Sample Graduate Level Courses
Women Latin Poets
Only a tiny fraction of the Latin poetry that has survived from antiquity was written by women; there is, as one literary historian has put it, no Latin Sappho. We will begin this seminar by combing the evidence of women writing poetry in ancient Rome, and investigating why the writing of more Roman women poets has not been preserved. Then, we will survey major works of women's Latin poetry from late antiquity and the middle ages up to the end of the seventeenth century, exploring questions of gender, education, and power through the study of classical receptions. We will travel from Rome to medieval France and Saxony, then to Venice, Paris, Lisbon, London, and the Low Countries, reading texts by Sulpicia, Proba, Dhuoda, Hrotsvitha, Hildegard, Angela and Isotta Nogarola, Luisa Sigea, Camille de Morel, Elizabeth Weston, and Anna Maria van Schurman (among others). All texts will be available in the original Latin or in translation, so the seminar has no language requirement.
COMPLIT 790/ENGLISH 641
Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Valerie Traub and Peggy McCracken
This course uses translations and adaptations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses to explore the ways medieval and early modern authors imagine the possibilities and precarity of human embodiment through representations of change. We will focus on sex and gender transformations, erotic desires and sexual transgressions, along with imbrications of the human and the environment in episodes of humans becoming animal or becoming plant. Each session will focus on a single Ovidian story, reading English and French translations and adaptations (including poetry and drama) alongside modern theoretical and/or critical texts. Among other orientations, we will explore the utility of queer, feminist, critical race, posthumanist, and ecocritical theories for analyzing the forms of change imagined in Ovid’s text and its afterlives. We will also pay some attention to medieval and early modern visual materials.
Course assignments will include thorough preparation for each class discussion, an in-class presentation, and an individual research paper that offers a theoretically informed investigation of an adaptation of an Ovidian story from any historical period or national tradition. All reading for the course will be in English.
ENGLISH 821/GREEK 870
Parrhesia, or the Courage of Truth: Speaking One’s Mind Freely to Others as a Practice of the Self, from Socrates to Greta Thunberg
What good is expressing what you truly believe? What effect does it have—on others and on yourself? What kind of relation to others does it imply? What kind of social change does it promise? Can telling the truth transform who you are? This seminar will examine how the act of speaking the truth in a situation of possible danger can function as an exercise of freedom and a practice of the self.
The French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984) devoted much of his life and work to studying the relations among discourse, power, truth, subjectivity, freedom, and the act of speaking up. Foucault is famous (or infamous) for being a theorist of power. In book after book, he described how throughout Western culture human beings have been obliged to tell the truth about themselves to those endowed with the authority to judge them. He analyzed, specifically, the role that confession has played in Christianity as well as in law, criminology, and jurisprudence, psychiatry and psychoanalysis, talk shows and self-help. But then, at the start of 1982, in a remarkable, unexpected, and little understood turn, he took up a new (though related) theme—not confession, but profession: what the ancient Greeks called parrhêsia. That term refers to the act of speaking one’s entire mind in a particular situation, saying to someone what one really believes to be true, without holding anything back and without regard for the risks or consequences. Like confession, parrhesia involves the declaration of an inward truth, but instead of answering to authority, parrhesia is a self-affirming act of speech that often ignores or defies authority.
Parrhesia never appears in the texts that Foucault published during his lifetime. He explored it in a series of lectures delivered in Paris, Grenoble, and Berkeley between 1982 and 1984, during the last two and a half years of his life. Those lectures have only recently been transcribed, edited, published, and translated into English. They make available, for the first time, Foucault’s final thinking about parrhesia. They elaborate Foucault’s discovery that speaking one’s mind and saying what one truly believes could function not only as a form of subjection to disciplinary power, an instrument for the normalization of individuals, but also as a practice of freedom and as a non-disciplinary technique of self-fashioning. For Foucault, parrhesia implies a relation between the human subject and the act of truth-telling that is imbued with many intriguing political, philosophical, and ethical possibilities.
The seminar will explore those possibilities. In the political culture of classical Athens, parrhesia represented a democratic privilege to which each citizen was entitled: it was a sign and expression of freedom and the guarantor of an egalitarian society. But parrhesia need not be limited to its original context. Its meaning continued to evolve in the ancient Greek world, acquiring new philosophical dimensions along the way. It offers a model of defiant, unguarded, forthright truth-telling that remains of potential interest today, at a time when speech—both in the public sphere and in academic life—is subject to many kinds of regulation and constraint, and when the act of freely speaking one’s mind, once again, requires courage. What can the fearless expression of an unsafe truth achieve today? How do different social actors practice the art of parrhesia? What kind of speech holds out the promise of challenging contemporary formations of power? What are the social worlds, or social conditions, that favor parrhesia? Does parrhesia have a future? The seminar will begin by reviewing Foucault’s final lectures on parrhesia and “the courage of truth.” It will then examine some of the ancient Greek and Christian texts that Foucault analyzed. It will go on to consider early modern instances of parrhesia and will conclude by surveying relatively recent versions, including contemporary feminist and queer practices of parrhesia.
Instructor: Yopie Prins
Course: Comp Lit 750: Comparing Approaches to Classical Reception; Greek 840/Latin 840: Classical Receptions
Term: Winter 2019
Description: This graduate seminar is an introduction to classical reception studies as an interdisciplinary field that has gained momentum over the past two decades, connecting the study of classical Greek and Latin to a broad range of disciplines and historical periods (in literary and cultural studies, critical translation studies, gender and sexuality studies, philosophy and political theory, history of art and architecture, history of the book, film and new media studies, just to name a few). What are the possibilities for doing new work in classical reception studies, in theory and in practice?
To explore various answers to this question, we will compare different approaches to the study of classical reception and we will learn from visiting speakers (faculty from different U-M departments, and several external visitors) who are currently working on diverse projects in classical reception studies. Students in the seminar will also develop their own projects for presentation in a mini-symposium at the end of the semester.
Juvenal and his Reception
‘Can satire save the republic?’, asked the cover of The Atlantic in May 2017. Arguably, no other Roman writer is more suited to our current cultural moment than Juvenal. In this seminar, we will read through twelve of his sixteen satires, with their angry tirades against immigrants, women, queers, corruption, cronyism, and debauchery. Roman literature is rarely more offensive—fair warning—but, for all that, Juvenal reveals a side of ancient Rome that is not well represented by other authors. As well as exploring the Latin texts and recent scholarship, we will also delve into Juvenal's reception. In which other times and places have these satires come to prominence? And what does Juvenal have to tell us about the age of satire in which we find ourselves today?
Instructor: Artemis Leontis
Course: Greek and Latin 840: Theory and Practice of Classical Reception Studies
Term: Fall 2014
Description: Classical Reception Studies is a dynamic field of research and teaching exploring the dialogue of present and past in the ongoing recreation of the Classical legacy. This course introduces graduate students to its theory and practice as a set of critical, historical, and pedagogical approaches by working through case studies. In the fall of 2014 the case studies focus on American engagements with Greece since 1900 in several media and spheres. While Greek subjects have been losing institutional and instructional support, they have entered the rapidly multiplying media of politics, life style, popular culture, and the arts, which keep returning to Greece, whether explicitly or unknowingly, to illuminate the past, present, and future of modern American life. Each case involves a contestation with reference to Greece and raises questions of the materialization, enactment, and realization of meaning and the investment in Greece at the point of reception. It introduces students to a theoretical approach and encourages them to bring additional critical, comparative perspectives and methodologies. Some cases focus on the present cultural moment; others highlight the presence of the ancient element; others give attention to the medium of reception and the infinite regress of receding images. Working through the series of cases, students will both practice the art of producing thick descriptions and build a broad theoretical basis for facing the challenges of comprehending and teaching the remains of the past. Through the course, students will articulate perspectives on American engagements with Greece in the past century; hone discrete tools for analyzing the particularity of each case; find the connecting links; prepare a teaching module; select, research, present, and write about a case of their own; and situate themselves as modern interpreters of the Classical past.
Instructor: David Halperin
Course: English 407, 630, 638/Comp Lit 750: Theories of Love: Plato to Nabokov
Term: Winter 2013 and previous years
Description: A survey of theories of love and desire in European literature from Plato to Nabokov and beyond. The course is designed to provide an introduction to the Platonic, Christian, and Freudian traditions as well as an overview of the most important and influential contributions to Western thinking about love by canonical male writers. It offers an opportunity to read broadly, to acquire a general background in the humanities, and to prepare for advanced work in critical theory and cultural studies. Authors to be studied include Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Dante, Montaigne, Goethe, Stendhal, Schopenhauer, Freud, Proust, and Nabokov.
Instructor: Elizabeth Wingrove
Course: Political Science 688: Topics in Democratic Theory (Democratic Theatricality)
Term: Winter 2011
Description: Focusing primarily but not exclusively on theater, this course considers how the values, dispositions, and practices attributed to democratic citizens can be enhanced, undermined, and otherwise affected by public enactments and displays of myths, stories, and other poetic forms. How might the stage (and the page) be opportunities to learn practices of democratic inquiry? To experience democratic life? To imagine ourselves as “democratic”? What are the pitfalls of such an approach? After initial "stage-setting" readings by Arendt, Rancière, Plato, and Goldhill, we take up a range of (ancient and Enlightenment-era) comedies, tragedies, novels, and poems, supplemented periodically by secondary source readings.
Empires and Colonialism, Ancient and Modern
This course focuses on an enduring form of polity—the empire—and on various historiographical approaches to empires, ancient and modern. The striking durability of empire as a named form, from Classical antiquity to the present day, has produced fields of discourse that overflow the normative containers of disciplinary history. Rather than juxtaposing ‘empires’ in a comparative sense, the aim of this course is to track the ways in which empires themselves worked in historical, comparative, modal, successive and genealogical registers. Most empires have worked in modes that were consciously historical and appropriative, and thus have claimed a coherence or continuity across vast differences in time and space—entangling ancient and modern histories, various societies and polities, and far-flung places. The British Empire, for example, fashioned itself as the New Rome; as did the French Republican Empire; as did Mussolini’s Italian Empire; even, in some respects, so does the present-day U.S. empire. Undergirding the approach to empire in this course, and bringing modern and ancient historians into closer dialogue, are the modern imperial contexts which have proved acutely and critically important in producing the contemporary disciplines of both ancient and modern history.
Instructor: Diane Owen Hughes
Course History 683: Between Worlds
Term: Winter 2007
Description: This studies course will consider the position of Europe (1300-1600) as a continent and a culture "between worlds", namely, its economic, political, and cultural knowledge of and relations with other continents as well as its sense of the age as one poised between the authority of an ancient past and the lure of new discovery (the Renaissance dilemma). We will look in some detail at ethnographic accounts, the development of a new cartography, changes in historiography, and methods of the dissemination of knowledge.
Instructor: Elizabeth Sears
Course: History of Art 655: The Vienna School
Term: Winter 2007
Description: Fin-de-siècle Vienna, the hub of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was a crucible not only for the development of modern art and architecture but also for the emergence of the art historical discipline as we know it. Seminally important art historians taught at the University of Vienna and held curatorships in Viennese museums: Wickhoff, Riegl, Dvořák, Strzygowski, Von Schlosser, and we will study the writings of each. Themes to be treated include Viennese pedagogy (structural analysis of form, the use of archival sources), the critique of Semper’s functionalist approach to art, the engagement with modern aesthetics (Hegel, Hildebrandt, Herbart and Croce), the involvement in contemporary art controversies, the promotion of cross-cultural study, the analysis of pictorial narrative, the recuperation of maligned epochs of art-making, and the recovery of western Kunstliteratur. We will also consider reworkings of First Vienna School ideas by members of the Second Vienna School in the 1920s and 1930s (Pächt, Sedlmayr, etc.). An understanding of art historical study in Vienna provides students in art history and cognate fields and disciplines with conceptual tools for dealing with the visual, as well as a novel perspective on early twentieth-century cultural history. Graduate students in all fields are welcome. Reading knowledge of German is recommended.
Instructors: Pat Simons and Diane Owen Hughes
Course: History of Art 754/History 798/ MEMS Proseminar: Histories of Etymology and Genealogy
Term: Fall 2006
Description: This course will examine etymological and genealogical continuity but also rupture, investigating the processes in terms of their fictionality and representational strategies. Stretching over both medieval and early modern materials, chiefly in Western Europe, the seminar queries standard notions of chronological division and instead invites a reconsideration of conventional ideas about origin, influence and filiation. After an overview of the theoretical frameworks (Bloch, Butler, Derrida, Foucault), our case studies will be drawn from such subjects as Isidore of Seville’s etymological project, linguistic and archaeological claims for the primacy of Etruscan roots (including Annius of Viterbo’s late fifteenth-century forgeries and those of Curzio Inghirami in the seventeenth century, which also invoke notions of authenticity), the representation of Adam and Eve as the “first parents” after they committed “original sin”, nationalistic myths of Troy (including stories about the origins of the Ottomans), and the productive tension between valorized imitation (visual, political, rhetorical) on the one hand and valued innovation on the other.
Instructor: Yopie PrinsCourse: Greek/Latin 731 and Comparative Literature 731: “Classical Translations/Translating Classics”
Term: Winter 2005
Description: This seminar will explore how translation has shaped the reception and transmission of Classics, from antiquity to the present. We will consider the history, theory, and practice of translating Greek and Latin texts in various cultural contexts; genealogies of influential; creative translation and imitation; translation and/in performance; pedagogical practices, cultural politics, critical debates, and rhetorical traditions associated with translating Classics.