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

15 credits

This module focuses on Roman prose fiction of the imperial era and its connections with Wunderkultur – that is, weird and wonderful things which people of the time could experience in their everyday life and depict, or find depicted, in novels. We will take as our starting-point the development in the ancient world of the literary genre which was devoted to the bizarre (paradoxography), but our main set texts will be Petronius’ famous account of a most eccentric dinner in his Satyricon, and the story of the magical adventures of a man turned into a donkey in Apuleius’ Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses). These texts, which you will read in full (in English translation), offer us a unique insight into the ancient experience of fiction and the intellectual tastes of imperial readers and their world-view, combining popular culture with philosophy, urban legends with well-established literary traditions, tales about werewolves and witches with realism and social commentary. There are no formal prerequisites for this module, but imagination, curiosity and a commitment to the transformative power of fiction are a must.