Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024

Module CLAS3341: Love & Sex in Ancient Poetry

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3341: Love & Sex in Ancient Poetry

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap Location Durham


  • Prior study of literature at University.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • Final year students should: Develop a sophisticated understanding of issues of love and sexuality as expressed in an important and challenging corpus of ancient literature.
  • In the context of departmental degree programmes, the module will allow students to hone further the skills at interpreting literature developed in the first and second year.


  • Will explore the origins of Western love poetry in the ancient genres of lyric, elegy and epigram.
  • We will begin with Archaic Greece (e.g. Mimnermus, Sappho, Anacreon, Theognis) before moving to study some poets of the Hellenistic period (e.g. Asclepiades, Callimachus, Meleager).
  • The subsequent focus of the module will be the extraordinarily rich Latin tradition of love poetry that built upon their Greek models: Catullus, Properties, Tibullus, Sulpicia, Horace, Ovid.
  • All texts will be read in translation.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A detailed knowledge of key texts and genres in the corpus of Greek and Latin erotic poetry and other relevant material, of the main approaches to and interpretations of ancient love and sexuality both in general and in particular with reference to the set texts, and of the literary, socio-historical, political and methodological issues raised by the set texts and the history of their reception.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • An ability to handle a group of diverse and complex texts in such a way as to reach a coherent picture of ancient attitudes towards and ways of representing love and sex and to appreciate the importance of these representations in shaping modern thought on the subject of the erotic; and an ability to combine literary and cultural analysis of the texts in question, whether separately or as a group.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to comprehend and evaluate alien cultural starting-points; an ability to handle a wide range of written materials at a sophisticated level; a capacity to construct a clear and well-structured argument in written form, displaying some awareness of different approaches; the skills to analyse, evaluate and synthesise a wide range of evidence and to select and apply the appropriate methodologies; oral presentation skills; the ability to articulate nuanced and independent interpretations of the texts studied.

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

  • Lectures will provide context and a theoretical framework for the primary works studied and will demonstrate techniques of close reading
  • This provision will be enhanced by required readings in the secondary literature keyed to each lecture.
  • Students will gain practice at close reading in the seminars.
  • Formative and summative essays will give students the opportunity to put their knowledge of love and sex in particular writers and genres into a broader context (in terms of love and sex in ancient poetry more broadly) and to synthesise the knowledge gained from different parts of the module.
  • Students will gain practice at drawing together their knowledge of love and sex in the ancient world in formative essays.
  • The summative essay will assess students' familiarity with the texts and periods studied, their ability to draw material together and make connections between it, and the sophistication of their analyses.
  • The commentary will assess students' ability to analyse texts in detail, practicing the techniques of close reading refined in seminars.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 10 1 per week in Epiphany and Easter term 2 hours 20
Seminars 8 Fortnightly in Epiphany and Easter term 1 hour 8
Preparation and Reading 172
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Commentary Component Weighting: 40%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Commentary 2,000 words 100% Yes
Component: Essay Component Weighting: 60%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 words 100% Yes

Formative Assessment:

One formative exercise.

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