Skip to main content

Study information

Text and Context: Writing Women in Ancient Literature

Module titleText and Context: Writing Women in Ancient Literature
Module codeCLA2410
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Karen Ni Mheallaigh (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module explores women's roles as writers, characters and readers of ancient literature, i.e. writing, written as well as reading women. What do we know about ancient women writers and their works - or female readers in antiquity? Is there a space for a female voice in the domain of ancient literature? Is it possible to unearth female subjectivities in ancient texts?

Module aims - intentions of the module

As well as exploring the work of ancient writing women such as Sappho of Lesbos, this module explores the ways in which women were given voice and expression in the fiction of the ancient Greek and Roman world, the subversive quality of the female voice and female sexuality, and the insights which feminist criticism can offer the modern reader of these ancient texts. As well as exploring how ancient texts engage with these questions, students will learn to analyse texts both within their ancient literary-cultural context, and from the perspective of modern feminist criticism, and to evaluate these approaches critically.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate a broad and detailed knowledge of a wide selection of a large number of primary texts (in English translation)
  • 2. Demonstrate a general knowledge of the realities of women's lives in ancient Greek and Roman society
  • 3. Analyse the representation of women in ancient Greek and Latin literature and evaluate critically the role of the female voice in the text, from the perspectives of New Historicism and feminist criticism

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Use, analyse and critically evaluate ancient texts
  • 5. Develop advanced academic and library skills
  • 6. Develop a critical engagement with modern scholarly literature

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 7. Demonstrate independent and group study skills in the research and presentation of findings
  • 8. Demonstrate an ability to select and organise relevant material
  • 9. Demonstrate an ability to present a strong argument in oral and written form
  • 10. Develop confidence and clarity in oral communication
  • 11. Develop the ability to work and discuss issues in a peer group
  • 12. Develop as critical readers of literature in general

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:

  • Weaving women and Siren songs: women in Greek and Latin epic
  • If the pen is the figurative phallus, with what do women write? Sappho of Lesbos
  • Constructing the ideal woman: Pygmalion in Ovid's Metamorphoses
  • Writing women writing...: Ovid's Letters of Heroines (1)
  • Writing women writing...: Ovid's Letters of Heroines (2)
  • Challenging paternity: monstrous women in Lucian's True Histories
  • Writing from the body  re-sexing language: Melite and Palaestra
  • Novelistic heroines (1): Chariton's Callirhoe
  • Novelistic heroines (2): Heliodorus' Charikleia

All texts and material to be confirmed.

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 teaching22Lectures (11 x 2 hours)
Scheduled learning and teaching4Seminars (4 x 1 hour)
Guided independent study124Private study

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
Essay502000 words1-9, 12Mark and written comments
Exam502 hours1-9, 12Mark and written comments

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9, 12Referral/Deferral period
ExamExam1-9,12Referral/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

All texts and material to be confirmed. A detailed list of prescribed texts and editions will be supplied by the lecturer.


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Selected secondary reading: 

  • C. Beasley, What is feminism? (California and London, 1990). 
  • M. Humm, Practising feminist criticism: an introduction (New York, 1995). 
  • E.C. Keuls, The reign of the phallus: sexual politics in ancient Athens (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985). 
  • A. Lardinois & L. McClure (edd.), Making silence speak: women’s voices in Greek literature and society (Princeton, 2001). 
  • A. Richlin (ed.), Pornography and representation in Greece and Rome (New York and Oxford, 1992). 
  • K.K. Ruthven, Feminist literary studies: an introduction (Cambridge, 1990). 
  • T.A. Schmitz, ‘Feminist Approaches/ Gender Studies,’ in Modern Literary Theory and Ancient Texts: an Introduction (Oxford, 2007): 176-194. 
  • T. Whitmarsh, ‘A woman’s place,’ in Ancient Greek Literature (Cambridge, 2004): 177-195. 
  • (A full and detailed secondary bibliography will be supplied by the module director.)

Key words search

Classics, Literature, Women

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date