CLA1405 - Text and Context: Roman Laughter

2022/3 Module description

StaffDr Giacomo Fedeli -
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.50
NQF Level4
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module description

What made the Romans laugh? What were the limits of Roman humour? What does this reveal about Roman culture and society? This module addresses some of the key issues of the politics and poetics of Roman humour. It is concerned with the way the Romans employed wit, satire and irony for comment, criticism and deconstruction, as well as a powerful weapon in their rhetorical battles. We will consider a range of materials from the poems of Catullus, to the fables of Phaedrus, to non-elite art. Ultimately, we will address whether the humour that seems to turn everything on its head seeks to subvert or reinforce prevailing power structures.

Module aims

You will learn how to analyse, evaluate and use texts from a range of genres and how to relate their style and content to the wider context of Roman literary culture and society. In considering what we can learn about the Romans from their use of humour, you will also be encouraged to think about uses of humour in the modern world and the socio-cultural insights that can be gleaned from thinking about what makes us laugh.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Analyse texts and other sources which put Roman humour on display
  • 2. Understand a variety of critical approaches to the study of classical humour and current trends in criticism

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Use, analyse and evaluate ancient texts in relation to other sources and their socio-historical context
  • 4. Understand and apply different theoretical approaches to classical literature and material culture

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. Develop basic academic and library skills as well as a critical ability in assessing published literature
  • 6. Demonstrate independent study skills in guided research and presentation of findings
  • 7. Select and organise relevant material and to present this in oral and/or written form

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Introduction: Theories of laughter
  • Comedy and rhetoric: Cicero’s In Pisonem
  • Epigram: Catullus and Martial
  • Phaedrus’ Fables
  • Satire: Horace, Juvenal and Persius
  • Laughter in visual material

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching2211 x 2 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching55 x 1 hour seminars
Guided independent study123Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Oral presentation 10-15 minutes per group1-7Written and oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay602000 words1-7Mark, written and oral feedback
Written OR oral source analysis401000 words (written) OR 10 mins (oral)1-7Mark, written and oral feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-7Referral/Deferral period
Written OR oral source analysisWritten or oral source analysis1-7Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Catullus (a selection)
  • Phaedrus (Book 5)
  • Horace, Satires
  • Juvenal, Satires
  • Martial, Epigrams
  • Cicero, In Pisonem
  • Recommended Reading:
  • Fitzgerald, W. Martial: The World of the Epigram. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Freudenburg, K. ed. (2005) The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Henderson, J. (2001) Telling Tales on Caesar: Roman Stories from Phaedrus. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Jäkel, S. and A. Timonen. eds. (1997) Laughter Down the Centuries. Turku: Turun Yliopisto.
  • Sullivan, J. P. (1991) Martial: The Unexpected Classic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Roman, Classics, humour, literature, material culture

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