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Culture and Identity MA


Ancient History/Classics MA: 

Culture and Identity from Nero to Hadrian

Dr E. Spentzou/Prof R. Alston (RHUL) e.spentzou@rhul.ac.uk / r.alston@rhul.ac.uk

Course Description

The fall of the Roman Republic brought about a change in the cultural values of the Roman state. No longer was Rome a Republic in which it was possible to pretend that all citizens were equal, but now even the most powerful of Roman aristocrats were under the power of the Roman emperor and his servants. The period from the accession of Vespasian to the death of Hadrian saw a re-evaluation of this new world. The literature of the period played with traditional models and reworked them into sometimes disturbing, sometimes challenging, sometimes ironic depictions of contemporary society, either addressing the topic directly (through epistolary writers and historians) but other times indirectly, through the imaginative worlds of the poets. The themes cover a wide range of Roman life and literature: the extreme violence of epic poetry, the lamentation of loss, empire, imperialism and the worries over the fate and meaning of Rome, slaves, slavery and relations with masters, how to live as a Roman in a new age, marriage and families. All human life is here, but not confidently; we find our authors in doubt about the world and what it means, unsure of what it means to be a Roman, and writing disturbed, alienated texts. We try to understand these through the prisms of our modern world, thinking about gender, about empire, about psychology, about violence, about a sense of being in society, and the individual. In term one, we will look at these problems mainly through the prose historians and letter writers. In term 2, we look at the poets, with their epic historical and mythological violence. From these angles, Rome society comes into focus, and we can assess once again what it means to be Roman.


2 essays @ 5,000-5,500 words (One from each term)

Provisional Curriculum.

Term 1

1 Introduction: Societies, Histories, and Identities
2. Pliny Alone: The Individual and Society

3. Pliny in Tears: Death and Society

4. Pliny in Love: The Good Husband

5. Pliny in Charge: The Good Master

6. Pliny and Trajan: The Good Subject

7. Tacitus and the Meaning of History

8. Tacitus and the Imperial Hero: The Agricola

9. Tacitus and the Barbarian: Freedom and Civilization

10. Foucault: Freedom and Society

Term 2

1-2. Literature, criticism and society

3-4. Epic and Silver Latin

5. Myth as an alternative past

6. Death and Violence

7. Female Voices, Female Lament

8. Romanitas, Barbaritas, Pietas

9. Falling in Love

10. The Social Context of Poetry.


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