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Reception Studies: The Greco-Roman World




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200-level and 300-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation.


This course deals with the impact of the Greco-Roman world on our modern western world. Not in the simplistic and rather worn-out sense of ‘our ancient heritage’, or ‘the roots of our civilisation’, but by concentrating on the continuing process of reception, that is, the centuries-long dialogue with ‘the ancients’ that was one of the most important factors in the shaping of western culture and society.
The ancient heritage is not some dead weight we carry about with us, but as a recent volume on the above-mentioned dialogue as it unrolled in eighteenth-century Rome put it, it is ‘both palimpsest and template’: it produces many of the models that our culture works with, and has its own history constantly re-written in the process. ‘Appropriation’ would actually be the better word, stressing the agency of those who repeatedly (re)construct their perceptions of Antiquity while striving for self-definition. .
Most work on the reception of the Greco-Roman world in post-classical culture deals with some small aspect, or if a published volume aims at a certain comprehensiveness, it works its way through literature, music, theatre, cinema, political propaganda, and so on, maybe even the fine arts (often left to the art historians altogether). In the present course, the interdisciplinarity, that is often called for in reception studies but rather less often realized, will be vouched for by a thematic approach. The theme selected for this course is the body. So it is not the medium that will be guiding us in our studies (“how is the ancient world received in the cinema?”), but the message (“how are ancient ideas/ideals about the body and embodiment reflected in post-classical culture?”). We will address both the physical body and the metaphysical one: the human body, the physical body (anything with ‘a physical existence and extension in space’), the body politic, social bodies, the body of Christ.

Course Objectives

This course aims at making the participants think about the role of the Greco-Roman world in the shaping of western culture from early medieval days to the present. It is all about time-depth: students will have a roller-coaster ride through western art, philosophy, political thought, religion, you name it, which wants to initiate them into recent ways of looking at cultural history, especially reception studies, and to stimulate them to apply this to whatever work they are doing and will be doing at LUC.
Of course, all the usual skills trained at a seminar, such as analytic skills and presentation skills, will be paid attention to.

Mode of Instruction

The meetings twice weekly will be mainly dedicated to debate, preceded by an introduction by the instructor. Every participant will have some reading assignment so as to be able to fruitfully engage in discussion with his/her co-students and the instructor. During the first week the instructor will outline the course objectives and elucidate some of the main concepts that we will be working with.
Some excursions could be planned if the participants feel like it. The main art exhibition immediately relevant to the subject of this course would be Jordaens und die Antike in Kassel (G), on from the 1st of March; the collections of museums in The Hague and within easy reach of The Hague contain many works of art that can help to illustrate the reception of the ancient world.


Assessment will be continuous during the course (refer to the overview below); by way of finalizing this course every participant will be required to write a short paper on a subject of his/her own choosing. Instead of writing a paper, one can also publish one’s results in some other form, such as a website, a video, or whatever medium suitable for the transference of scholarly information.

Anything handed in should be in digital form, and either be attached to an email or presented for download. If one’s digital portfolio is incomplete, no final assessment will be possible.

Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Weekly reading notes (ca 500 words)
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Weeks 2 – 6 (every Sunday before the Tuesday-class)

Assessment: Present a case study
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Week 7

Assessment: Final research essay (ca 5000 words) or a comparable effort
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Week 8 (Saturday)


The book that every participant is supposed to read (not necessarily to own), is:

  • Simon Goldhill, Love, sex and tragedy. How the ancient world shapes our lives, London 2004 John Murray ISBN 978-0719555497, paperback with the title Love, Sex and Tragedy. Why classics matters, London 2005 John Murray 2005 ISBN 978-0719555459.

Both the hardback and paperback UK editions seem to have sold out. The American edition, however, is still available:

  • Simon Goldhill, Love, sex and tragedy. How the ancient world shapes our lives, Chicago 2004 Chicago University Press ISBN 978-0226301174 (reprinted 2009), paperback 2005: ISBN 978-0226301198.
    The best deals can be found on Amazon.com – where also many second-hand copies are on offer.
    Further reading requirements will be outlined in the course syllabus.

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1 April 9 & April 11: introduction: reception theory, living ancient heritage
Week 2 April 16 & April 18: the human body
Week 3 April 23: the human body continued, and other physical bodies; April 25: the body politic
Week 4 April 30: no class (Queen’s Day); May 2: the body politic
Week 5 May 7: the body politic continued, and social bodies; May 9: no class (Ascension)
Week 6 May 14 & May 16: more metaphysical bodies
Week 7 May 21 & May 23: student presentations

Preparation for first session

If you have but little general knowledge of ancient history, it is advisable to read through some introductory volume – such as C.G. Starr, A history of the ancient world, New York 1965, many reprints and re-editions, or for Dutch-speaking students F.G. Naerebout & H.W. Singor, De Oudheid. Grieken en Romeinen in de context van de wereldgeschiedenis, Baarn 1995, many reprints and re-editions.
Also, make sure you have familiarized yourself with the book by Goldhill: you need not have read all of it, but you should have browsed carefully through the volume, so that you know what its different parts and chapters are about.