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CL2323 Roman Letters

Woman holding a writing tablet, fresco from Pompeii

Module Organiser: Prof. Monica Gale
Duration: One term (Jan-Apr)
Contact Hours: 19 (16 lectures and 3 seminars)
Weighting: 5 ECTS

Description: To write a letter - whether a formal, public composition or a private letter to a friend - is to create an image, consciously or unconsciously, of oneself as writer and of one's relationship with the letter's recipient. This was just as true for Roman letter-writers as it is for us today. This course will explore a selection of the wide range of letters that have survived from Roman antiquity, from the highly personal correspondence of Cicero to the self-consciously artful letters of Pliny the Younger. We will also look at the fictional letters of Ovid, the Heroides (Letters of Heroines), which take the form of first-person compositions sent by the heroines of myth to their lovers. Taken together, these varied texts offer a fascinating window onto the thought-world of writers and readers from the first century BC to the second century AD, and prompt reflexion on such issues as self-representation and political 'spin'; on the relationship between the public and private spheres; and on male and female 'voices' in Roman literature.

Introductory Reading

  • M. Trapp, 'Introduction', in Greek and Latin Letters: An Anthology with Translation (Cambridge, 2003), 1-47
  • G.O. Hutchinson, Cicero's Correspondence: A Literary Study (Oxford, 1998)
  • S. Lindheim, Mail and Female: Epistolary Narrative and Desire in Ovid's Heroides (Madison, Wisconsin, 2003), ch. 1
  • R.K. Gibson and R. Morello, Reading the Letters of Pliny the Younger: An Introduction (Cambridge 2012), esp. chs. 3-6

Learning Outcomes

Upon the successful completion of this module students should be able to demonstrate:

  • Close familiarity with the text of selected letters of Cicero, Pliny, and Seneca, and the epistolary poems of Horace and Ovid
  • Ability to examine the prescribed letters, both as documents in intellectual history of the Roman world, and as literary texts, with a particular emphasis on authorial self-representation
  • Ability to comment critically on select passages from the prescribed texts, both orally and in writing
  • Familiarity with recent critical approaches to epistolarity in general, and to the prescribed texts

Last updated 16 December 2016