2020-2021 Classical Civilization: Topic Courses

CLA395H5F: Topics in Classics: Religion in Graeco-Roman Egypt (TBA)

The study of the hybrid and diverse religions of the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire provides thought-inspiring analogies for our own time. This course explores the religion of one particular region, Egypt, starting with Alexander’s arrival in Egypt in 332 BCE and ending with the division of the Roman Empire into an eastern and western half upon the death of Theodosius I in 395 CE. When Alexander first entered Egypt, Egyptian civilization and religion were already looking back on a 3000-year-old history and continued to be alive and thriving. Far from being a period of decline, this time witnessed innovative types of cultural expression along the banks of the Nile, comprising religion, literature, philosophy and science. Egypt, renowned in the Greek and Roman world for its venerable cultural and religious traditions and the wisdom of its scholars, was ruled first by the Ptolemies, a Macedonian dynasty. In 30 BCE, Octavian, later known as Augustus, annexed Egypt to the Roman Empire and had it administrated by a governor, so that Egypt became one province within a cosmopolitan and religiously diverse state. . This course looks closely at how the religious traditions of ancient Egypt and those of the Graeco-Roman world interacted, or were in fact kept separate. A particular focus of this course is on ritual, or religious action, both inside and outside of temples, and the bigger questions outlined above are explored through this particular lens. Course topics include the cults of foreign rulers and the religious staging of their presence; the changing status of the powerful Egyptian priests under foreign rule; the art, architecture and religious symbolism of Egyptian temples, and the religious life unfolding within them; public festivals and private religious practice, including magical and oracular practices, some of which were unique to Egypt. Traditional Egyptian burial customs greatly attracted the Hellenic or Roman inhabitants of the region, and we explore cultural interaction in this particular sector of religion. While immersing yourself in the above topics, you will also become familiar with the major figures of the traditional Egyptian pantheon and their mythology. Last but not least, we also study the early spread of Christianity in Egypt.

CLA395H5STopics in Classics: Horror and the Grotesque in Ancient Rome (R. Moorman)

What scares, shocks, and repulses us can say a lot about who we are as individuals and as a society. So what scared, shocked, and repulsed the ancient Romans? This course examines themes of horror and the grotesque in Roman literature and culture, including cannibalism and gore, the supernatural, the monstrous feminine, body horror, and more. We will read a wide selection of Latin literature in translation as well as selected works from ancient Greece, the Renaissance, and modern novels or films. 

CLA404H5S: Advanced Topics in Classics: The Trojan War: Archeology and Myth (TBA)

 Did the Trojan War really happen? And if so, what caused it, and how was it fought? Is there any historical basis for Homer’s Iliad? Can Homer’s Troy be archaeologically identified? Do archaeology and myth converge? Was there ever a noblewoman named Helen, attractive enough to “launch a thousand ships”? Was there a warrior named Achilles who in a red rage killed scores of enemies? How have these questions mattered over the centuries, and what makes them resonate with us today? – The course explores Troy and the Trojans and their unique place in Greek, Etruscan and Roman literary and historical imagination, archaeology, mythology, and art. We deal with Homer and the epic tradition, the archaeological site of Troy through the ages, and the historical reconstruction of contact and conflict between city-states in ancient Anatolia and Greece. This latter aspect includes the present-day “war” between archaeologists and ancient historians regarding the interpretation of the evidence: The discovery of Troy is inextricably interwoven with the history of modern archaeology, which is therefore one focus of this course. The course also looks at some of the key themes in the reception of the Trojan War and the Trojans from ancient Greece to 21st-century North America, such as the uses of Trojan themes in the construction of national origins and identities, and as a mirror reflecting armed violence.