An account of the life of a man from birth to death is what I call biography (Momigliano 1993: 11).
CLST 450 is an advanced, five-credit course in reading Greek and Latin biographies. The genre has roots in classical Greece but gained greater traction during the late Roman Republic and empire, where biography became a consciously multicultural genre explicitly contrasting individual Greeks, Romans, and others, and by extension also contrasting the diverse peoples of the Mediterranean. We shall examine biography as a literature of intersection between the individual and mass, the noble and common, the Greek and the Roman, the civilized and barbarian, of conformism to cultural norms and egregious personal excellence.
Because this is a high-level, high-credit course, expect to spend a lot of time reading around two hundred pages a week.
Class Times and Location
CLST 450 meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 3:00 PM to 5:10 PM on Microsoft Teams. Our first class is Tuesday, March 30, and the final regular class is Thursday, June 3. The final examination will be online on Canvas for you to take at any point during exam week.
CLST 450 is taught in English, with texts translated into English from Greek or Latin. I have asked the bookstore to make available the following translations of ancient biographies.
- Dryden, J., Clough, A., and Atlas, J. 2001. Plutarch’s Lives. Volume I. New York: Modern Library. ISBN 978-0375756764.
- Dryden, J., Clough, A., and Atlas, J. 2001. Plutarch’s Lives. Volume II. New York: Modern Library. ISBN 978-0375756771.
- Edwards, C. 2009. Suetonius: Lives of the Caesars. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics. ISBN 978-0199537563.
- Rolfe, J. 1929. Cornelius Nepos. Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 978-0674995147.
You may, however, use whatever translations you like. I have tried to pick paper editions that seem both affordable and easy to read, but you can find free translations online. Other readings not found in the texts above are linked from the individual assignments. Click on the assignment in the modules list or at the bottom of this syllabus for more details. If the assignment is not in one of the textbooks listed above, there will be a link to the reading.
Those who wish to practice reading Latin may find the Loeb edition of Cornelius Nepos very useful, since it includes the Latin text as well as an English translation. Nepos served for many years as a standard author for beginners' Latin reading. If anyone wishes, we can easily arrange a small reading group outside of class to peruse Nepos in Latin.
University Services for Students
I am more than happy to make accommodations for students with disabilities or other special needs. So that the Disability Access Center (DAC, formerly DRS) office can ensure that your needs are being met appropriately, all requests for accommodation must be made through the MyDAC system every quarter: accommodations do not automatically roll-over into future quarters. New students should enroll with the DAC office to receive accommodations.
The Student Health Center not only provides primary care services but also handles documentation of medical issues for you, making your life easier.
Phone: (360) 650-3400
In the case of a family or personal crisis or emergency, please contact the Office of Student Life. During a personal or family crisis, the Office of Student Life can coordinate arrangements with all of your professors for you, making your life easier.
Phone: (360) 650-3706
Don't commit academic dishonesty. See the University's policy on Academic Honesty and explore the University's Integrity website. You may—and should—work with other students and refer to your books, notes, and (for what it's worth) the internet on any and every assignment, quiz, or exam in this class.
Spring 2021 Exceptional Circumstances Grading Policy
This is a literature class. We read ancient literature (primary sources) and modern scholarship (secondary and tertiary readings). Expect a hundred pages per class, which will probably take you two hours for each class. If you set aside an hour each day to read, you should be fine. While the readings can be found online, reading a paper book away from the distractions offered by electronics can go much faster than trying to read on a screen and being interrupted constantly by email, social media, and other dopamine hits.
Attendance and Participation (15%)
This class relies on your active participation in discussions, and therefore it relies on your attendance. I realize that emergencies do arise, so Canvas will automagically drop two absences (ten percent of our sessions). After that, you must show me a good reason for being absent, or I will begin deducting points from your attendance and participation grade.
Athletes and anyone planning on missing class for athletics, university-sponsored events, military duty, or religious holidays should inform me of absences in advance. That lets me excuse absences and add time to Canvas assignments for those students in advance. Within the first two weeks of class, give me a letter listing the games/matches/meets, events, military service, or holidays requiring absences for the quarter, so that I can plan ahead to help you stay on track. I like planning ahead.
There will be four quizzes scheduled at the ends of longer units (Nepos, Suetonius, Plutarch, and Philosophic Biography/Hagiography). You are free to use your books and notes, and I encourage you to collaborate with one another. Each opens after class on Thursday, is due on Friday, but remains open through the weekend. You should try to get them done by the due date on Friday, though.
Midterm Examination (25%)
The midterm will cover Xenophon, Isocrates, Nepos, Suetonius, and the lives from the Historia Augusta that we shall have read by the end of October. The exam will consist of essay questions: you will be able to choose a few questions to answer from a larger pool of questions. For more details, see the Midterm Examination page in Canvas.
Final Examination (25%)
The final exam will cover Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, and hagiography. The exam will consist of essay questions: you will be able to choose a few questions to answer from a larger pool of questions. For more details, see the Final Examination page in Canvas.
Secondary Literature Reviews (10%)
Even though there is no research paper for this class, research still remains an essential component of any university class. Research multiplies the time you spend with texts: you may read, for example, Suetonius for a few hours, but reading research on Suetonius leverages the work of many people each of whom put hundreds of hours into studying his Caesars. Secondary literature (modern scholarship) will open your eyes to new ideas you did not have when you first read the primary sources (ancient authors), and research outside the classroom also exposes you to a greater diversity of opinions and expertise than you would get inside the classroom.
So, to make sure that you are in touch with recent research, there will be two secondary literature reviews. In each, you write a short review (250 words or fewer) of a peer-reviewed journal article, edited book chapter, or monograph from the Articles and Books of Interest. I have listed there a wide variety of recent and important secondary literature.
Below you will find a schedule of all exams, quizzes, assignments, readings, and so forth.
This syllabus is subject to change. Changes, if any, will be announced in class. Since the syllabus is on Canvas, students will have the latest information available at all times. Students will be held responsible for all changes.
Canvas provides feeds to which you can subscribe, to keep all your course info in your favorite calendar program like Apple's Calendar or Microsoft Outlook. For details, see the Canvas Guide on Calendar.
The syllabus page shows a table-oriented view of the course schedule, and the basics of course grading. You can add any other comments, notes, or thoughts you have about the course structure, course policies or anything else.
To add some comments, click the "Edit" link at the top.