Sexuality and Gender in the Ancient World (CLA3020)

StaffProfessor Rebecca Langlands - Convenor
- Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15.00
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesThe successful completion of at least 90 credits at level 2, of which at least 30 must be in Classics and Ancient History
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim of this module is to:

  • Examine in detail a wide range of texts and images which provide us with evidence about sexual practices, beliefs and ideologies in the ancient world – from erotica on pots to legal texts, from religious rituals to sex manuals.
  • Explore the way interpretation of this ancient “evidence” has continued to change over the past two hundred years, as it is shaped by the evolving beliefs, prejudices, anxieties and fantasies of the modern world.
  • Consider modern debates about, and theoretical approaches to, sexuality and gender and how these relate to the ancient material.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a wide range of sources relating to sex, sexuality and gender, and evaluate and discuss their significance.
  • 2. Identify and explain the various theoretical approaches to gender and sexuality in the ancient world, and demonstrate awareness of the subjects central themes and issues
  • 3. Demonstrate awareness of the extent to which interpretations of ancient material relating to the themes of sex and gender are shaped by changing modern concerns
  • 4. Demonstrate a good knowledge of the history and variety of scholarship on sexuality and gender in antiquity and an understanding of how this scholarship can inform your own interpretation of the sources

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Through research for seminars, essays and conference presentations, demonstrate advanced independent and group study skills in research, critical analysis, and presentation of findings.
  • 9. Through writing essays, delivering conference presentation and preparing for seminars, demonstrate advanced ability to select and organise relevant material to produce an argument.
  • 10. Through written assignments, informal seminar presentations and discussion, and assessed conference presentation demonstrate advanced ability to present a strong, coherent argument in both oral and written forms.
  • 11. Through participation in module conference and presentation of conference presentation demonstrate an advanced level of communication skills, including confidence and clarity in public speaking.
  • 12. Through submission and development of conference abstract and conference journal 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
  • 13. Through sitting the final examination, demonstrate advanced skills in knowledge recall and management and in the development, organization, and expression of ideas under pressure of time

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:

Term 1: Introductory sessions – modern debates and ancient materials; student-led seminars, each focusing on a different Ancient Greek source in roughly chronological order from the Homeric Hymns to Aristotle and Xenophon; Essay feedback and conclusions.

Term 2:  Student-led seminars covering material from ancient Rome, from foundation myths to the Greek imperial writers Plutarch and Lucian. During this term we will also stage the day-long Sexuality and Gender Module Conference, where you will present your assessed presentations on a topic of your choosing related to the over-arching themes of the module (subject to approval of the lecturer). The final session will cover essay feedback and exam preparation.

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 teaching activities44Seminars (1 x 2 hours per week)
Guided independent study256Independent 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
Essay 1203000 words1-10Mark, written comments, general feedback in seminar, individual feedback from lecturer
Essay 2203000 words1-10Mark, written comments, general feedback in seminar, individual feedback from lecturer
Oral presentation1020 minute presentation with 10 minutes of questions1-12Mark and written comments on feedback sheet, comments and questions from lecturer and peers
Exam503 hours1-7, 9, 10, 13Mark and written comments

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay Essay1-10Referral/Deferral period
ExamExam1-7, 9, 10, 13Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment is not available for oral presentations.

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

Basic reading:

Useful course textbook (purchase recommended): Skinner, M.B. Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture, 2005.

A wide selection of set texts is available on ELE.  

To buy: Plato, Symposium (Trans. Chris Gill, Penguin), Ovid The Erotic Poems (Trans. Peter Green, Penguin).

Indicative further reading:

Anna Clark, Desire: a history of European sexuality. (Routledge, 2008)

John R. Clarke, Looking at Lovemaking: constructions of sexuality in Roman Art 100BC – AD 250 (California 1998)

James Davidson, Courtesans and Fishcakes: the consuming passions of classical Athens (1997)

David Halperin, How to do the history of homosexuality. (Chicago, 2002)

Laura McLure (ed.), (2002) Sexuality and gender in the classical world readings and sources. Oxford Blackwell

Thomas K. Hubbard (ed.), Homosexuality in Greece and Rome. A Sourcebook of Basic Documents. University of California Press, 2003

Marguerite Johnson and Terry Ryan, Sexuality in Greek and Roman society and literature: a sourcebook (Routledge, 2005).

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

The module has an ELE page; much of the source material and secondary reading is available here in electronic form. 

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Classics, Sexuality, Gender, Ancient World