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BLOOD, OPPRESSION, REVENGE:
THE GRIM WORLD OF THE ROMAN HISTORIANS
(CLASS DESCRIPTION)
Summer Semester 2012/2013, 15 weeks, 30 h (2h/week)
Instructor: Dr Jakub Pigoń, Assoc. Professor of Classics, [email protected]
Credit points: 6 (attendance & final test) or 3 (attendance & very short essay)
In sharp contrast to their modern colleagues, the Roman historians were primarily literary
artists, not scholars. They usually approached the past not in order to investigate evidence and
to come as close as possible to historical truth, but to provide a remarkable narrative and to
stir emotions of the audience. Their subject was in fact grim – bloody wars, internal strife,
political oppression, violence – and they presented it, despite their protestations to the
contrary, with anger and partisanship.
The class is intended as a short introduction to one of the most important part of ancient
Roman literature. The focus will be mainly on historians as authors and artists, although some
attention will also be given, obviously, to their historical aims and methods and especially to
the difference between their view of history and ours.
During the class the following historians and biographers will be discussed: fragmentarily
preserved authors of the 3rd and 2nd cent. BC (including Cato the Elder), Sallust, Caesar,
Nepos, Livy, Pompeius Trogus, Velleius Paterculus, Curtius Rufus, Tacitus, Suetonius, the
so-called Historia Augusta, Ammianus Marcellinus, thus covering the whole period of the
history of Roman literature till the late 4th cent. AD. The discussion will be centred on some
sample passages (in English translations), illustrating a given author’s characteristic features
as a writer and his approach to his subject. Since Roman literature cannot be properly
understood without the Greek background, some attention will also be given, during the first
weeks of the class, to Greek historians, especially to Herodotus, Thucydides and Polybius.
No knowledge of Latin is required. However, some basic acquaintance with Greek and
Roman culture and history will be most helpful to better appreciate ancient historical texts
which are, even in translation, not always an easy reading.