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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 2021–22

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 2022-23 this paper will be replaced by a new paper entitled 'Classics Live'.

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: Gods of Greece and Rome

Course Director: Dr R Gagné

Scope and structure of the examination paper 2021-22

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 2022-23 the scope and structure of the paper will remain unchanged.


Course description


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

How did the Greeks and Romans understand divinity? Were gods like humans and could humans become (like) gods? In a world full of gods, these questions were ever-present, often pressing, and they are fundamental to our understanding of all aspects of Graeco-Roman society and cultural production. Taking the cultural construction of gods as our focus, this course will involve questions of ethics, aesthetics, ontology and politics. What was at stake in the offerings made at tombs, the hymnic invocation of a god, the worship of an unworked lump of stone, the narration of a farcical story about deities, philosophical attempts to understand the nature of divinity, or the claim of a ruler to govern as a living god? We will approach such questions using tools from a wide range of disciplines (literature, anthropology, history, art and archaeology, linguistics, philosophy) and adopting a broad chronological frame, from the Bronze Age to Late Antiquity.

A sample year of topics covered: (i) The many lives of Zeus: Homer, Hesiod and the Hymns (ii) The many lives of Jupiter: Vergil and Ovid (iii) Whose gods? Theology and cult, past and present (iv) The names of the gods. Etymology, system, competence (v) Bodies of the gods? The many modes of divine figuration (vi) The nature of the gods. Philosophical battles (vii) Gods in place: Artemis Orthia in Sparta (viii) Gods in place: Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste (ix) Divine interfaces in Anatolia: Hittites, Greeks, Lycians (x) Cybele in Rome (xi) Politics and Epiphany: Dionysos and Bacchus (xii) Networks: Isis in the Roman Mediterranean (xiii) Memories of divine landscape: Pausanias (xiv) Gods of allegory. From the Derveni Papyrus to Isidore of Seville (xv) Gods and demons of "magic". Curses to theurgy (xvi) Jewish and Christian gods. Idolatry and the invention of polytheism.

General reading: Useful introductions to some of the issues covered in this course can be found in: Parker, R. (2011) On Greek Religion, Oxford; Bremmer, J. (2021 (2nd ed.)) Greek Religion, Groningen; Ando, C. (2008) The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire, Berkeley; Feeney, D. (1991) The Gods in Epic: Poets and Critics of the Classical Tradition, Oxford; Rüpke, J. (2014) From Jupiter to Christ. On the History of Religion in the Roman Imperial Period, Oxford; Scheid, J. (2016) The Gods, the State, and the Individual: Reflections on Civic Religion in Rome, Philadelphia.


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