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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

CLAS3120 Traversing Time: The Voyage of Argo

20 creditsClass Size: 24

Module manager: Dr. Bev Back

Taught: Semesters 1 & 2 (Sep to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

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

The story of 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.


This module aims to introduce the Roman perception of the Argonautic by focusing on an epic poem and a tragedy play, both from the 1st Century AD. It aims to equip students to be able to engage with them in detail through close readings of the set texts in translation, as well as to situate the works in their literary, socio-political and historical contexts. Students will be introduced to select earlier and more modern works which utilise aspects of the storyline, characters, or imagery shown in set material, and subsequently will learn how to compare and contrast the set texts with one another and to those literary alternatives. The course will also introduce and prepare students to identify and evaluate secondary scholarship and literary critical approaches, especially e.g. narratology, considerations of genre, intertextuality, and reception theory.

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

• select evidence for and argue persuasively about, in both written and oral form, Seneca’s and Valerius’ treatment of a number of themes, such asː transgression; Jason and Medea; mythical heroes; gods and cosmology; gender and sexuality; heroism; abandonment; the Argo as the first ship; magic and monsters;
• compare and contrast the two works under consideration with each other, with their literary predecessors, and with other ancient texts featuring the Argo;
• explain confidently the effects of later versions of the myth on the earlier material through a thorough understanding and application of reception theory, applying this thinking to generate potential new interpretations of the set material;
• use close reading techniques to produce effective and nuanced critical appreciations of passages from the set texts in commentary form [if chosen as assessment] and in the [compulsory] discursive essay;
• carry out detailed research into, and use the most appropriate information about Argonautic characters, in order to present the salient points as a wiki entry [if selected as assessment];
• demonstrate a range of transferable skills, including effective use of the library and other methods of research, confident written and oral expression of ideas, competent and appropriate use of IT resources, effective time-management and organisation of personal study.

Skills outcomes
Demonstration of a sound understanding of the concepts and techniques in the discipline, including an ability to analyse critically various forms of texts (especially different genres of literature) and relate them to each other (where appropriate).


The Argonautic myth has been retold many times and in a variety of formats, both in antiquity and in the modern era. By exploring two first-century Roman works centred on the myth, we shall see that 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 and filmmakers have seen in the myth opportunities to discuss anxieties about enemy nations, technology, progress, and the folly of human ambition. Reading the Roman material through these receptions heightens the sense of transgression in which the Romans seemed to be intensely interested, and the Argo as the perfect vessel for exploring these anxieties.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours177.00
Total Contact hours23.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

3 hours per lecture (3*18) = 54 hours
4 hours per seminar (4*5) = 20 hours
Coursework 1 (50%, 3,000 words) = 51.5 hours
CHOICE: Wiki OR Commentary
Coursework 2 (Essay: 3,000 words, 50%) = 51.5 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Opportunities for formative feedback will arise at the following times:
• when students attend and participate in teaching sessions (lectures and seminars);
• through the students’ seminar contributions;
• in-lecture ‘minute papers’ assessing impact of said lecture;
• using post-it notes in-session for instant, anonymous feedback;
• at face-to-face meetings during dedicated office hours;
• via a mid-term informal questionnaire, where students can self-assess their progress and performance half way through the course;
• through a detailed, formal module questionnaire at the close of the module.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
EssayWiki entry (3,000 words, character of their own choice) OR Commentary (3,000 words, choose their own section)50.00
EssayDiscursive Essay (3,000 words, choose their own title)50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Students will only be able to submit a commentary if required to resit the first element.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:37:49


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