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Tutorial Latin: Aesthetic Experience in Roman Antiquity


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.


What is art? How does a work of art differ from other, quotidian objects? What are the differences between the experience provoked by art and other acts of perception andcognition? And to what extent are these divergent processes culturally determined?
In Roman Antiquity the boundaries between art and ‘non-art’ are less clear than presupposed. Moreover, the concept of art’s autonomy—an evaluation firmly established by modern, Romantic theorists—appears to have no bearing on ancient examples.
Ars does not necessarily mean “art”; and what modern recipients judge to be a work of art was not necessarily regarded as an artwork in ancient Rome. Consequently, the objects in question (both texts and objects) hardly evoked what we would today identify as an “art-experience”.
The qualitative parameters of aesthetic experience is not only reflected in theoretical treatises (e.g. Aristotle, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, ps.-Longinus, Pliny and Quintilian), but also, implicitly, in the work of artists and poets. In producing a work of art, visual or literary, the artists took into consideration their recipients’ expectations. Their artistic practice, therefore, can at least in part be regarded as decisive reactions to receptive concerns.

In our seminar we include three authors who have reflected on “aesthetic experience”:

  1. Plautus: Early Roman drama was produced on temporary stages, often in relation to political or religious contexts. As a consequence, the first dramatic authors had to develop textual strategies to define the stage as stage, the audience as audience, and thereby to mark the boundary between the real world and the fictional world of drama. The current project will concentrate on the techniques that distinguish between the spheres of reality and art or play; strategies that evoke illusion and reflections on art’s effect on the recipient.

  2. Ovid, Tristia: The most subtle reflection on ‘ars’ is certainly provided by Ovid, whose Ars amatoria has presumably been misunderstood as an instruction-handbook. In his Tristia, Ovid reflects on the reception of his ars/ars and thus formulates, by means of poetry, a theory of reception. Ovid’s Tristia offer a fruitful and intriguing discussion of the effect of reading poetry and the various conditions and qualities of aesthetic experience.

  3. Petronius, Satyrica: In the imperial period the theatralization of the real world was extreme. Daily actions were performed as mythic scenes; actors, who played a god on stage, were adored as if they were the god himself. The cena Trimalchionis, the most famous part of Petronius’ Satyrica, a multi-genre text written under the regime of Nero, reflects on
    this phenomenon. Things which belong to the sphere of the real world (such as food)
    are presented as art works. People who disguise themselves hope to become the
    personage they represent. Petronius not only mixes genres, he also conflates the
    spheres of art and non-art.

Course objectives

  • Broadening the knowledge on aesthetic theory;

  • Practicing critical assessment of modern interdisciplinary approaches;

  • 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, essay & response, and paper (including reading / research): 160 hours

Assessment method

  • Oral presentation (30%)

  • Written essay and oral response (20%)

  • Written paper (50 %)

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average. Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the essay and/or paper is to be revised after consultation with the teacher.


In this course we make use of Blackboard.

Reading list

The Latin texts will be made accessible in a reader at the beginning of the course. A selective bibliography will be distributed at the beginning of the class.
The following titles might be useful for a first orientation:

  • A. C. Danto: The Transfiguration of the Commonplace. Cambridge Mass. 1981.

  • J. Dewey: Art as Experience. Illinois 1978.

  • Th. De Duve: Kant nach Duchamp. München 1993.

  • M. Franz: Von Gorgias bis Lukrez. Antike Ästhetik und Poetik als vergleichende Zeichentheorie. Berlin 1999.

  • J. Küpper/ Chr. Menke (edd.): Dimensionen ästhetischer Erfahrung. Frankfurt a.M. 2003.

  • A. Wessels: Ästhetisierung und ästhetische Erfahrung von Gewalt. Eine Untersuchung zu Senecas Tragödien. Heidelberg 2014.


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.


Prof. dr. A.B. Wessels


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

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