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The literature papers in Part IB are designed to offer you a wide choice of topics representing texts from across the field of pagan Latin literature. Within this spread, however, we regard it as very important that during the Part I years everyone should study authors who have always been regarded as central to any engagement with the literature of Greece and Rome; this is the reason why, in the first year, there is a much more narrowly defined syllabus of target texts. The topics studied in the second year focus largely on texts in these same areas, but also afford the opportunity to range more widely outside the traditional canon.

Each paper includes two groups of texts labelled List A (the ‘core’ texts of that topic to be read in the original Latin) and List B (those offering scope for further exploration).

Non-intensive-Latin (Non-IL) candidates (i.e. those offering Paper B1) for any of these papers will be required to have read all texts in the List A of a topic studied for examination. Intensive-Latin (IL) candidates (i.e. those offering Papers B2-3 ) have a reduced list that is noted in the prescriptions below.


Aims and objectives

  1. To introduce samples of the variety and scope of pagan Latin literature and their importance to later literary traditions.
  2. To place that literature in a historical and cultural context, in accordance with the general aims and scope of the Part I course.
  3. To introduce the variety of critical approaches possible in the study of classical literature and current trends in criticism.
  4. To develop the practice of literary and textual interpretation at the level of detail through ‘close reading’ in Latin.


Scope and structure of the examination papers 2023–24

Each paper, to be assessed as a 2-hour in-person examination, is divided into three Sections (A, B and C). Sections A and B both consist of two questions, each of which must be answered, featuring passages from the List A texts for critical discussion. Each answer is worth 25% of the marks available for the paper. Sections C contains a choice of essay questions, of which candidates should attempt one. This section is worth 50% of the marks available for the paper.

Different prescriptions apply to different groups of candidates:

  • Non-intensive-Latin (Non-IL) candidates (i.e. those offering Paper B1) should attempt Sections A and C of Schedule D papers.
  • Intensive-Latin (IL) candidates (i.e. those offering Papers B2-3) should attempt Sections B and C of Schedule D papers.



D1 Plautus and Roman Comedy

(8L: TBC)

Packed to the gills with tricky slaves, desperate young lovers, seductive courtesans, outraged wives and grumpy fathers, the comedies of Plautus  are an endlessly interesting mix of slapstick and social critique. At times their tales are hilarious, at times baffling. This topic will examine how Roman comedy developed from a unique fusion of Hellenistic drama and native Italic traditions to become the most popular form of entertainment in mid-late Republican Rome. Through close study of four celebrated plays of Plautus, with particular focus on his Pseudolus (191 BC), we shall consider how Plautus adapted earlier Greek material to the demands of the Roman public. Although informed by centuries of tradition, Plautus was a striking innovator: his plays are characterised by elaborate physical and verbal humour, while exploring issues of social status, gender, and family relationships. The Pseudolus, described as “Plautus’ masterpiece” and exhibiting the archetypal portrayal of the so-called “cunning slave”, will allow for detailed exploration of these themes – as presented to a Roman audience, of all social strata, in festival-day party mood.

List A

  • Non-IL: Plautus, Pseudolus
  • IL: Plautus, Pseudolus 1–766

List B (for ALL candidates)

Plautus, Menaechmi, Captivi, Miles gloriosus

Introductory readings

  • N. Lowe, Comedy (Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics 37; Cambridge UP, 2008).
  • G.F. Franko and D. Dutsch, A Companion to Plautus (Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA, 2020).

Recommended editions/commentaries of texts

  • David Christenson, Plautus: Pseudolus (Greek and Latin Classics, Cambridge UP, 2020).
  • For Menaechmi, Miles Gloriosus and Captiui, Wolfgang De Melo’s Loeb edition (Vols 1–3, 2011).


D2 Early Virgil

(8L: Michaelmas)

This course will introduce to the first surviving works by Rome’s greatest poet, works that ensured that even before he wrote the Aeneid he was regarded as the greatest living Latin poet. The Eclogues contain exquisitely beautiful pastoral poetry, the first ever written in Latin; the Georgics explore the moral significance of agriculture to a world still linked to the land in a way that ours is not. Topics to be discussed include Virgil’s reinvention of Greek pastoral; love in the Eclogues and Georgics; Roman politics in the Eclogues and Georgics; the Georgics and didactic poetry; the meaning of the Georgics; and the Georgics and earlier poetry.

List A

  • Non-IL: Eclogues 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10; Georgics I + III
  • IL: Eclogues 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 10; Georgics I

List B (for ALL candidates)

Eclogues 3, 5, 6, 8 and Georgics 2, 3 (book 3, read in Latin by post-A level students, only for IL students), and 4; Theocritus, Idylls 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9; 10, 11, 13, Hesiod, Works and days, Varro, De re rustica book 3.

Introductory readings

  • P. R. Hardie, Virgil [Greece and Rome new Surveys in the Classics, No. 28] (Oxford, 1998)
  • C. Martindale and F. MacGorain, The Cambridge Companion to Virgil (2nd edn.) (Cambridge, 2019).

Recommended editions/commentaries of texts

Both texts: R. D. Williams, Virgil: the ‘Eclogues’ and ‘Georgics’ (London, 1979) [but this commentary is thinner and generally inferior to those mentioned below]

Eclogues: either R. Coleman, Vergil Eclogues (Cambridge, 1977) or W. V. Clausen, Virgil Eclogues (Oxford, 1994)

Georgics: R. F. Thomas, Virgil Georgics (Cambridge, 1988, 2 vols [books 1–2 vol. i; 3–4 vol. ii]) or R. A. B. Mynor, Virgil Georgics (Oxford, 1990). [Thomas is better on allusion to earlier poetry, Mynors on the general subject matter]

The passages set for examination will be taken from Mynors’s Oxford Classical Text.


D3 Politics and Poetics of Civil War

(8L: TBC)

Julius Caesar, one of the main gravediggers of the so-called ‘free Republic’ (libera res publica), chronicles his rise to power in his Commentarii de bello ciuili (or Bellum Ciuile). The first book offers his version of the events that led to his crossing of the Rubicon and promotes his blitz on Rome and subsequent invasion of Spain as ‘fighting for peace’ rather than undoing a centuries-long tradition of senatorial government. The poet Lucan, who wrote his De Bello Ciuili (or Pharsalia) during the reign of the emperor Nero (54 – 68 CE), the last of the Julio-Claudians, offers the perfect counterpart to Caesarian spin: his epic of the unspeakable (nefas) amounts to an anti-Aeneid: he undoes Virgil’s foundation narrative, in which Augustan Rome figures as the end of history not least in the way the first princeps concluded a century of civil conflict. The two texts thus enable an in-depth study of the ‘culture of civil war’ that evolved over the last century of the republic and how the experience of societal self-laceration continued to haunt Rome’s (literary) imagination during the early imperial period. The texts in List B round out the picture: some further Caesar and Lucan, Thucydides’ account of civil conflict (or stasis) and its impact on language, two other contemporary witnesses of Roman civil war (Cicero, Laudatio Turiae), and Petronius’ approach to civil-war epic in the Satyrica (as an alternative to Lucan).

List A

  • Non-IL: Caesar, Bellum Ciuile 1; Lucan, De Bello Ciuili 1
  • IL: Caesar, BC 1.1–33 [22 pp. OCT] (the rest in English); Lucan 1.1–583 (the rest in English)

List B (for ALL candidates)

Caesar, Bellum Ciuile 2–3; Lucan, De Bello Ciuili 7. Thucydides 3.82–3; Cicero, ad Atticum 7, 11–27; Laudatio Turiae; Petronius, Bellum Ciuile (Satyrica 118–24)

Introductory readings

  • Batstone, William W. and Damon, Cynthia (2006), Caesar’s Civil War, Oxford.
  • Hardie, Philip (1993), Virgil’s Epic Successors, Cambridge.
  • Henderson, John (1998), Fighting for Rome: Poets & Caesars, History and Civil War, Cambridge (esp. chs. 2 and 5).
  • Lowrie, Michèle and Vinken, Barbara (2023), Civil War and the Collapse of the Social Bond: The Roman Tradition at the Heart of the Modern, Cambridge.

Recommended editions/commentaries of texts

Caesar: J.M. Carter (ed.), Julius Caesar: The Civil War Books I & II, edited with an introduction, translation & commentary, Warminster 1990; A.G. Peskett’s Loeb edition (for Books 2–3). Lucan: Paul Roche (ed.), Lucan: De Bello Civili, Book 1, Oxford 2009 (also available on-line via iDiscover); J. D. Duff’s Loeb edition (for Book 7). Thucydides: C.F. Smith’s Loeb edition. Cicero: D.R. Shackleton Bailey’s Loeb edition. Laudatio Turiae: Erik Wistrand, The so-called Laudatio Turiae: introduction, text, translation, commentary, Lund 1976. Petronius: Gareth Schmeling’s Loeb edition (NB: many libraries will also hold Heseltine’s 1913 (rev. 1969) edition).


D4 Writing Nero: history and biography in imperial Rome

(8L: Lent)

‘What an artist dies in me!’ But what artistry was involved in putting Nero’s life into text? This topic focuses on two celebrated accounts of an infamous emperor, to consider the ‘biographical turn’ in imperial Rome. Book 14 of Tacitus’ Annals makes monumental history of the years ad 59-62, studded with the deaths of three very different women: mother Agrippina, sister-wife Octavia and the British rebel Boudica. Suetonius’ biography promises the inside story on Nero’s whole life, stuffed with gossip, gore – and more sophistication than often assumed. B texts expand the theme: the anonymous play Octavia stages Nero as tragic tyrant; Tacitus’ Annals 13 sheds harsh light on his first years as adolescent emperor; a century later, Cassius Dio gives his verdict on Nero’s reign and Boudica’s revolt. What do these different modes of ‘writing Nero’ tell us about tyranny, history and memory in the Empire?

List A

  • Non-IL: (1) Tacitus Annals 14.1-17, 29-39, 48-65; (2) Suetonius Life of Nero 11-50.
  • IL: (1) Tacitus Annals 14.1-13, 51-65; (2) Suetonius Life of Nero 20-50.

List B (for ALL candidates)

(1) the rest of Annals 14 and the Life of Nero; (2) ps.-Seneca Octavia; (3) Tacitus Annals 13.1-25 and 42-49; (4) Cassius Dio Roman History Book 62(61).11-21 and Book 62(62).1-12 (= the years A.D. 59-61).

Introductory readings

D. W. Hurley, ‘Biographies of Nero’, in E. Buckley and M. Dinter, eds. A companion to the Neronian age (Malden, MA, 2013), 29-44. A full bibliography will be provided in the lectures.

Recommended editions/commentaries of texts

(1) E. C. Woodcock, Tacitus Annals XIV (London 1939; repr. Bristol 1992); (2) B. H. Warmington, Suetonius Nero (2nd edn, Bristol 2013).

For A texts use the prescribed editions above. Two good translations of Tacitus’ Annals (both much better than the Loeb) are J. C. Yardley (Oxford World’s Classics, 2008) and C. Damon (Penguin, 2013); the newer Suetonius Loeb (rev. D. W. Hurley, 1998) has a good translation of his Nero (vol. 2). For the B texts the Loeb editions are most convenient: J. G. Fitch, Seneca: tragedies vol. 2 (2004, for Octavia); J. Jackson, Tacitus vol. 4 (1937); E. Cary, Dio Cassius: Roman History vol. 8 (1914). All these Loebs are available online via iDiscover.

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