without any fault on the student’s part.  If your first two absences were all due to debilitating or contagious illness, family emergency, mandatory religious obligation, or participation in an authorized College activity (for any of which I may require documentation), I will not penalize you for a third absence either, if that also was precipitated by one of those circumstances.  For absences beyond the first two that you believe should be excused, you should contact me beforehand if you are in position to know about the absences in advance (such as if you have a mandatory religious or College obligation); if the absence is the result of an emergency, you should notify me within three days of the missed class.  Please speak with me if you have a different reason for your absence that you think may be excusable.  I will be the sole arbiter as to whether an absence will be considered excused.  Further details:


quizzes and In-Class Writing:

Because it is critical that people are well-prepared for class in order for the events we will do in class to work out, I will regularly have you either take a short quiz on your reading or write for a few minutes in response to the reading; writing assignments will generally be in response to questions that I have assigned along with your reading.  MISSED QUIZZES AND WRITING ASSIGNMENTS MAY NOT BE MADE UP, unless you have missed such an assessment for reasons that were fully justifiable and over which you had no control.  (I will be the one who determines whether your circumstance justifies any mercy.)  However, I will drop students’ two lowest scores, including missed assignments, in tabulating their final grade. 



This is the main assessment for this class.  For this analytical paper, you will go through several steps of idea-generating, research, presentation of information from articles you have found, revision of your paper, and feedback on it before submitting a final draft for assessment; you will also need to present the findings of your final draft, in either a formal or informal setting.  The process of feedback will include a group conference with peers and an individual conference with the instructor.  Specific requirements and grading criteria for these will be handed out later in the term.


Grade Breakdown:      Preparation and participation                                      20%

                                                Attendance                                                                  10%

                                                In-class writing and quizzes                                         15%    

                                                Term paper and supporting assignments                     55%


Percentage/Grade Equivalents:

93-100 = A     87-89 = B+     77-79 = C+     67-69 = D+    59 and below = F

90-92 = A-      83-86 = B        73-76 = C        63-66 = D      

                        80-82 = B-      70-72 = C-      60-62 = D-



Herodotus, The Histories, translated by Robin Waterfield (Oxford, 1998).

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, translated by Steven Lattimore (Hackett, 1998).

Many more texts that will be posted on Moodle.


course engagement expectations:

This course is scheduled to meet 2 days per week for 75 minutes each for seven weeks.  You should expect to spend on course reading, homework, memorization, etc. approximately two hours outside of class for every hour in class. Assigned activities may take each student a different amount of time to finish; however, the weekly average for all students in the course for those matters should be 7.5 hours.  Intensive studying for exams and preparation for your project will be in addition to the standard weekly preparation, but will likely average out to an extra four hours per week.  The time estimates for the course thus break down as follows:


            In class activities                                                                                 2.5 hours

            Homework, review of course material, and class preparation             5.0 hours

            Intensive studying and preparing for the term paper (averaged out)    4.0 hours

Average per week:                                                                            11.5 hours


class behavior Expectations:

To maintain a classroom environment in which everyone can learn, please show the respect and courtesy to others that you would expect in turn.  Here are a few of the ways in which you can show respect and courtesy:

·        Be in your seat on time for class, and remain for the duration of each class.

·        Have a notebook, pen, and relevant materials out and ready to use throughout class.

·        Be ready to answer questions about the day’s homework and other relevant subjects, to work on in-class assignments individually and with peers, and to share your work in small groups with the whole class.

·        Remain quiet while I or others in class are speaking.

·        Show support for those who speak in class by your demeanor and body language.

·        Focus on the content of the class, not on personal electronic devices; all such items should be turned off and packed away during class, unless they are being used for class matters, in a way that is not distracting to your classmates or me.

·        You may eat and drink in class, but only if it is not distracting to other students or me.


E-mail Courtesies:

When sending me e-mail, please observe the following courtesies:

·        Begin the message with a salutation of some sort (Dr. Simmons, Prof. Simmons, Mr. Simmons, etc.).

·        Include a reasonably accurate subject line.

·        Capitalize and punctuate where appropriate, and proofread to make sure that you are communicating clearly.

·        At the end of the message, please identify yourself by the name by which I know you (first name or nickname).

I will get back to you as soon as I can.  Sometimes a response will be immediate; on other occasions it may take me several hours, and quite possibly a full day if you write late in the day, at night, or on a weekend, if I need to give some thought to a response before providing one, or if I simply have other things I need to get done before I can get to e-mails.


Special Needs: 

Anyone who has a special need that may require some modification of seating, testing, or other class requirements should see me as soon as possible.  I will be pleased to make the appropriate arrangements in consultation with you.  Depending on the modification, you may need to be registered with Disability Support Services.   


Disability Support Services:

If you have a disability or had academic accommodations in high school or another college, you may be eligible for academic accommodations at Monmouth College under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Monmouth College is committed to equal educational access.  Students with disabilities can apply for accommodations at the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC). The TLC is located on the 2nd floor of Poling Hall. For more information, call 309-457-2257 or connect online at


Academic honesty:  

From the Monmouth College Academic Honesty Policy:  “We view academic dishonesty as a threat to the integrity and intellectual mission of our institution. Any breach of the academic honesty policy – either intentionally or unintentionally – will be taken seriously and may result not only in failure in the course, but in suspension or expulsion from the college.  It is each student’s responsibility to read, understand and comply with the general academic honesty policy at Monmouth College, as defined here in the Scots Guide, and to the specific guidelines for each course, as elaborated on the professor’s syllabus.


“The following areas are examples of violations of the academic honesty policy: 


  1. Cheating on tests, labs, etc;
  2. Plagiarism, i.e., using the words, ideas, writing, or work of another without giving appropriate credit;
  3. Improper collaboration between students, i.e., not doing one’s own work on outside assignments specified as group projects by the instructor;
  4. Submitting work previously submitted in another course, without previous authorization by the instructor.


Please note that this list is not intended to be exhaustive.”


The complete Monmouth College Academic Honesty Policy can be found on the College web page by clicking on “Student Life” then on “Student Handbook” in the navigation bar on the top of the page, then “Academic Regulations” in the navigation bar at the left.  Or you can visit the web page directly by typing in this URL:


In this course, any violation of the academic honesty policy will have varying consequences depending on the severity of the infraction as judged by the instructor.  Minimally, a violation will result in an “F” or 0 points on the assignment in question. Additionally, the student’s course grade may be lowered by one letter grade.  In severe cases, the student will be assigned a course grade of “F” and dismissed from the class.  All cases of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Associate Dean, who may decide to recommend further action to the Admissions and Academic Status Committee, including suspension or dismissal.  It is assumed that students will educate themselves regarding what is considered to be academic dishonesty, so excuses or claims of ignorance will not mitigate the consequences of any violations.


Help outside of class:

You should not hesitate to talk with me about any difficulties you are having—this course is challenging, and I want to help you do the best you can at it.  Speak with me as soon as you are having trouble; letting a problem fester is likely to make it worse.  Also, there is help available at the locations below. 


Teaching & Learning Center:
The Teaching and Learning Center offers FREE resources to assist Monmouth College students with their academic success. Programs include Supplemental Instruction for difficult classes, drop-in and appointment tutoring, and individual academic coaching. The TLC is here to help students excel academically. TLC services are not just for struggling students, but can assist all students to get better grades, practice stronger study skills, and manage time.


Visit Kam Williams (Director of Academic Support Programs and Student Disability Services) and Rita Schwass (TLC secretary) at the TLC on 2nd floor Poling Hall from 8am-4:30pm or online at  Kam can be reached at or 309-457-2214, and Rita can be reached at or 309-457-2213.  Like the TLC on Facebook:

Writing Center:

The Monmouth College Writing Center offers unlimited, free peer tutoring sessions for students at Monmouth College.  Peer writing tutors work with writers from any major, of any writing ability, on any type of writing assignment, and at any stage of their writing processes, from planning to drafting to revising to editing.  It is located on the 3rd floor of the Mellinger Teaching and Learning Center, and we are open Sunday-Thursday 7-10pm and Monday-Thursday 3-5pm on a first-come, first-served basis.  No appointment necessary!  Learn more about the Writing Center at its website:


Speech Tutors:

Speech Tutors are available on a limited basis in the Writing Center to work with students who are preparing for a presentation in any course.  Speech Tutors can help fine-tune thesis statements, review outlines, suggest organizational strategies, provide feedback about visual aids, help students develop ways to manage speech anxiety, and watch speech practice sessions.  For information about tutor availability, visit the Writing Center’s website at


Schedule of Assignments:

Note: The assignments below are due on the days on which they are listed.  If there is no other instruction given, you are to do the following:

·        Information on the syllabus is subject to change throughout the term.  I will alert you of any changes, and I will give substantial changes to you in writing.


Day 1 (Tuesday, January 17)

Assignments due today:

·     Introduction to the class and one another


Learn the Greek lowercase alphabet, including letters’ names and soun

Day 2 (Thursday, January 19)

Persian autocrats to Greek tyrants

Assignments due today:

·        Herodotus, The Histories:

·        pp. 1-16 (1.1-33),

·        pp. 22-23 (1.53),

·        p. 39 (1.86, first two sentences),

·        pp. 204-206 (3.80-82),

·        pp. 24-28 (1.59-64), and

·        Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War pp. 11 (1.17) and 60-61 (1.126).


Day 3 (Tuesday, January 24)

Greek tyrants

Assignments due today:

·        Herodotus, The Histories :

·        pp. 338-341 (5.92),

·        pp. 189-192 (3.48-53),

·        pp. 363-365 (6.34-39), and

·        pp. 323-324 (5.55-56).

·        Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War:

·        pp. 332-336 (6.53-59).

·        Herodotus, The Histories:

·        pp. 325-327 (5.62-65) and

·        pp. 327-332 (5.66, 69-76, 78).


Day 4 (Thursday, January 26)

Athenian political history and reform

Assignments due today:

·        Pseudo-Aristotle’s The Constitution of Athens:

·        pp. 141-142 (Glossary) and

·        pp. 147-171—start at the beginning of Section II, and stop before Section XXVIII


Monday, January 30

·     Optional, but worth extra credit if you attend and write a one-page summary/response:

·        “Medieval Maritime Networks: Tracing Connections in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea,” Michelle Damian, Assistant Professor of History, Monmouth College (

·        7:30 P.M., Pattee Auditorium, CSB


Day 5 (Tuesday, January 31)

The Athenian demos, oligoi, and demagogues:

Assignments due today:

·        Pseudo-Aristotle’s The Constitution of Athens p. 171, Section XXVIII,

·        pp. 19-26 of the section of the Introduction to the Old Oligarch’s Constitution of the Athenians that are in the packet I’ve uploaded for you,

·        The whole (brief) text (in English) of the Constitution (pp. 37-57, only the odd-numbered pages), and

·        The brief snippets of Euripides’ tragedies Suppliant Women and Electra to which the author of the introduction refers. 


Day 6 (Thursday, February 2)

The elite reception of Athenian demagogues

Assignments due today:

·        Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War:

·        pp. 106-107 (2.65—stop after the second sentence in the last paragraph of 107, which ends “administration of the city”),

·        pp. 145-149 (3.36-3.40),

·        pp. 152-154 (3.47-49),

·        pp. 199-200 (4.21-23),

·        pp. 200-206 (4.26-33),

·        pp. 207-208 (4.36-39),

·        pp. 254-255 (5.2-3), and

·        pp. 256-260 (5.6-11).


Day 7 (Tuesday, February 7)

Demagogues in Athenian life

Assignments due today:

·        Aristophanes, Knights lines 1-972 (pp. 220-349)


Day 8 (Thursday, February 9)

Demagogues in Athenian life:

Assignments due today:

·        Aristophanes, Knights lines 973-1408 (pp. 349-405)


Friday, February 10

·        Optional, but I would be happy to see you there:

·        Cider with Classics: Lupercalia/Valentine’s Day/Homecoming from abroad edition

·        3-4 PM, Wallace 102


Day 9 (Tuesday, February 14)

From Cleon to the 400

Assignments due today:

·        Excerpts from the following works (specific pages/lines are given with the discussion questions, and the readings, other than Thucydides, are posted on Moodle):

·        Euripides’ Hippolytus,

·        Euripides’ Hecuba,

·        Aristophanes’ Lysistrata,

·        Pseudo-Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians, and

·        Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.


Day 10 (Thursday, February 16)

From the aftermath of the 400 to the aftermath of the 30

Assignments due today:

·        Excerpts from the following works (specific pages/lines are given with the discussion questions, and the readings are posted on Moodle):

·        Euripides’ Orestes,

·        Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis,

·        Aristophanes’ Frogs,

·        Aristophanes’ A Parliament of Women,

·        Xenophon’s Hellenica,

·        Lysias’ Against Eratosthenes, and

·        Pseudo-Aristotle’s Constitution of the Athenians.


Day 11 (Tuesday, February 21)

Assignments due today:

·        Hand in a brief overview of your plan for your paper, a list of the primary sources you intend to use, and an annotated bibliography of three secondary sources you have read that could be useful to your topic.

·        In class, in a two-three-minute period, present highlights of one of those sources that could contribute to your paper.    


Day 12 (Thursday, February 23)

Assignments due today:

·        Bring five copies of a coherent, organized draft of your paper that is at least 1000 words long (though it could be a full draft, if you would like it to be). 

·        In class, this paper will be critiqued by two or three of your peers (as you will critique peers’ work), and you will hand a copy of it in to me. 


Monday, February 27

·     Optional, but strongly encouraged, and attending the talk is worth extra credit (I don’t even need you to write a one-page summary/response):

·        7:30 PM in Pattee Auditorium: talk by Dr. Kathleen Coleman (Harvard University) on gladiators (“Defeat in the Arena”)


Day 13 (Tuesday, February 28)

Assignments due today:

·        No full-class meeting; sign up for individual 30-minute paper conferences with Prof. Simmons


Day 14 (Thursday, March 2)

Assignments due today:

·        Bring in complete, polished drafts of term papers, with all supporting materials, for peer critique.


Friday, March 3

Assignments due today:

·        Hand in the final drafts of your term paper, with all supporting materials.

·        Present on the term paper for two to three minutes after lunch at my house.