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Study information

Text and Context: Roman Laughter

Module titleText and Context: Roman Laughter
Module codeCLA2405
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Sharon Marshall (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


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

Students will learn how to analyse and critically evaluate 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. Be able to independently analyse texts which put Roman humour on display
  • 2. Understand and engage critically with a variety of 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. Be able to 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 advanced academic and library skills as well as a critical ability in assessing published literature
  • 5. Demonstrate advanced independent and group study skills in guided research and presentation of findings
  • 6. Demonstrate an ability to select critically and organise effectively relevant material and to present this in oral and written form
  • 7. Be able to discuss and debate critical issues in a peer group

Syllabus plan

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 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 teaching activities22Lectures (11 x 2 hours)
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4Seminars (4 x 1 hour)
Guided124Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentation5-10 minutes1-8Written and verbal 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
Essay402000 words1-6, 8Mark, written and oral feedback
Exam602 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, 8August ref/def period
ExamExam1-6August ref/def period

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.

Key words search

Classics, Latin, Humour

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date