Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2023-2024 (archived)

Module CLAS3761: Classical Victorians: Greco-Roman Antiquity in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS3761: Classical Victorians: Greco-Roman Antiquity in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Not available in 2023/24 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • CLAS1301 or CLAS1601 or equivalent degree-level study in History or English; CLAS2811 or CLAS2841 or CLAS2891 would be useful


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To build on introductions to the field of classical reception, focusing on the nineteenth century: a crucial period in classical scholarship and public engagement which has shaped subsequent understandings of the ancient world.
  • To foster students' critical awareness of the history of scholarship, and also its historicity.
  • To increase the depth and sophistication of students' readings of classical reception theory through the opportunity to engage with primary material and apply theories encountered in earlier courses.
  • To provide an opportunity to examine some of the most canonical texts and artefacts of classical antiquity from interdisciplinary perspectives.


  • Classical antiquity animated Victorian Britain. The classical past filled educational, recreational and political spheres between the mid-eighteenth and early-twentieth centuries; few other subjects were as intensely contested. The parameters of classical knowledge shifted as social upheavals extended and problematised access to literacy and leisure, while political turbulence raised the stakes in historical claims to classical inheritances. Competing classical references not only proliferated in recreational spheres for all ages but were increasingly targeted at a wider social range of consumers, including children, in fascinatingly diverse media. This is the century that saw both the scholarly disproof of "Homer" and the excavation of Troy followed by the popularly acclaimed display of "Priam Treasure". Victorian politicians quoted extensive chunks of classical texts in Parliamentary debate and their learning was satirised in cheap newsprint. Theatres, circuses and a huge range of street shows brought mythical, literary and historical characters back to life for the enjoyment of a wide social range of spectators but these audiences' classical knowledge was challenged by theatre critics, who themselves confused different myths and authors. This course showcases how Classics was encountered by new "sometimes surprising" publics and reveals irreverent, satirical, and lighthearted strands in the afterlife of classical antiquity. Demonstrating how playful, interactive encounters were entangled with more traditional experiences of the past, it analyses the production and circulation of classical knowledge to shed light on the conceptualisation of Greco-Roman antiquity through scholarship and popular culture. Antiquity's popularity as imaginary play-space for the family, along with its troubled baggage of imperialism and cultural exclusion, is just as controversial today as in Victorian novels or satirical press. Analysis of archival and ephemeral versions of canonical ancient texts and artefacts, alongside contemporary scholarship, challenges us to think more critically about how we define "the Classics" and "classical antiquity". In particular, it should provoke us to re-examine our own preconceptions and biases when interpreting ancient evidence.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • A theoretically informed understanding of classical reception studies, especially with regard to the nineteenth century, a burgeoning area of study.
  • Broad and sophisticated knowledge of nineteenth-century Britain, and of how its cultural and intellectual life shaped scholarly and popular perspectives on the ancient world.
  • Understanding of some of the key ways in which literary and material sources have been transmitted from the ancient world to contemporary scholarship.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Critical skills in the close reading and analysis of ancient and nineteenth-century texts and artefacts, including the ability to synthesize, interpret and evaluate a wide range of primary and secondary source material.
  • The ability to conduct self-directed primary research, using physical and digital sources.
Key Skills:
  • An ability to construct a lucid and sophisticated argument in written form.
  • The capacity for critical thinking and independent judgement.
  • Information technology skills, including the use of advanced electronic resources, online archives and databases.
  • Oral presentation skills will be developed through a formative seminar presentation.

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

  • Lectures will provide an overview of the material, and engage closely with relevant primary and secondary sources.
  • Suggested bibliography for each lecture will encourage students to develop their own areas of interest within the course as it progresses.
  • Seminars will afford an opportunity for close reading and extended discussion of key sources.
  • Tutorials will be designed to provide small-group feedback on essays.
  • Students will be encouraged to utilize the extensive range of electronic resources available for primary research within classical reception.
  • Assessment will take place through essays, enabling students to develop their own areas of interest within the course through self-directed research, engaging closely both with primary sources and with broader questions of historiography and reception.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 20 1 per week (Michaelmas and Epiphany terms) 1 hour 20
Seminars 6 3 per term (Michaelmas and Epiphany terms) 1 hour 6
Tutorials 2 1 per term (Michaelmas and Epiphany terms) 1 hour 2
Preparation and Reading 172

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay 1 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative Essay 1 2500 words 100% Yes
Component: Essay 2 Component Weighting: 50%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Summative Essay 2 2500 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