The Classic Myths
Telling stories is one of the most common ways that humans make sense of the world and their lives in it. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, these stories were very often in the form of tales of the adventures, triumphs and sufferings of gods and heroes – what we call classical myths. This class examines many of these myths, what they meant to Greeks and Romans, and what they still mean for us. We will cover major myths (including myths of creation, myths of nature and the stars, the Trojan war myths, the story of the house of Oedipus, the exploits of Hercules and Theseus, the career of Aeneas, and the myths of the early Roman kings) and the various media that record them (including ancient literature in translation and visual representations). This serves as an excellent introduction to ancient Mediterranean culture and society: through the myths we can learn more about ancient religion, politics and art. We will also discuss post-ancient responses to the classical myths, from medieval revulsion to modern poetry to spectacular Hollywood renditions. No previous experience of classical studies is necessary.
This course introduces students to a pair of the most famous Latin prose authors, Caesar and Cicero, as an entry-point into reading Latin literature. Both authors write in elegant and appealing Latin and are major actors in the dramatic (and sometimes disheartening/horrifying) stories of Roman imperial expansion and the collapse of the Roman Republic. The class is a chance to strengthen skills acquired in introductory language classes and to gain new experiences in reading longer sections from the works of major Latin authors. Through reading of texts and English-to-Latin sentences, we will systematically review Latin forms and sentence structure (morphology and syntax) and work on building vocabulary.
In the past I have also taught Greek History, Roman History and Livy.
Polytheism in Rome
As scholars have become increasingly conscious of the polemical overtones of paganism as a label for ancient religious cultures, its most popular substitute, polytheism, has received much less scrutiny. But what do students of Roman culture gain by focusing on the multiplicity of the Roman gods? Our investigation will have two strands: we will take a critical look at the literature on “polytheism” as a concept in the study of religion and we will look at (some of the) literary and material evidence for Roman engagement with multiple deities. For the latter strand, we will spend several meetings reading significant selections from Cicero’s De Natura Deorum, a particularly valuable witness to the Roman (and Greek) intellectual reckoning with divine plurality, and the fragments of the later books of Varro’s Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum.
(Taught Fall 2016)
This seminar will center on a detailed reading of the first five books of Augustine’s De Civitate Dei in its historical context. Written in reaction to the traumatic Fall of Rome in 410, Augustine’s big book has long been considered a (timeless?) classic of political philosophy and Christian theology. We will take a different approach, reading Augustine as a ‘Roman thinker’, a thinker of ‘Rome’ and as a subject of the late Roman Empire.
To put Augustine’s treatise in context, we will approach several different historical topics. One will be an investigation of the form and strength of the late antique Roman State in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. So often, this state has been caricatured as either weak or overbearing. Augustine gives a valuable perspective from the periphery and from the Church on the working of this Theodosian state. We will also address the question of violence–state violence, ‘barbarian’ violence, private violence–and its effects. Another important question will be the social role of historical memory in late antiquity and the question of how that memory was mediated by ‘classic’ texts for figures like Augustine. In addition to the De Civitate Dei, we will read sermons and letters by Augustine that address these topics.
(Taught Spring 2016)
Religion in the Roman Republic
“It is not in numbers that we are superior to the Spaniards, nor in personal strength to the Gauls, nor in cunning to the Carthaginians, nor in arts to the Greeks, nor in the natural acuteness which seems to be implanted in the people of this land and country, to the Italian and Latin tribes; but it is in and by means of piety and ritual precision, and the special wisdom of perceiving that all things are governed and managed by the divine power of the immortal gods, that we have been and are superior to all other countries and nations.” (Cic. Har. 19). Cicero’s claim that the piety of the Romans was their unique quality has not always found the agreement of modern students of Roman history. Indeed, the religious life of Republican Rome has frequently been described as “cold” and “formal” and the idea that religion was entirely embedded in Republican politics has been remarkably persistent. In line with recent scholarly trends, this seminar will reconsider the place of religion in Roman Republican society, seeking to move past modern stereotypes and to identify the complexity and diversity of interaction with the gods in Roman social life.
The seminar will be project based. Each student will be responsible for a set of primary sources related to key historical problems, including religion of the Big Man (Africanus, Sulla and Pompey); the religion of votive offerings; divine signs and their interpretation; Republican colonial religion; Roman imperialists in the Hellenistic Greek religious landscape; philosophy as a religious option etc. The problems all require study of combinations of literary, documentary and archaeological sources. Seminar papers will be developed over three in-class presentations on the primary materials, on the relevant secondary literature and on the project as a whole.
(Taught Fall 2014)
I have also taught graduate surveys in Roman History and Roman Documents.