Text and Context: Roman Laughter

Module titleText and Context: Roman Laughter
Module codeCLA1405
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Sharon Marshall (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

What made the Romans laugh? What were the limits of Roman humour? What does this reveal about Roman culture and society? This module addresses some of the key issues of the politics and poetics of Roman humour. It is concerned with the way the Romans employed wit, satire and irony for comment, criticism and deconstruction, as well as a powerful weapon in their rhetorical battles. We will consider a range of materials from the poems of Catullus, to the fables of Phaedrus, to non-elite art. Ultimately, we will address whether the humour that seems to turn everything on its head seeks to subvert or reinforce prevailing power structures.

Module aims - intentions of the module

You will learn how to analyse, evaluate and use texts and how to relate their style and content to the wider context of Roman literary culture.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Analyse texts which put Roman humour on display
  • 2. Understand a variety of critical approaches possible in the study of classical literature and current trends in criticism

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Use, analyse and evaluate ancient texts in relation to other sources and their socio-historical context

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Develop basic academic and library skills as well as a critical ability in assessing published literature
  • 5. Demonstrate independent and group study skills in guided research and presentation of findings
  • 6. Select and organise relevant material and to present this in oral and written form
  • 7. Discuss issues in a peer group

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction: Theories of laughter
  • Comedy and rhetoric: Cicero’s In Pisonem
  • Epigram: Catullus and Martial
  • Phaedrus’ Fables
  • Satire: Horace, Juvenal and Persius
  • Laughter in visual material

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching2211 x 2 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching55 x 1 hour seminars
Guided independent study123Independent study


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentation 5-10 minutes1-8Written and oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay302000 1-6, 8Mark, written and oral feedback
Exam702 hours1-6Mark, written and oral feedback


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-6, 8Referral/Deferral period
ExamExam1-6, 8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Catullus (a selection)
  • Phaedrus (Book 5)
  • Horace, Satires
  • Juvenal, Satires
  • Martial, Epigrams
  • Cicero, In Pisonem
  • Recommended Reading:
  • Fitzgerald, W. Martial: The World of the Epigram. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Freudenburg, K. ed. (2005) The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Henderson, J. (2001) Telling tales on Caesar: Roman Stories from Phaedrus. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jäkel, S. and A. Timonen. eds. (1997) Laughter down the Centuries. Turku: Turun Yliopisto.
  • Sullivan, J. P. (1991) Martial: The Unexpected Classic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Roman, Classics, Humour

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date