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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: Rome - The Very Idea

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 about the ideology of 'Rome' and to the theoretical and methodological issues raised thereby.
  2. To introduce students to the classical tradition, by tracing one important classical point of reference down the centuries, from late antiquity to the Renaissance, from early modern times to the twentieth century.
  3. To pull together, thereby, many threads of earlier learning in a demanding interdisciplinary, theoretical framework.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2019–20

There will be around 16 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 if they so choose.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2020-21 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.

Course description


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

‘Rome’ stands not only for the physical city on the banks of the Tiber; it is also a quasi-mythic entity that has played an important role in the Western imagination. In this course, we want to explore what ‘Rome’ has come to mean, both in antiquity and down the centuries, from the Hellenistic Greeks trying to come to terms with the new power-broker in their midst to Mussolini’s fascist Italy and beyond. The topography of the city and its abiding (yet changing) visual remains will naturally constitute a permanent point of reference throughout the course, but our main focus will be on a cluster of ‘big ideas’ that have accrued around Rome (and the Romans) over time – and how the city and its inhabitants feature in powerful historical narratives that revolve around such contrasting ideas as the real and the imaginary, the past and the present, stability and corruption, virtue and vice, republic and empire, liberty and tyranny, change and eternity, and Christian and pagan.

Topics and sources covered will include: (i) Introduction: The city as idea – Athens, Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Rome(s). Mythologies and realities of Rome’s foundation; (ii) From city to empire: Greek views of Rome; Past & Present in Virgil, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus; Rome as the World [urbs = orbis in late-republican and early imperial literature: Cicero, Virgil, Ovid]; Roma Aeterna + iconography of the goddess Roma; (iii) Imperial delusions/ The other side of Rome: Critics of Roman imperialism (Mithridates, Jugurtha, Calgacus, Sibylline Oracles); civil war and decline, luxury and decadence; Rome as cesspool of the world’s dross (Juvenal); (iv) Christian Visions: Rome on Earth – and in Heaven: Prudentius; Augustine, with particular reference to the sack of 410; medieval views of Rome; Hildebert of Lavardine; (v) Renaissance Revivals: Petrarch (and Cola di Rienzo); Flavio Biondo, Annio da Viterbo; Joachim Du Bellay; (vi) Shakespeare’s Rome: (Selections from) Titus Andronicus, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Anthony and Cleopatra; (vii) Rome and its Ruins in Early-Modern Times: Leon Battista Alberti; Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Baroque constructions of the city. The rise of archaeology (Lanciani, Boni); Freud’s analogue; (viii) The Rome of Mussolini: with reference to Ara Pacis, Mausoleum, Mostra Augustea della Romanità (EUR).

General reading: Absolute beginners could start with Robert Hughes, Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History (2012) (and enjoy the Latin errata). To get a flavour of the kind of ideas and materials we will be exploring, you may wish to sample the following: Edwards, C. (1996), Writing Rome: Textual Approaches to the City, Cambridge; Vout, C. (2012), The Hills of Rome: Signature of an Eternal City, Cambridge; Wyke, M. (1997), Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema, and History, New York and London.


Paper X2: Nature and its Discontents in the Ancient World

Course Director: Dr H Willey

Aims and Objectives

  1. To explore the concerns, theories, discussions and strategies which animated Greek and Roman responses to the natural world, its values, dangers and mysteries.
  2. To reflect on the ways in which the question of the relationship between nature and civilization varied and evolved across different times, places and genres.
  3. To ask how our own approaches to and worries about the natural world relate to those of the ancients.
  4. To emphasise and enjoy the intrinsically interdisciplinary nature of classical studies.


Scope and structure of the examination paper 2019-20

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 if they so choose.

(Supervisions for this course will be centrally organised.)

In 2020-21 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


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

How did the Greeks and Romans think about nature and their place within it? How did they attempt to harness, tame or emulate it? How was nature in turn thought to react to these efforts? In this course we will explore the diverse and complex ways in which the relationship between nature and civilization is negotiated in the literature, art, philosophy and language of Greece and Rome, and the ways in which the natural world shaped the lives and experiences of individuals and communities in the ancient world. Finally, we will consider how the concerns and preoccupations which animate ancient engagements with the natural world relate to and inform our own increasingly urgent ecological debates.

Topics and sources covered will include: (i) literary and visual depictions of the natural world from pastoral idylls to strange lands; (ii) Greek and Roman gardens, real and imaginary; (iii) the emergence of nature as a concept and the relationship between cosmic nature and the nature of things; (iv) nature as a source of ethical and social norms; (v) the subjugation of nature and its consequences; (vi) the relationship between art and nature in literature and visual culture; (vii) sacred landscapes, nature deities and nature as divine; (viii) ancient (and modern) concerns about the environment and its degradation. The paper will give attention to both texts and visual material.

General reading: R. Futo Kennedy & M. Jones-Lewis (edd.) The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Medieval Worlds (London, 2016); G. Shipley & J. Salmon (edd.) Human Landscapes in Classical Antiquity. Environment and Culture (London, 1996); D. Spencer Roman Landscape: Culture and Identity (Cambridge, 2010); G. Naddaf The Greek Concept of Nature (Albany, NY, 2005).

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Cambridge Classical Studies Series & Gold Open Access

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The Faculty of Classics is delighted to have reached an agreement with Cambridge University Press by which, for the next three years, five volumes a year in the Cambridge Classical Studies Series (monographs on Classical topics written by academics working in or recently trained in Cambridge) will be published Gold Open Access without charge to the author or the Faculty. This is a significant initiative, designed to maximise the impact of the excellent Classical research being done in Cambridge.

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