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CLAS 435 A: The Ancient Novel

mosaic of a woman and a man
Meeting Time: 
MWF 9:30am - 10:20am
ARC 160
Joint Sections: 
C LIT 496 B
Catherine M. Connors

Syllabus Description:

Clas 435/C Lit 496:
The Ancient Greek and Roman Novel 


Ancient Greek Mosaic. Woman on the left glancing toward man on the right.
 A&H (VLPA); optional W credit available. 

Instructor: Catherine Connors, Classics, Denny 262 B

The earliest prose fiction in the European tradition, these accessible and engaging 2000-year-old novels tell exciting stories of young love and adventure in a cosmopolitan and unpredictable world. Reading and discussing them offers unexpected and intimate perspectives on ancient Greek and Roman experiences of desire, resilience and religious belief. 
Along the way, assignments will focus on using and strengthening skills in close reading, research, presentation and writing that will serve you well wherever you go from here. Questions to be considered will include how the novels represent society: do they replicate or undermine the beliefs that structure Greek and Roman systems of class and gender inequity? The characters in the novels move through worlds of many different cultures: how do the novels capture the experience of diversity in the Greek and Roman worlds? How do the novels investigate the process of communication across cultural divides? To what extent could the ancient novels invite their ancient audiences to reflect upon or critique the structures of power that they inhabited?
Course Format: frequent quizzes based on readings and graded in class discussions. While it is feasible to make up a few missed in-class discussions, this course is not designed to be completed asynchronously. 

Required Texts (available at the University Bookstore)

Greek Fiction: Callirhoe, Daphnis and Chloe, Letters of Chion Ed. Helen Morales;

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon, trans. Tim Whitmarsh

Apuleius: The Golden Ass, trans. S. Ruden

Petronius: The Satyricon, trans. S. Ruden

Overview of the novels
Apuleius, The Golden Ass Set in the 100’s CE (AD). A man from Corinth gets a little too curious about witchcraft and for his trouble is turned into a donkey. He sees the difficult side of life in Greece under Roman rule, and is eventually redeemed and transformed back into a man. What exactly did he learn? Raises interesting questions about the range of religious experiences in Greek and Roman life and provides an unusually detailed look at the lives of the lowest socio-economic classes.

Petronius, The Satyricon A racy parody of the love and travel themes of the ancient novels. Full of fascinating and strange details about life in Rome, the relationship between past and present, art and life, those in power and those who must submit to them. Is Petronius commenting on the decadence of the emperor Nero’s court?

Longus, Daphnis and Chloe. This boy meets girl story takes place on the island of Lesbos, (home to the Greek lyric poet Sappho, whose verses on love are some of the most powerful in the European tradition). Longus explores the themes of city and country, art and nature, eroticism and gender, in a lushly imagined rural setting. But the city is never totally out of the picture: is Longus’ novel an escapist fantasy, or a prescription for the proper approach to civic life? A lyrical celebration of love, with an awareness of its costs.

Achilles Tatius, Leukippe and Clitophon This boy meets girl story presents itself as a fictional exploration of big questions the Greek philosopher Plato liked to ask about love and knowledge. Does Achilles’s story of love (and pirates) challenge Plato’s approaches to love, marriage, and identity?

Catalog Description: 
Reading and discussion of the principal Greek and Roman novels, the earliest European prose fiction, with attention to earlier literature and to imperial culture.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
January 24, 2024 - 3:18pm