The course is an enriched exploration of sports, spectacle and theatrical performances in ancient Greece and Rome, incorporating both traditional delivery of content (lectures and discussion based on reading) combined with the opportunity to engage creatively with the material in workshop format. The semester is structured around the ancient festival calendar, moving from private and local dramatic works to Panhellenic athletic competitions to the major performances at the festival of Dionysus in Athens and during the Games in Imperial Rome, culminating with amphitheatrical spectacle under the Emperors. The performative material selected grapples with universal human themes, specifically the formation of cultural identities against the volatile backdrop of war and the tension between the exercise of power and the demands of the populace.
Students will investigate major performance events in their original social and political contexts and then adapt five such events for presentation in a modern setting. These re-enactments will range from an audio-only podcast adaptation of Aristophanes, to staged readings of tragedy and comedy, to a marathon public reading of Homer¿s Iliad, to a re-created Roman arena. Through this kind of active interaction, students will gain a better understanding of foundational texts of the western tradition, texts which were crafted to be heard and seen, as social events, as shared experiences, not in isolation as intellectual exercises. The dynamic quality of hands-on work also allows insights to the body¿s role in communication, opening windows into subtler non-verbal features of these events, opening different perspectives on ancient content and allowing students to develop broader analytical techniques. By engaging with the historical past on a personal level, by re-experiencing key elements of past societies, students will acquire powerful and lasting insights on Mediterranean antiquity and on the human experience.