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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

CLAS1100 Ancient Lives

20 creditsClass Size: 60

Module manager: Dr Fabio Sarranito

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

The module will consider a range of biographies and life writings by different authors of classical antiquity, from more historical to more literary and fictionalising biographies. It will cover subjects from important political figures such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to less documented figures including authors, such as Aesop or Euripides, and women, such as Turia (the likely subject of the narrative inscription Laudatio Turiae written by her husband in praise of his deceased wife). Literary form and genre as well as historical context and other sources for the biographies’ subjects will be considered.


To develop an appreciation of the issues involved in handling and interpreting biographies and life writing from the ancient world in a wide variety of genres, including case studies of well-documented figures such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and of less well-documented lives such as those of women and of literary figures such as Aesop or Euripides. Students will consider biographies in their historical context and compared with other evidence for the period and the subject, and learn to distinguish different authors’ aims, genres, and techniques in writing about individual lives and to reflect on the implications of such factors for our understanding of the texts. Some of the historical figures studied are of central historical importance, such as Alexander and Caesar, while other subjects are of interest to biographers and readers of biography because of the rich tradition of stories about them and the opportunities they present for an alternative form of narrative literature. The knowledge and critical skills acquired in this module will thus provide a basis for further study of Greek and Roman history, historiography, and narrative literature. The module will serve as a foundation for further work in both ancient history and classical literature at levels 2 and 3.

Learning outcomes
Students completing this module are expected to have acquired an understanding of:
- Ancient biography and life writing in a range of genres and about a range of historical figures.
- Selected case studies in depth, such as Plutarch’s lives of Alexander and Caesar.
- The importance of considering authors’ different genres and aims for deciding how and whether we can interpret these texts as literature and/or use them as historical sources, and what the problems are in using them.
- The relevant historical context and other evidence for the biographies’ subjects from other kinds of source, and how to relate the biographies to those contexts.


The module will introduce students to the forms and functions of ancient biography both as historiographical writing and as narrative literature, and the study of individual historical figures, through a number of case studies. These will include a pair of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar), a biography of a female historical figure such as Turia (the likely subject of the inscription Laudatio Turiae), and a more literary or fictional biography such as the Alexander Romance or the Life of Aesop. The module will begin with an introduction to the variety of forms of life writing that existed in antiquity in both Greek and Latin, and the authors’ different aims in writing them. It will then focus in detail on a few longer biographies by different authors and of different kinds of subjects in turn over several lectures each, considering their historical context and their literary form. Some shorter biographies will be covered in individual lectures along with relevant themes, e.g. the evidence for lives of women in antiquity alongside a woman’s life such as the Praise of Turia; and how much we can tell the stories of ordinary people who do not receive biographies.

Teaching methods

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

Private study

Reading primary texts: 30 hours
Reading secondary literature: 25 hours
Lecture preparation and consolidation: 20 x 2 = 40 hours
Seminar preparation: 5 x 4 = 20 hours
Essay: 30 hours
Comparative essay preparation: 30 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Formative feedback is provided through contribution in the five seminars, one of which will be focused specifically on practice for the obituaries coursework for discussion with the seminar tutor and group, and one of which will focus on preparation for the final comparative essay, and will provide an opportunity for students to discuss their ideas for this coursework with the seminar tutor and group.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1,250 words40.00
Essay1,750 word comparative essay60.00
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: 28/04/2023 14:37:48


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