Skip to main content

Study information

Receptions of the Classical Body

Module titleReceptions of the Classical Body
Module codeCLA3124
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Daniel King (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The body is often assumed to be a natural, unchanging, biologically determined thing; this module challenges that view by unpacking the complex history of the classical body and its reception. We are all familiar with what we call the classical body: the white, male, muscular marble of classical sculpture. But in actual fact this view is the consequence of a complex process of reception and renegotiation of ancient bodies within western culture. In this module you will explore how the classical body has been reimagined at critical points in the western cultural tradition: these include Renaissance art, and the birth of scientific anatomy; neo-classical art, body-building, and modern film and advertising. In this short intensive module, you will explore not only how different views of the body emerged in different cultural contexts, but how these competing approaches intersected and informed one another to construct what is often simply (and simplistically) called the “Classical body".

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • To explore whether the body has a history and whether it is a natural, unchanging phenomenon which is understood consistently across different cultures.
  • To understand the relationship between the physical body and the cultural contexts in which that body emerges, including how the notion of the “Classical body" has been adopted and developed by later cultures.
  • To question some of your deepest-held assumptions about the body: what constitutes beauty, what is ‘fit’ and ‘healthy’, how are everyday practices associated with my body in this culture linked to how we receive and understand the classical world?
  • To consider the extent to which the body is implicated in political discourses of race, gender, and class in our world.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Engage critically with ideas about the history of the body from antiquity onwards, using a range of different sources
  • 2. Analyse critically the factors that inflect the treatment of the body in different societies, contexts, or media

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 3. Approach a broad historical theme from different angles, drawing pertinent connections from a variety of theoretical approaches
  • 4. Demonstrate appreciation of the issues involved in using different types of our source material to aid our historical understanding of the ancient world
  • 5. Show knowledge and understanding of how later societies have made use of the ancient world and shaped our interpretation of it

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Employ critical reasoning and independent thought
  • 7. Demonstrate your ability to construct clear and coherent arguments from complex data
  • 8. Demonstrate your interpersonal and team working skills through study groups and peer interaction

Syllabus plan

Lectures and seminars across the term will be divided into blocks focussed on specific areas of ancient cultural discourse or the themes in reception (for example: a 4-week segment on medical approaches to the body; a 2-week block dedicated to the reception of the male body in modern cinema and visual media). 

An indicative list of topics to be covered:

  • The body and medicine, especially renaissance science and anatomy
  • The performing body (in drama, film, and advertising)
  • The athletic body (the classical body and the growth of modern fitness movement)
  • The classical body in modern politics
  • The classical body in neo-classical art

The module will be structured around a combination of specific readings of primary (and primarily non-classical) material. These will be coupled with theoretical writings which will help us investigate the primary material under discussion.

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 Teaching221 x 2 hour seminar per week
Scheduled Learning and Teaching111 x 1 hour recorded lecture per week
Guided Independent Study267Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation/discussion20 minutes1-8Oral comment from lecturer and peers

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
Research essay 503500 words1-7Mark and written feedback
Portfolio of 3 short responses503 x 1000 word written responses to specific provided material1-7Mark and written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research essay Research essay1-7Referral/Deferral period
Portfolio of 3 short responses3 x 1000 word written responses to specific provided material1-7Referral/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

Basic reading:

  • Brown, P. The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (Lectures on the History of Religions, n.s., 13; New York, 1988).
  • Bynum, W & Kalof, L. (eds.) A Cultural History of the Human Body (vols 1-6; The Cultural Histories Series; London, 2014--).
  • Judovitz, D. The Culture of the Body: Genealogies of Modernity (Michigan, 2001).
  • Laqueur, T. Making Sex: Body and Gender from Greeks to Freud (Massachusetts, 1992).
  • Montserrat, D. (ed.) Changing Bodies, Changing Meanings (Studies of the Body in Antiquity; London, 1997).
  • Porter, J. (ed.) Constructions of the Classical Body (The Body in Theory; Michigan, 1999).
  • Porter, R. ‘History of the Body’, in P. Burke (ed.) New Perspectives on Historical Writing (Cambridge, 1991), 206-32.
  • Porter, R. ‘History of the Body Reconsidered’, in P. Burke (ed.) New Perspectives on Historical Writing (2nd. Edition; Cambridge, 2001), 232-60.
  • Turner, B. The Body and Society: Exploration in Social Theory (Second Edition; Thousand Oaks, CA, 2008).
  • Wyke, M. (ed.) Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity (Oxford, 1998).

Key words search

Body, perception, classical body

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date