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Module Description

This is a literary module on the import on north Africa and north African authors in the making of Greek and Latin literature, and on the erasure of Africa from the history of the western classical canon. It is available as a Latin option for Q800 students.

The module will cover three major areas: 1) Representations of Africa and Africans in Greek and Latin Texts; 2) Greek and Latin literature written by African authors or authors writing in Africa; 3) History of the erasure of Africa's role in Classical scholarship, and effects that preconceptions and assumptions about the Graeco-Roman heritage have had on the engagement with classical literature by people of African descent, both in Africa and in the Western World.

In the Autumn term, the module will cover Greek and Roman representations of Africa and Africans (with an emphasis on Ethiopians, Egyptians and Berbers). On the Greek side, readings will include selections of Homer, Herodotus and Pindar, Aeschylus' Suppliants and Euripides' Helen; in the second half of the term, we shall move to the role played by Libya, and especially by Carthage, in the formation of a literature in the Latin language, and will cover the first Roman epics (Ennius and Naevius), Plautus and Terence, moving further towards the representations of Africa in Sallust, Virgil, Lucan and Silius Italicus. During this term, Q800 students will read in the original selections of Plautus' Poenulus ('the Little Carthaginian') and of Virgil's Aeneid 1.

In the Spring Term, we will introduce the possibility of applying postcolonial theories to Classical literature. On the Greek side, we will focus on Hellenistic literature (especially Callimachus and Apollonius of Rhodes) in view of its Egyptian setting and its possible dialogue with demotic culture. We will also read selections of the Aethiopica, a 3rd century Greek novel by Heliodorus of Emesa. On the Latin side, we will focus on two Numidian classical authors, Apuleius of Madauros and Augustine of Hippo. Q800 students will read selections of Apuleius and Augustine in the original.

The second half of the spring term will be dedicated to history of scholarship and classical reception. We will read the context and reactions to the famous 'Black Athena' debate of the '80s, started by Martin Bernal and his attempts to acknowledge the Afro-asiatic roots of Classical civilization, and also the more recent developments of so-called 'Classica Africana' studies, which look at the reception of Graeco-Roman literature in African authors and authors from African descent. As case-studies, we will look at classical reception in South Africa, and at the reception of classical literature in Derek Walcott and Toni Morrison.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module students should expect to have:

  • A broad understanding of the role played by north Africa and north Africans in the making of Classical Literature;
  • Ability to discuss issues of racism and ethnicity in antiquity;
  • A broad understanding of the role played by literary texts in issues of identity formation;
  • A broad understanding of the role played by both colonialist and post-colonialist discourses in our critical engagement with the Classical World;
  • Developed their skills in close reading of texts (in the original for Q800/Q802/QQ36 students);
  • Developed their Latin linguistic skills (for Q800/Q802/QQ36 students);
  • Developed their skills in the critical analysis of both primary and secondary texts;
  • Developed their ability to structure arguments coherently.

Timetabled Teaching

42 contact hours: roughly divided between lectures and seminars + 21 hours of reading classes for students choosing the Latin Language Option.

The module will run two hours a week (+ an additional text-based hour for Q800 students choosing the Latin option) in sessions of two consecutive hours. Every week, one hour will be a lecture dedicated to the introduction of new topics, the other hour will be a more interactive session on the topic of the previous week, based on readings previously assigned. The more interactive hours may take the form of seminar classes, student presentations, text-based classes, or more in-depth lectures on specific topics. Some of the most interdisciplinary classes may be covered by external lecturers, experts in specific topics, especially in the area of reception (the Black Athena debate, South African reception of the Classics, Classics in the Caribbean, Classical models in Toni Morrison).


  • Two assessed essays of 2,500 words in length (50% of the final mark); the second essay may be on a topic of the student's choice, if previously arranged with the lecturer.
  • One 2-hour examination in the summer term (50% of the final mark). Please note that questions in the final exam will be heavily text-based.