Ancient Mediterranean
IH:G&R IH: Greece & Rome
  CLAS051 • Greece & Rome

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

ANCIENT GREECE & ROME traces cultural developments over the course of more than a millennium, spanning from the emergence of Greek city-states and the foundation of Rome to the fragmentation of the Roman Dominate, with the collapse of the Latin West and survival of the Byzantine Greek East. We trace how culture spread, with Greek colonial expansion and with the extension of Rome’s imperium across the entire Mediterranean basin. We analyze how Greeks and Romans accepted or disdained customs and traditions from those they had conquered, and how their own identities were continuously reformed in contact and conflict with other societies. We purposefully chose texts that depict Libyans to the north of the Sahara, Ethiopians to its south, and Egyptians of the Nile Valley, as well as Phoenicians (alongside Greeks and later Romans) who colonized the Mediterranean shore.  We also focus on power, 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. We use a variety of primary texts (monumental inscriptions, diplomatic correspondence, ritual texts) and archaeological evidence (art and artifacts) in order to shape our narratives about the past.

We sample various literary genres—epic poetry and folktales to sing of heroes and gods, lyric poetry to venerate love and valor, epinician poetry to honor voctors, history to determine the causes of wars, tragedies to speak human struggles, comedy and satire to bring laughter to cultural critique, philosophy to understand, rhetoric to convince, apologetic texts to defend, parables to teach, and novels to escape. We will read just a small selection from each of these genres, which should suffice to demonstrate the variety, richness and importance of Greek literature. Most these texts or topics selected fit into at least two of the three designated Integrated Humanities Areas: (1) “Literature and Orality,” with key folklore motifs shared between and beyond Egypt and the Near East, (2) “Ideas and Beliefs,” particularly those beliefs and traditions relating to the Greek New Testament; and (3) “Language, Art and Archaeology,” with interludes that will examine material culture in relation to specific texts and specific ethnic groups, which will require site visits to monuments and museums, including McMillan Reservoir, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art.


The core goals of the class are:

  • to acquire factual and conceptual knowledge of ancient literature from the Ancient Mediterranean,
  • to appreciate the study of antiquity, the analytical skills that scholars use to research, recover and write about ancient literature and material culture;
  • to develop habits of historical thinking in order to appreciate change and continuity over time, in diverse regions, among diverse cultures;
  • become competent and confident in the skills necessary to write about ancient cultures; and
  • 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