Faculty of Arts


Sex and Power in Greek and Roman Literature


The ancient society of Athens gave humanity democracy, theatre, philosophy; it also put slaves in chains and women behind doors. The great civilisation of Rome brought the world aqueducts, underwater concrete and the alphabet you’re reading right now; Rome too sat on a foundation of social inequality.

In this course we study some of the greatest achievements of Greece and Rome – their literature – to understand how sex, gender and sexuality interconnected with power in the ancient world.

Literature played a key role in societies in antiquity just as it does now, in shaping minds, ideas and public debate about social problems and morality. Some writers, singers, playwrights and poets of Greece and Rome used their work to reinforce dominant ideologies about women’s weakness, or the inherent inferiority of slaves. Other writers challenged mainstream ideas and questioned the existing power imbalances between men and women, free people and slaves, citizens and foreigners.

In this course, we will examine selections of Greco-Roman literature, focusing on how the authors deal with gender, sexuality and power. The texts in the course deal with war, love, murder, marriage, same-sex desire, enslavement and more. We will pay particular attention to how literature enables political and social interventions; how it can either shape or change the status quo. We will consider how the constraints of genre (drama, epic, love poetry, history, inscriptions and so on) shape what authors can say about a topic and what tools they can use to say it.

As well as gaining a better understanding of the ancient world, students will consider how sex and/or power remain relevant to today’s world and their experiences now.

Students can take this course at Stage II or Stage III level. Students taking this course at Stage III level will be expected to conduct more sophisticated analysis and evaluation in assessments and during class.

All texts will be read in translation.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2020

Semester 2


Lecturer(s) Dr Maxine Lewis


Coursework + exam


CLASSICS 316: 15.0 points


15 points at Stage II in Classical Studies, Ancient History, Classical Studies and Ancient History, Gender Studies, Greek, or Latin



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