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Master Seminar Latin: Visions of Rome. Appropriation of the Roman Heritage in Humanist Latin Poetry


Admission requirements

This course is open to Master students in Classics and Research Master students in Classics and Ancient Near-Eastern Civilisations.


For Janus Vitalis (1485-1559), humanist poet and papal servant of Leo X, the ancient ruins embodied the eternal greatness of Rome. In a Latin epigram, modelled on Martial (ca. 40-104 AD), he presented papal Rome as the phoenix that was reborn even greater than before from the ashes of the once great city. Cristoforo Landino (1425-1498), however, saw the ruins as proof that the glory of Rome had definitely faded, in favour of his native Florence. By modelling his elegies on Propertius’ (ca. 49 BC – 16 BC) celebration of the Roman imperial monuments, Landino praised Piero de’ Medici as the new Augustus, while presenting himself as a classical Roman poet.

These are only two of the manifold references to the city of Rome that we find in humanist Latin poetry (ca. 1350-1550). These texts provide an excellent example of the process of uncovering and restoring the ancient Roman glory that was fervently pursued during the Renaissance, and of which the humanists were the primary agents. They dug deeply into the literary texts and physical remains for knowledge about ancient Rome, and used this in writing new texts. Moreover, often as employees in the bureaucracy of the Renaissance courts, they advised princes, popes, artists and architects about their artistic creations.

The seminar aims at analysing the ways in which the physical and literary heritage of ancient Rome was transmitted and appropriated in humanist Latin poetry and to what purpose. It starts out from the hypothesis that these images were strategically employed in order to shape the identities of the humanists and their audience and to legitimize the political and religious powers involved. It is furthermore assumed that Classical Latin literary genres, themes and motifs were employed to support and unite these strategies.
In the seminar, a selection of humanist Latin poems on Rome (14th-16th centuries) will be discussed. The selection (e.g. which poets, which poems) will depend on the special interest of the participants

Course objectives

  1. You will become familiar with recent interdisciplinary scholarship (literary criticism; reception studies; heritage studies; memory studies; sociology of literature).
    1. You will be trained to formulate original research questions, and to answer these in an oral presentation and in a written essay.
    2. You will practise reading and analysing Neo-Latin poetry from different critical angles.
    3. You will practise answering research questions by using historical source material (old printed books).



Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Oral presentation, with full handout (20%)

  • Written paper (70%)

  • Active participation in the discussion (10%)


Blackboard will be used for announcements and for sharing other (course) documents

Reading list

d’Amico, J., Renaissance Humanism in Papal Rome. Humanists and Churchmen on the Eve of the Reformation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1983)
Assmann, A., Erinnerungsräume, Formen und Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnisses (München: Beck, 1999)
Auhagen, U., et al., eds., Horaz und Celtis (Tübingen: Narr, 2000)
Barchiesi, A., Speaking Volumes. Narrative and Intertext in Ovid and other Latin Poets (London: Duckworth, 2001)
Barkan, L., Unearthing the Past. Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999)
Boyle, A.J., Ovid and the Monuments. A Poet’s Rome (Victoria: Aureal, 2003)
Cassiani, C., Roma tra fabula e historia. Parole e immagini alla vigilia della Riforma (Roma: Roma nel Rinascimento, 2008)
Conte, G.B., The Rhetoric of Imitation. Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and other Latin Poets (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1986)
Edwards, C., Writing Rome. Textual Approaches to the City (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996)
Graham, B. & P. Howards, eds., The Ashgate Research Companion to Heritage and Identity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008)
Greenblatt, S.J., Renaissance Self-fashioning. From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1980)
Hardie, P., ‘Augustan Poets and the Mutability of Rome’, in Roman Poetry and Propaganda in the Age of Augustus, ed. C.A. Powell (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1992), 59-82
Haskell, F. & N. Penny, Taste and the Antique. The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900 (New Haven: Yale UP, 1981)
Hinds, S., Allusion and Intertext. Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998)
Hingley, R., ed., Images of Rome. Perceptions of ancient Rome in Europe and the United States in the Modern Age. Journal of Roman Archaeology, suppl. 44 (Portsmouth, 2001)
Jacks, P., The Antiquarian and the Myth of Antiquity. The Origins of Rome in Renaissance Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993)
Kytzler, B., ed., Roma Aeterna. Lateinische und griechische Romdichtung von der Antike bis in die Gegenwart (Zürich: Artemis, 1972)
Lowenthal, D., The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985)
____ , The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1998)
Payne, A.A., et al., eds., Antiquity and its Interpreters (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000)
Pieper, C.H., Elegos redolere Vergiliosque sapere. Cristoforo Landinos ‘Xandra’ zwischen Liebe und Gesellschaft (Hildesheim: Olms, 2008)
Ramsey, P.A., ed., Rome in the Renaissance. The City and the Myth (New York: Center for Medieval & Early Renaissance Studies, 1982)
Rehm, W., Europäische Romdichtung (München: Hueber, 1939)
Stein-Hölkeskamp, E. & K.-J. Hölkeskamp, eds., Erinnerungsorte der Antike. Die römische Welt (München: Beck, 2006)
Stinger, C.L., Rome in the Renaissance (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1985)
Tucker, G.H., The Poet’s Odyssey. Joachim Du Bellay and the Antiquitez de Rome (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990)
Weiss, R., The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1969)
Welch, T.S., Elegiac Cityscape. Propertius and the Meaning of Roman Monuments (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2005)
Zanker, P., Augustus und die Macht der Bilder (München: Beck, 1987)


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Contact information

Mw. Dr. S. de Beer