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Seminar Latin: Memory and rhetoric


Admission requirements

This course is open to MA and research MA students in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (specialization Classics). Admission requirements for other students: a BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.


Memoria, the learning by heart of a speech before delivering it, is one of the five officia oratoris; memorizing therefore was integral part of ancient grammatical and rhetorical education. Some orators were famous for their extraordinary memory – Seneca the Elder tells us that he was able to memorize 2,000 names in the correct order after having heard them only once (Contr. 1 praef. 2)! But the English term memory (and the Latin term memoria) does not only refer to this technical part of rhetoric: the concept of cultural memory has gained huge prominence in the research of the last decades. According to theories developed by Maurice Halbwachs or Jan Assmann, societies negotiate about their cultural canon which must be remembered and at the same time also about the parts of their culture that are non-canonical and therefore can/must be forgotten. Rhetoric and oratory is one of the most powerful means to shape such a selection process and to influence cultural memory.

The seminar intends to address both parts of memory, the technical and the sociological one. In the first part, we will read the most important passages on mnemotechnic (esp. by Cicero and Quintilian); we will identify different rhetorical means that facilitated memorizing (e.g., rhythm, alliteration) through the ages; we will ask for the Sitz im Leben of such mnemotechnics in education and daily Roman (upperclass) life; we might even have a glance at the reception of ancient mnemotechnical theories in the Middle Ages. In the second part, we will read a wide range of texts from e.g. Cicero, Seneca (pater et filius), Tacitus, Gellius, Macrobius (special interests of the participants are very welcome and can be inckuded in the program)… We will try to understand how the ancients talked about cultural memory and canonization, but we will also have to ask ourselves whether (Roman) antiquity really possessed a notion of collective memory at all. In the final part of the seminar, we will try to find connections between the two rather diverse aspects of memoria that we have tackled.

Course objectives

  • Broadening the rhetorical knowledge about Roman antiquity;

  • Practicing comparative reading of different authors from republican and imperial Rome;

  • Getting familiar with sociological approaches to classical literature;

  • Enlarging reading and interpretative competence of Latin texts;

  • Enhancing presentation skills;

  • Enhancing writing skills;

  • Enhancing research skills.


Please consult the timetable on the Classics and Ancient Civilizations website.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total course load for the course: 10 EC = 280 hours

  • Hours spent on attending lectures and seminars: 2 hours per week = 28 hours

  • Time for preparing the classes: 3 hours per class = 42 hours

  • Time for reading the Latin pensum: 50 hours

  • Time to prepare presentation and paper (including reading / research): 160 hours

Assessment method

  • Oral presentation (20%)

  • Written paper (50 %)

  • Pensum of Latin texts (20%)

  • Active participation, visible, a.o., in responding to the presentations of others (10%)


In this course we make use of Blackboard.

Reading list

The Latin texts will be made accessible in a reader or in fotocopy at the beginning of the course.
Important scholarly literature will also be made accessible on a reading shelf in the library; a selective bibliography will be distributed at the beginning of the class.

The following titles might be useful for a first orientation:

  • H. Blum, Die antike Mnemotechnik, Hildesheim 1969.

  • M. Citroni (ed.), Memoria e identità. La cultura romana costruisce la sua immagine, Firenze 2003.

  • A.M. Gowing, Empire and Memory. The representation of the Roman republic in imperial culture, Cambridge etc. 2005.

  • A. Haverkamp – R. Lachmann (eds.), Gedächtniskunst. Raum – Bild – Schrift; Studien zur Mnemotechnik, Frankfurt am Min 1991.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Dhr. Dr. C.H. Pieper


  • Students are required to attend the classes regularly, to be fully prepared and to tactively join the discussions.

  • The course will be taught in Dutch or English, depending on the first language of participating students.