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Level 5

5AACAR19: Sex and the Symposium: The Evidence of Athenian Painted Pottery

Credit value: 15 credits
Module convenor/tutor 2018/19 and 2019/20: Professor Michael Squire 
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminar (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment pattern 2019/20: 1 x 2,500 word essay (100%)

Assessment pattern pre-2019/20:

1 x essay of 5,000 words (100%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand, there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

         What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?

         What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?

         What pipes and timbrels? What wild legacy?

                                                 John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn (1820

The symposium (literally a ‘drinking together’) was one of the most important cultural institutions of Archaic and Classical Athens. We know about it from a variety of Greek literary texts – foremost among them, Plato’s Symposium.. But what actually happened at the symposium? Just how raucous was it? And what social, political and cultural functions did it fulfil?

This interdisciplinary course explores these questions through the lens of Athenian painted pottery. Black- and red-figure scenes raise fundamental questions about how images work as historical sources, and how they can be used alongside other sorts of evidence. By looking carefully at a variety of themes – and introducing students to one of the world’s largest and most important collections in the British Museum (including, handling sessions) – we will investigate the unique perspectives of this fascinating material, and from a variety of different perspectives. Topics will include the visual representation of gender, homosexuality, and sexual role-play, as well as the appropriation of myth, cultural identity and Dionysian intoxication; throughout, our aim will be to explore how visual materials contribute to the broader study of Greek literature, archaeology and history.   

The course is designed for students from different degree programmes in the Department of Classics (above all, Classics, Classical Studies, Ancient History and Classical Archaeology). All ancient texts will be provided in both Greek and English. Numbers will be capped because of museum visits/handling sessions.


Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Preliminary reading ( * indicates recommended summer reading):

*C. Bérard (ed.) (1989) A City of Images, trans. D. Lyons

M. L. Catoni (2010) Bere vino puro: immagini del simposio

A. J. Clark, M. Elston and M.L. Hart (2002) Understanding Greek Vases: A Guide to Terms, Styles, and Techniques

N. B. Kampen (ed.) (1996) Sexuality in Ancient Art

*F. Lissarrague (1990) The Aesthetics of the Greek Banquet: Images of Wine and Ritual, trans. A. Szegedy-Maszak

*F. Lissarrague (2001) Greek Vases: The Athenians and their Images

*J. R. Mertens (2010) How to Read Greek Vases

R. T. Neer (2002) Style and Politics in Athenian Vase-Painting: The Craft of Democracy

R. Osborne (1998) Archaic and Classical Greek Art

M. Robertson (1992) The Art of Vase-Painting in Classical Athens

G. Sissa (2008) Sex and Sexuality in the Ancient World Tran. G. Staunton

B. Sparkes (1991) Greek Pottery: An Introduction

B. Sparkes (1996) The Red and The Black: Studies in Greek Vase Painting

N. Spivey and T. Rasmussen (eds.) (1992) Looking at Greek Vases

A. Steiner (2007) Reading Greek Vases

C. Vout (2013) Sex on Show: Seeing the Erotic in Greece and Rome

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