Ancient Mediterranean
Greece Ancient Mediterranean : Greece
  CLAS102 • Latin Literature in Translation

+1.202.806.6725 / 6.5220
College of Arts and Sciences
Alain Locke Hall 268

LATIN LITERATURE IN TRANSLATION traces the development of literary genres over a period of 500 years in the Roman Empire, from the earliest literature of the Republic through the Principate and Dominate (200 BCE-300 CE). Tales of the ancient past and commentary on contemporary society justified the city of Rome’s expansion from a cluster of huts on the banks of the Tiber River to its emergence as the capital of a vast empire. Roman culture spread with the conquest of the Mediterranean basin; at the same time Romans absorbed certain customs and traditions from those that they had defeated. They used epic poetry to preserve tales of heroes and gods, they used lyric poetry to venerate love and valor, history to determine the causes of wars, tragedies to speak human struggles, comedy and satire to combine laughter with cultural critique, philosophy to understand, rhetoric to convince, bucolic poetry and novels to escape. We will read just a small selection from each of these genres, which will suffice to demonstrate the variety, richness and import of Latin literature.

Out of this array of literature, we select narratives that privilege Roman identity and that legitimize power. Regarding identity, we study how they defined themselves as both civilized and Roman, and how such identities were continuously formed and reformed in contact and conflict with other societies. We focus on those identities formed in relation to key ethnic groups that they identified in Africa, three indigenous—Numidians north of the Sahara, Nubians to the South, and Aegyptians in the Nile Valley—and three colonizers—Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. Regarding power, we focus on how they consolidated and maintained political, military, ideological and economic control, and how unequal power relations played out within society, namely relations between women and men, between upper and lower classes, between free and slave, between adults and children, and between citizens and foreigners.


The core goals of the class are

  • to acquire factual and conceptual knowledge of Latin literature, encompassing diverse genres, with a particular sensitivity to their context
  • to appreciate the study of antiquity with the analytical skills that scholars use to research, recover and write about the past
  • to develop habits of critical thinking in order to appreciate change and continuity over time, across diverse regions and in contact with diverse cultures
  • to become competent and confident in the skills necessary to write about ancient cultures
  • to become an independent inquirer into the past and a lifelong learner.


This course will treat reading and writing as critical thinking processes; we will remove the mystery and emphasize the mechanics of active reading and persuasive writing. You will learn how

  • to read ancient literature critically
  • to refute and/or accommodate opposing viewpoints
  • to write with clarity, brevity, and specificity
  • to avoid logical fallacies
  • to collect, synthesize, and access data systematically, and
  • to use this data to reinforce an effective argument