Classical Literature: Meeting the Ancient Authors

140 TUTOR: Gillian Hovell

This course is a celebration of classical writers, from Homer and Hesiod, through to the earliest historians, dramatic playwrights and philosophical geniuses and into the Golden Age of imperial Roman poets, writers and historians. The Silver Age and beyond will take you to the Classical authors' impact on Christian and Renaissance writings. The tutor will share the exciting narrative of ancient literature and its contexts, connections and even its legacies in later centuries, making classical literature accessible and relevant to you.

Course Notes

This course offers a chance to brush up your knowledge of those great writers of antiquity. They dramatically shaped our own English literature and even the way we think.

We explore the earliest western literature, Homer's epics, and the early historians Herodotus and Thucydides. The playwrights of Athens - Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes - are a vital and dramatic part of our tale. Meanwhile, the Greek philosophers, including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, changed the way the world appears to us.

The Romans later adopted and adapted all of these, as their own literature blossomed out of this heritage. They made their own mark on history, drama and philosophy and Cicero was the pinnacle of Roman oratory and rhetoric (the skill of persuasion). As the Roman empire dawned, so did the 'Golden Age' of Latin, with some of the greatest poetry ever written; Virgil, Horace, Ovid and Catullus all thrived now. Over the centuries, 'Silver Latin' took its place, with innovative novels (even early science fiction!), satires, biography and the art of letter-writing. Quintilian, Pliny the Elder, Juvenal, Martial and Pliny the Younger are all names we meet in this age.

As we meet all these authors, we unravel who wrote what and when, and we find out what makes each of them so special, even over 2,000 years later. A thrilling dimension is that various ancient writers provide us with insights into what the ancients themselves thought about these great writers.

By discovering these works and writers, we unearth the ancient civilizations and the audiences that each author was writing for. What was their world like? What were their lives like? And how did their writing reflect that?

Most of all, we shall untangle and make accessible these great writers and their works that changed the world.

No knowledge of ancient Greek or Latin is required for this course. Of course, we shall read extracts from important texts and we shall glimpse some quotations in the original Latin, to sample a flavour of the power of the language. Most, however, will be in translation.

The course is richly illustrated throughout using high quality images of both ancient and modern art that bring the works and the ancient lives to life. For our modern lives and media are full of echoes of Classical Literature.

Handouts will be provided, including the quotations used in the course.

(The following agenda is flexible and includes time for students to discuss and debate the subject)


- Welcome and introduction

- Epic beginnings: Homer & Hesiod

- Greek Philosophy: A brave new world


- Greek drama: the divine question of life and death, and the comedy of life

- Greek Historians: Herodotus & Thucydides


- The Roman Republic & the Augustan World:

- Drama and History

- Oratory & the Ciceronian Age

- Poetic licence: Catullus, Horace, Virgil, Ovid


- Silver Latin: dangerous times - Seneca, Lucan, Petronius

- Pliny the Elder, Statius, Martial & Quintilian

- Pliny the Younger, Plutarch & Suetonius


- Late Antiquity and the Christian World

- Novels: Petronius, Gellius, Lucian & Apuleius

- The City of God: Gospels to Augustine & Jerome

- Legacy of Classical Literature: transmission & impact

Course Tutor

Gillian Hovell

Gillian Hovell

About Gillian


After graduating with 2-1 (Hons) in Latin and Ancient History from Exeter University, Gillian worked in BBC Television and went on to become an award-winning freelance writer, author and public speaker, specialising in archaeology, prehistory and in the Greek and Roman eras. She is a lecturer at York University and at the British Museum and presents in the media.

Having led and supported community archaeology projects in a hands-on way (hence 'The Muddy Archaeologist'), Gillian now actively digs at major sites in the UK and Europe (from Orkney's prehistoric Ness of Brodgar to Roman Pompeii and Vindolanda and sites and eras in between).

She also teaches courses and lectures in the UK and beyond for The Arts Society, summer schools (such as Marlborough), museums (including the British Museum and the Ashmolean in Oxford and, of course, local museums), schools and audiences ranging from the WI to the national media.

A month-long Arts Society lecture tour of Australia was so successful in 2018 that another was planned for 2021(Covid delay to 202/3)and one to New Zealand in 2022.

Gillian travels widely in her work and lectures and guides on tours and cruises around the UK and the Mediterranean for companies such as Andante, Voyages to Antiquity's cruises (including exclusive 'Muddy Archaeologist Groups'), Smithsonian Journeys, Ciceroni Travel, Academy Travel, ASA (Australians Studying Abroad) Tours, Paideia Institute and Saga specialist archaeology tours, and she used to run her own tour company,Visiting the Past Tours.Her lecture tours cover every era and destination from the Neolithic in Orkney & Roman Britain, to the Greeks and Romans and ancient civilisations throughout the Mediterranean.

Gillian shares her passion for ancient history in person, in books & freelance writing, in the field, in the media and on-line. She engages with folk in social and professional environments and inspires them to see that archaeological finds and sites are full of human life and passion. Gillian changes the way that people see their work and leisure, human nature and the world around them. Gardens, food, professions, art, architecture, even the words we speak, are given fresh new dimensions.

For history and archaeology are not just about the past, they're everywhere, and they add colour, depth and meaning to every aspect our lives today.

Even if you don't yet know that you're interested in ancient history, archaeology or Latin, Gillian can fire your imagination and inspire you to new visions.



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Summer School Dates for 2022

All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 11 Jul - 15 Jul

WK 2 18 Jul - 22 Jul

WK 3 25 Jul - 29 Jul

WK 4 1 Aug - 5 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM