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This module will investigate what being vulnerable, weak, impotent, invalid or dependent meant in the Roman world. To what extent did vulnerability give rise to moral and ethical obligations, in a context in which invulnerability defined the dignified citizen male against a series of soft, wounded, twisted, disabled and penetrable bodies? Were those who embodied vulnerability ever heard, or only written over/on? In what ways was Roman literature ‘fleshy’? To what extent do Latin literary texts reproduce the body as a product of institutionalised knowledge and control? As we work our way through a wide range of texts from the Republican period to the late first century CE, from satire, fable, erotic elegy and iambic to imperial epic and the philosophical letter, we will explore how bodily (in)vulnerability becomes the currency in which much of what we know as ‘Latin literature’ trades – as a means of probing boundaries between the human and non-human, between the masculine and feminine, or between the free and the enslaved; as a metaphorical system for describing rhetorical performance or invoking the materiality of texts; as a cast for poses of inferiority, including Latin literature’s ‘inferiority complex’ in relation to Greek predecessors; or as provocative imagery in Roman representations of erotic and imperial desire. The module will also debate how Roman thinking about vulnerability (particularly in terms of gender and ageing) may be similar to and different from our own.

Module aims:

Students will...

  • acquire a broad understanding of the various ways in which vulnerable bodies are represented and debated in classical Latin literature;
  • appreciate how the form, content and poetics of the texts under consideration relate to broader questions about identity, gender, politics and ethics in 1st century BCE-1st century CE Rome;
  • develop skills in the close reading of literary texts;
  • develop skills in the critical analysis of classical scholarship;
  • gain awareness of comparative dimensions in the study of Latin literature, Roman culture, and thought

In additional, final year students will

  • develop the ability to set findings into a wider comparative context, drawing in other aspects of the study of the ancient world;
  • engage creatively with a wider range of secondary literature that includes discussion of classical literature within broader comparative, including critical-theoretical, frames.