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2017/18 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

CLAS3120 Traversing Time: The Voyage of Argo

20 creditsClass Size: 36

Module manager: Dr. Bev Back

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 View Timetable

Year running 2017/18

Pre-requisite qualifications

None (though some knowledge of the Aeneid and Homeric epics would be useful)

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Jason and the Argonauts' quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece has endured in myth for millennia. Originating from the pen of the Ancient Greeks, the story was later transformed and manipulated by a host of Roman writers, who considered the Argo to be the first ship in existence. After orientation in the Greek versions, we’ll focus on two Roman ones: Flavian poet Valerius Flaccus' epic poem Argonautica, and Seneca's famous tragedy Medea (both studied in English). We'll also consider why later science fiction writers saw the Argo as emblematic of the hubristic technological advances made by the human race. Those interested in ancient myth and literature, as well as modern film, technology and the relationship between ancient and modern, should enjoy this module.


On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:
- situate appropriations of the Argonautic myth in their literary, socio-political and historical contexts;
- compare and contrast the versions of the myth under consideration with each other, their predecessors, and other selected works which utilise aspects of the storyline, characters, or imagery;
- confidently explain how the Argonautic myth has been reused in the modern era, and apply this thinking to the ancient (specifically Roman) material;
- use close reading techniques to produce critical appreciations of passages from these texts;
- identify and evaluate secondary scholarship and literary critical approaches, especially narratology, considerations of genre, intertextuality and reception theory;
- select evidence for, and explore, Seneca's and Valerius' treatment of themes such as transgression, Jason and Medea, mythical heroes, gods and cosmology, gender and sexuality, heroism, abandonment, the Argo as the first ship, magic and monsters.

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of this module, students are expected to:

- have gained a broad understanding of the Argonautic myth from literary, cultural and socio-political perspectives;
- be able to discuss, both orally and in writing, the implications of Roman divergences in depictions of aspects of the Argonautic myth, from those 'canonical' Greek versions;
- demonstrate confidence in exploring the connections between the Roman versions (both epic and dramatic) and their predecessors, setting the Roman material in its literary-historical, political, social, and intertextual perspectives;
- identify and discuss modern receptions of the myth and explain the ways in which these make an impact on our understanding of the earlier material;
- assertively utilise, analyse and evaluate a range of relevant secondary material when discussing the myth and theoretical approaches to it.

Skills outcomes
On successful completion of this module, students are expected to be able to demonstrate a range of subject-specific skills, including an ability to:

- analyse critically various forms of texts (especially different genres of literature) and relate them to each other where appropriate;
- confidently undertake close readings of translated set texts;
- an enhanced ability to critically engage with scholarly literature

They should also be able to demonstrate a range of transferable skills, including effective use of the library and other methods of research; confident written and oral expression of ideas; the use of IT resources; and good time-management and the organisation of personal study.


The Argonautic myth has been retold many times and in a variety of formats, both in antiquity and in the modern era. This 20-credit module is suitable for Level 2 and 3 students with some knowledge of Classical literature, and will begin with a grounding in ancient Greek versions of the Argonautic myth. We then move on to focus on two Roman retellings of aspects of it. The first is Valerius Flaccus' epic poem Argonautica, a Flavian-era version of the earlier part of Argonautic myth, which sees Jason and a band of heroes set out on a quest for the Golden Fleece; it explores their loves and losses on the way, before Jason finally meets his future wife, Medea. The second major focus is Seneca's tragedy Medea, a play which examines the aftermath of Jason's devastating revelation that he will be marrying another woman, thus spurning Medea. Students will also have the opportunity to engage with other Roman appropriations of aspects of the myth, such as Catullus 64, Propertius 1.20, Cicero's Pro Caelio, and Ovid's Metamorphoses and Heroides. Finally, students will examine modern receptions of the myth, from William Morris to Aleister Crowley to Dante, but focusing on H G Wells and modern science fiction receptions, to discover how the Argonautic myth lends itself to discussing modern concerns surrounding transgression, before reflecting these findings onto the ancient material.

The Romans saw the Argo as the first ever ship, the invention of which permitted travel to unknown lands and thus permitted expansion and trade, but also led to the cultivation of greed and the beginnings of human toil. This is an important difference to the Greek perception of Argo's importance, and the Romans used the myth to raise questions about breaking boundaries, the passage of time from a peaceful Golden Age to an era of labor, and the end of innocence. Similarly, modern writers have seen in the myth opportunities to discuss anxieties about technology and progress, the folly of human ambition, and the influence of the occult. Reading the Roman material through these receptions heightens the sense of transgression in which the Romans seemed to be intensely interested, and the Argo was the perfect vessel for exploring these anxieties.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours175.00
Total Contact hours25.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

3 hours reading per lecture
4 hours reading per seminar
Coursework preparation

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Student progress will be monitored
- at an informal level, through attendance at and participation in teaching sessions (lectures and seminars), group discussion, and detailed module questionnaire;
- at a formal level, through the summatively-assessed assignments.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2,000 words (practical criticism)50.00
Essay2,000 words (thematic essay)50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 15/09/2017


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