Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2014-2015 (archived)

Module CLAS43130: Animals in Graeco-Roman Antiquity

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS43130: Animals in Graeco-Roman Antiquity

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2014/15 Module Cap


  • Undergraduate (B.A.) degree; ideally a solid knowledge of Greek and Latin.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • In accordance with the general aims of the MA in Classics, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research for students who have received appropriate grounding in their undergraduate studies.
  • In particular, to build on undergraduate knowledge of classical literature by providing an introduction to the different forms of discussions about and portrayals of animals in Graeco-Roman antiquity.
  • To develop further skills of literary, social and cultural analysis acquired at undergraduate level through a deeper and closer exploration of particular texts.
  • To deepen students' understanding of culture at large by exploring the varous aspects of the relationship between humans and animals in Graeco-Roman antiquity.


  • The texts used in this module may vary from year to year (in part to ensure appropriate fit with texts encountered in earlier levels of study). Typically they will be drawn from the following list:
  • Greek authors:
  • Homer: <i>Odyssey</i> (esp. Odysseus’ dog Argus and Polyphemus’ ram)
  • Semonides, fr. 7 West (various types of women compared to animals)
  • Plato: <i>Protagoras</i> 320-323 (myth of the development of human culture, humans as deficient beings)
  • Aristotle: <i>Historia animalium</i>
  • Plutarch: <i>De sollertia animalium, Bruta animalia ratione uti and De esu carnium</i>
  • Aelian: <i>De natura animalium</i>
  • Porphyry: <i>De abstinentia</i>
  • Latin authors:
  • Pliny the Elder: <i>Naturalis historia</i> (esp. Books 8-11 on zoology and 7 on anthropology)
  • Ovid: <i>Amores</i> 2.6 and Statius: <i>Silvae</i> 2.4 (on parrots)
  • Martial 1.109 (on the dog Issa) and other epigrams on animals
  • Petronius: <i>Satyrica (Cena Trimalchionis</i> on animals as pets and food)
  • excerpts from Ovid’s <i>Metamorphoses</i> and Apuleius’ <i>Metamorphoses</i> (or <i>The Golden Ass</i>)
  • various agricultural writers (esp. Columella)
  • Phaedrus: selection of <i>fabulae</i>
  • The following topics will serve as guidelines for discussion in class:
  • Biological, anthropological and philosophical theories (esp. the classification of animals and the role of reason and speech)
  • The role of pets in Greece and Rome
  • Symbiosis and zoophilia
  • Transformation of humans into animals (metamorphosis)
  • Animals in the context of agriculture
  • Veterinary medicine
  • Sacrificing animals: the religious context
  • Animals and food (with an excursus on vegetarianism)
  • Protection and rights of animals
  • Animals and human beings in ancient physiognomy
  • Animals and communication: from ancient descriptions to modern zoosemiotics
  • The depiction of animals in Greek and Roman art
  • The role of animals in ancient fables
  • Animal similes (esp. in epic poetry)

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Knowledge of some major examples of discussions about animals in Graeco-Roman antiquity.
  • Familiarity with the notion of literary 'genre' and an understanding of genre-boundaries.
  • Knowledge of the philosophical and social context relevant to understanding discussions about animals in Graeco-Roman antiquity.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to make use of the socio-cultural, philosophical and historical context in the assessment of literary texts and other sources.
  • An ability to make intelligent use of the notion of 'genre' in the analysis of literature.
  • A broader ability to draw on diverse theoretical approaches in literary and socio-cultural analysis.
  • An ability to approach a complex topic from a variety of perspectives (interdisciplinary approach).
Key Skills:
  • An ability to engage in an informed and sophisticated way with diverse and challenging texts.
  • An ability to compare and assess different interpretative approaches and methodologies.
  • A capacity to sustain a clear, well-structured and well-defended argurment in written and oral form.
  • The interpretative and analytical skills required by this module are transferable to any field which requires detailed engagement with literary materials and the assimilation, assessment, structuring and presentation of heterogeneous data.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be by seminar, with most sessions focusing on the analysis and discussion of individual texts. In addition, there will be student presentations on specific topics. This will ensure that individuals engage in independent research and thought on the topics for which they undertake the presentation, as well as gaining practice in articulating their conclusions.
  • The seminars are two hours in length so as to permit detailed discussion of the topic, with an onus on all to engage with the texts under discussion, assess the coherence of the interpretation, and encourage critical reflection.
  • Summative assessment will be by one written essay of c. 4,000 words (85%) and one oral presentation of c. 20-30 minutes (15%). The summative essay and the oral presentation will assess the students' familiarity with the evidence and the sophistication of their analyses. It will test students' ability to focus on relevant issues and organise knowledge and argument appropriate to questions raised.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 Fortnightly 2 hours 16
Preparation and reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Oral presentation Component Weighting: 15%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Oral presentation (incl. handout) 20-30 minutes 100%
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 85%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 4,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

A critical review of a scholarly article (published in the past 40 years) and/or a shorter essay (max. 2,000 words).

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University