Spring 2017

  R1B Section 1 | CCN: 15882

Reading and Writing about Visual Experience: Shaping Lovemaking: Depictions of Sex and Sexuality in the Greco-Roman World

Norman Underwood

Monday | Wednesday: 8:00 - 9:30am

This course examines visual and literary representations of sex and sexuality in the ancient Mediterranean. As the course will make clear, Greek and Roman society held considerably different attitudes about sex and sexual practices from our own—and from one another. Further, ancient sexual mores were not homogeneous or static over time: Sexual preferences and habits followed fashions, and at any given time various sub-groups within these societies practiced widely different sexual customs. Therefore, particular focus will be given to representations of “good” and “bad” sex, to articulations of appropriate sexual acts and behaviors, and to Greco-Roman distinctions between tasteful “sensual” art and that deemed pornographic. Course content will range from nude statues, suggestive floor mosaics, and sexually explicit vases, to Roman wall graffiti, erotic poetry, and Classical philosophical treatises on love and human physiology. Along with primary sources, students will read academic studies of Greco-Roman sexuality with an eye to how historians analyze and narrate ancient sexuality.

To facilitate a more nuanced understanding of how sex and sexuality were culturally constructed in the ancient world, considerable emphasis will be placed on developing students’ abilities to “read” images as well as to describe them in a detailed and evocative manner, a practice which the ancients termed Ekphrasis. Students accordingly will practice close, critical analyses of images and texts in class and will be expected to compose a 10-12 page scholarly research paper by the end of the semester. In order to hone skills in refining academic prose, all paper drafts will be peer-edited.