HIST 497B - Performance, Sport, and Spectacle in the Ancient Mediterranean 001


Academic Year: 


Course ID and Name: 

Course Area: 

Section Number: 

Course Syllabus

Course Description: 

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.


Required Course Materials: 

Euripides, Trojan Women and other plays (Oxford World Classics, 2009)

Aeschylus, Oresteia (Hackett, 1998)

Aristophanes, Lysistrata (Hackett, 2003)

Plautus, Three Comedies (Cornell, 1990)

All other readings will be posted on the course website or on the D2L website.


Course Requirements: 

Participation: Students are required to attend class, contribute to discussions, listen thoughtfully and respectfully to the contributions of others, and take part in classroom activities. Students must purchase of a pack of 3" x 5" lined index cards and bring it to class every session; this is necessary for the documentation of participation. Please turn off cell phones during class. More than three unexcused absences will progressively impact a student’s participation grade. Absences may be excused for holidays and events for religions with which individual students are affiliated and activities pre-approved by the Dean of Students. Students are still responsible for course content, whether an absence is “excused” or not.

Production: Each student is required to participate in all major performances (staged readings, podcasts, Homerathon, spectacle).  In addition, each student must take on a "leadership role" in at least two of these performances: students will select either production and organizational responsibilities (including such elements as direction, sound design, props and set, costumes, spectator arrangements), or, for those more theatrically inclined, major acting/performance roles.  Ideally, everyone takes on one major performance role and one major organization role, but it is also good for people to work within their comfort zones.

Quizzes (Undergrad only): Seven short timed quizzes on the weekly reading must be completed on D2L. Quizzes are open note/open book but they are timed. (Use your time wisely.) Quizzes must be completed by midnight on Tuesday the week of the quiz.

Annotated bibliography (Grad only): For each major topic, graduate students will assemble a short annotated bibliography focusing on the ancient source(s), the ancient context or the ancient performance for that section. Bibliographies should include biographical data (for ancient source) and a short summary of two journal articles or chapters in a monograph. More specific protocol will be circulated in class and via the D2L site.

Short paper: Students will write one short paper, about 1000 words, which will extend the analysis of a particular aspect of ancient performance focusing on those in-class productions in which they took a leadership position. Bibliography must include the ancient sources and three to five modern scholarly assessments. Paper topics should be confirmed with the professor at least ten days prior to the due date. More specific protocol will be circulated in class and via the D2L site.

Final paper (Grad only): Students will prepare a paper of about 5000 words which will be comparative in nature, considering a theme across several scripted works (e.g. slavery, divine-human relations, gender) OR the same event or performance in different locations or different time periods (e.g. Delphic Games during the Delian League and under Nero, Imperial Cult in Gaul and in Ephesus) OR modern recreations of ancient performances (e.g. Cacoyannis’ “Greek tragedy” films, the origin of the modern Olympics). Although an analysis of ancient evidence must be featured in the paper, students should also consider the social element embedded in performance, the relationships constructed by participants and spectators. Bibliography must include the relevant ancient sources and five to seven modern scholarly assessments. More specific protocol will be circulated in class and via the D2L site.


Course Grading: 

497B Evaluation:

Participation:                          25%

Productions:                           25%

Quizzes:                                  25%

Short paper:                            25%


597B Evaluation:

Participation:                          20%

Productions:                           20%

Annotated bibliography:         20%    

Short paper:                            20%

Final paper:                             20%


Grade Calculation:

88-100%                       A

78-87%                          B

68-77%                          C

58-67%                          D

below 58%                   E


College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Contact Us

Department of History
Cesar E. Chavez
Main Office, Room 415 
1110 James E. Rogers Way
Tucson, AZ 85721
Tel: (520) 621-1586
Fax: (520) 621-2422