Text and Context: Writing Women in Ancient Literature (CLA1410)

StaffProfessor Karen Ni Mheallaigh - Lecturer
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level1
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module explores women’s roles as writers, characters and readers of ancient literature, i.e. writing, written as well as reading women. What do we know about ancient women writers and their works - or female readers in antiquity? Is there a space for a female voice in the domain of ancient literature? Is it possible to unearth female subjectivities in ancient texts? As well as exploring the work of ancient writing women such as Sappho of Lesbos, this module explores the ways in which women were given voice and expression in the fiction of the ancient Greek and Roman world, the subversive quality of the female voice and female sexuality, and the insights which feminist criticism can offer the modern reader of these ancient texts. As well as exploring how ancient texts engage with these questions, students will learn to analyse texts both within their ancient literary-cultural context, and from the perspective of modern feminist criticism, and to evaluate these approaches critically.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. be able to demonstrate a broad and detailed knowledge of a wide selection of a large number of primary texts (in English translation);
  • 2. be able to demonstrate a general knowledge of the realities of women’s lives in ancient Greek and Roman society;
  • 3. be able to reflect critically on the representation of women in ancient Greek and Latin literature and the role of the female voice in the text.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. be able to use, analyse and critically evaluate ancient texts;
  • 5. develop advanced academic and library skills;
  • 6. develop a critical engagement with modern scholarly literature.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. demonstrate independent and group study skills in the research and presentation of findings;
  • 8. demonstrate an ability to select and organise relevant material;
  • 9. demonstrate an ability to present a strong argument in oral and written form,
  • 10. develop confidence and clarity in oral communication;
  • 11. develop the ability to work and discuss issues in a peer group;
  • 12. develop as critical readers of literature in general.

Syllabus plan

An indicative syllabus could include the following topics:

Weaving women and Siren songs: women in Greek and Latin epic 
If the pen is the figurative phallus, with what do women write? Sappho of Lesbos
Constructing the ideal woman: Pygmalion in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
Writing women writing...: Ovid’s Letters of Heroines (1)
Writing women writing...: Ovid’s Letters of Heroines (2)
Challenging paternity: monstrous women in Lucian’s True Histories
Writing from the body – re-sexing language: Melite and Palaestra
Novelistic heroines (1): Chariton’s Callirhoe
Novelistic heroines (2): Heliodorus’ Charikleia

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
GIS123Private study

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
Essay402000 words1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 12Mark and written feedback
Exam602 hours1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 12Mark and written feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-9, 12August refer/defer period
ExamExam1-9, 12August refer/defer period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

To be confirmed
A detailed list of prescribed texts and editions will be supplied by the lecturer.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Selected secondary reading:
C. Beasley, What is feminism? (California and London, 1990).
M. Humm, Practising feminist criticism: an introduction (New York, 1995).
E.C. Keuls, The reign of the phallus: sexual politics in ancient Athens (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1985).
A. Lardinois & L. McClure (edd.), Making silence speak: women’s voices in Greek literature and society (Princeton, 2001).
A. Richlin (ed.), Pornography and representation in Greece and Rome (New York and Oxford, 1992).
K.K. Ruthven, Feminist literary studies: an introduction (Cambridge, 1990).
T.A. Schmitz, ‘Feminist Approaches/ Gender Studies,’ in Modern Literary Theory and Ancient Texts: an Introduction (Oxford, 2007): 176-194.
T. Whitmarsh, ‘A woman’s place,’ in Ancient Greek Literature (Cambridge, 2004): 177-195.
(A full and detailed secondary bibliography will be supplied by the module director.)

Available as distance learning?


Last revision date