Tales of the Unexpected: Paradoxography, Fiction and the Culture of Wonder (CLA3260)

StaffProfessor Karen Ni Mheallaigh - Convenor
Credit Value15
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim is to expand your abilities to examine fiction as a means for imaginative exploration of the ancient thought-world, and to examine the dialogue between fiction and its wider contemporary culture of intellectual inquiry and entertainment. Questions which will preoccupy us throughout include: Who read these texts and why? What questions do these narratives raise about their contemporary world – and about our modern world today?

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a wide range of ancient prose fiction, and evaluate and discuss its significance.
  • 2. Identify and explain the various theoretical approaches to prose fiction in the ancient world, and demonstrate awareness of the subject’s central themes and issues.
  • 3. Demonstrate awareness of the extent to which interpretations of ancient prose fiction are shaped by changing modern concerns.
  • 4. Demonstrate a good knowledge of the history and variety of scholarship on ancient prose fiction and an understanding of how this scholarship can inform your own interpretation of the texts.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Identify, appreciate and engage effectively with different theoretical approaches to ancient texts.
  • 6. Demonstrate sophisticated critical and analytical skills which can be applied to the analysis of texts and fictional narratives from any culture.
  • 7. Demonstrate appreciation of the issues involved in using ancient texts as historical source material and relate texts to their socio-historical context.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Through research for seminars, essay and informal presentations, demonstrate advanced independent and group study skills in research, critical analysis, and presentation of findings.
  • 9. Through writing essay, delivering informal presentations and preparing for seminars, demonstrate advanced ability to select and organise relevant material to produce an argument.
  • 10. Through written assignment, presentations and discussion demonstrate advanced ability to present a strong, coherent argument in both oral and written forms.
  • 11. Through submission of final essay demonstrate enhanced ability to reflect on your own work, to respond constructively to feedback, and to implement suggestions and improve work on the basis of feedback.

Syllabus plan

We will examine the genre of paradoxography and how this infiltrates the tradition of narrative fiction during the Roman imperial period, producing tales of wonder, horror and magical realism. The texts we will focus on are Phlegon of Tralles’ Marvellous Tales, Antonius Diogenes’ The incredible things beyond Thule, Petronius’ Satyrica and Apuleius’ Metamorphoses.

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 & teaching22Seminars (1 x 2 hours per week)
Guided independent study128Independent study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay presentationStudents will prepare an essay-outline of 1000 words for discussion.1-10Comments and feedback from lecturer and students.

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
Essay1004000 words1-11Written comments, individual feedback in seminar, individual feedback from lecturer

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-10August refer/defer period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessed essay will count for same as original essay (100%)

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

J. Brunvand, The vanishing hitchhiker: American urban legends and their meanings (New York 1981, repr. 2003).

W. Hansen, Phlegon of Tralles' Book of Marvels (Exeter, 1996).

W. Hansen, Anthology of ancient Greek popular literature (Indiana, 1998).

T. Hägg, The Novel in Antiquity (Oxford, 1983).

S. J. Harrison (ed.), Oxford readings in the Roman novel (Oxford, 1999).

H. Hofmann (ed.) Latin fiction: the Latin novel in context (London, 1999).

N. Holzberg, The Ancient Novel: An Introduction (English tr., London and New York, 1995).

I. Repath & J. Prag. (edd.), Petronius: a handbook (Oxford, 2013).

G. Schmeling (ed.), The novel in the ancient world (Leiden, 1996/2003).

J.P. Sullivan (trans.), Petronius. The Satyricon (London: Penguin, 1986).

J.Tatum (ed.), The search for the ancient novel (Baltimore, 1994).

P.G. Walsh, The Roman novel (Cambridge, 1970).

T. Whitmarsh (ed.), The Cambridge companion to the Greek and Roman novel (Cambridge, 2008).

J.J. Winkler, Actor et auctor: a narratological reading of Apuleius' Golden Ass (Berkeley, 1985).

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Other resources: www.ancientnarrative.com (available through Library catalogue)

Available as distance learning?


Origin date

December 2013

Last revision date


Key words search

Ancient novel, fiction, paradoxography, Apuleius, Petronius, Phlegon