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Group X: Interdisciplinary Studies


X courses introduce students to the multi-disciplinary approach to Classics. They take themes that need to be explored from a number of disciplinary approaches if they are to be understood at all. Characteristically the sequence of lectures and classes both leads you through the millennium of classical culture and through a wide range of ways of thinking about the classical world. Comparison and contrast between similar, or similar-looking, material from different periods is variously combined with both separate and interrelated consideration of distinct aspects of culture. We aim to bring together and capitalise on the wealth of information and expertise that students have acquired from their previous work in Classics and beyond and are acquiring from their concurrent specialist study for the Tripos; at the same time we introduce a range of subjects which they have not encountered before in any directed or systematic way.

Each week a lecture is given by an invited specialist. Each lecture is followed by a two-hour class, in which the student group is encouraged to articulate, share, and develop their reactions to the themes of the lecture. Fresh material is also introduced in the classes, both so that points may be amplified, refined and explored and so that the students will gain confidence and solidarity, making the course theirs, over the course of the year, and test out for real whether the ideas and theories work, convince, gel ...


Paper X1: Being Human – Ancient and Modern Perspectives

Course Directors: Dr I Gildenhard and Dr N J Spivey

Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce students who have acquired a good range of knowledge and depth of understanding in traditional Classics to a range of ancient and modern texts and images that construe and discuss the nature of humanity and to the theoretical and methodological issues raised thereby.
  2. To introduce students to cross-cultural comparison, by juxtaposing material from ancient Greece and Rome with texts from other cultural spheres in the ancient world, or from later centuries and cultures.
  3. To introduce students to a very wide range of particular ancient materials relevant to the topic.
  4. To pull together, thereby, many threads of earlier learning in a demanding interdisciplinary, theoretical framework.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2016–17

There will be 16 questions, of which candidates will be required to answer three. Topics covered either on the lecture programme or in supervisions will be included. In some questions, candidates will be invited to refer in their answers to particular texts, pictures, or combinations of texts and pictures if they so choose.

In 2017-18 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


(8 L, 8 (2 hr) C: Lent)

Separately or in combination, views on what it is to be human that originate in the diverse cultural spheres of the ancient Mediterranean (Judaic and Christian, Greek and Roman) have had a profound impact on what ‘being human’ has meant in the Western cultural tradition. With the onset of modernity, these traditional ways of conceiving the human have been joined and challenged by developments in the natural and social sciences. This course tries to bring into dialogue classical (and classicizing), biblical and scientific perspectives on humanity, to explore their respective outlook and value. Eight lectures, some of which will be given by non-classicists from a range of disciplines will be followed by seminars (and supervisions) on corresponding classical material, not least to test the continuing relevance of Graeco-Roman views in contemporary debates.

Topics and sources covered will include: (i) creation myths with a particular emphasis on anthropogenesis; (ii) philosophical anthropology; (iii) the human condition; (iv) normative and universalizing conceptions of humanity; (v) modes of dehumanization both upwards (apotheosis) and downwards (descent to the level of beasts); (vi) the problem of transgression; (vii) the representation of the human body in art; (viii) and notions of the self and personhood. The paper will give attention to both texts and visual material.

Preliminary reading: Fuller, S. (2011), Humanity 2.0: What it means to be human, Past, Present, Future; Gildenhard, I. and Zissos, A. (eds.) (2013), Transformative Change in Western Thought: A History of Metamorphosis from Homer to Hollywood; Goldhill, S. (2004), Love, Sex & Tragedy: How the Ancient World Shapes Our Lives; Nussbaum, M.C. (1997), Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education; Pasternak, C. (ed.) (2007), What Makes Us Human?; Silk, M., Gildenhard, I., and Barrow, R. (2014), The Classical Tradition: Art, Literature, Thought [esp. Chapter 27: ‘The Order of Things’]; Spivey, N. (2001), Enduring Creation: Art, Pain and Fortitude; Squire, M. (2011), The Art of the Body: Antiquity and its Legacy.

A ‘Reader’ containing a collection of the ancient sources (in Greek or Latin and English Translation) and other relevant material will be made available to all participants at the beginning of Michaelmas term.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)


Paper X2: The Art of Care: The Body and the Self

Course Directors: Dr R E Flemming and Dr F Middleton

Aims and Objectives

  1. To explore a set of major themes in the classical world concerned with the understandings of, and approaches to, health and disease; cure and care; body, soul, and self.
  2. To engage with a very wide range of ancient evidence relevant to the topic, and with the relationships within and between the different genres, texts, artefacts and materials involved.
  3. To reflect on the historically variable ways in which physical and mental disease and health have been, and still are, imbued with particular moral valences.
  4. To emphasise and enjoy the intrinsically interdisciplinary nature of classical studies.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2016-17

There will be around sixteen essay-style questions concerning various topics covered in lectures, classes, and supervisions. Candidates will be required to answer three questions. In some questions candidates will be invited to refer in their answers to particular texts, pictures, or combinations of texts and pictures is they so choose.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

From 2017-18 this paper will be replaced by ‘Nature and its Discontents in the Ancient World’.


Course description


(8 L; 8 (2hr) C: Michaelmas)

Do we perceive ourselves as bodies or as embodied entities? If we are not bodies what is added to the body to make us ‘ourselves’? Is the body just a container for the mind (or the soul, the psyche), which we recognise as a person’s essence? What is the relationship between our ‘selves’ and our bodies? What should it be? These are questions which still trouble us today, but they also concerned the ancient Greeks and Romans. Ideas of the body and the self were explicitly theorised in the ancient world and these debates continue to influence modern frameworks for understanding the self and what it means to suffer or be well. More often, the nature of the self was implicitly recognised in discussions and depictions of illness, health, disease and healing in the ancient world, and we can learn a great deal about ancient notions of selfhood by contextualising explicit debates within this material.

This course therefore approaches broad questions about the self and subjectivity through a thematic focus on ancient notions of disease and practices of health. Among other things, we will look at ancient medical practice, cult healing sites, literary portrayals of suffering, philosophical discussions of the body and visual representations of wellness in order to explore the diverse range of ideas which informed ancient Greeks and Romans about what it meant to be who they were. We will assess the available answers in the ancient world to questions such as: When we become ill, is it our bodies that ail, or us? What is the difference between mental and physical illness? Are there diseases of the self? When and how do we decide we are suffering from a disease? More than this, we will consider whether it is possible to generate notions of self without worrying about our bodies.

Some preliminary reading: M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vols 2 and 3, trans. R. Hurley (London, 1978); B. Holmes, The Symptom and the Subject: The Emergence of the Body in Ancient Greece (Princeton, 2010); G.E.R. Lloyd, In the Grip of Disease: Studies in the Greek Imagination (Oxford, 2003); J. Perkins, The Suffering Self: Pain and Narrative Representation in the Early Christian Era (London, 1995); E. Scarry, The Body in Pain: The making and Unmaking of the World (New York, 1985).

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