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HI 361F DECADENT ROME
TuTh 2.10-3.30 LI 213

 

Prof. Michael Arnush Ladd 209 x5462
marnush@skidmore.edu Hours: TuW 11
   
Overview



Overview:
 
Nemini tamen nihil satis est. (Trimalchio in Petronius' Satyricon 76.3)
("But nobody gets enough, never.")
 
Nearly every major theme of the Roman power structure was deployed in the spectacles: social stratification; political theater; crime and punishment; representations of civilization and empire; repression of women and exaltation of bellicose masculinity (E. Gunderson, "The Ideology of the Arena," Classical Antiquity 15 (1996) 149.
 
It's a celebration of decadence .... Sex is the thing, just reckless, rock 'n roll sex. It's craxy. (Dennis Conway, DIVA DVD, 2003)
 
The Romans - like members of contemporary society - were fascinated with spectacle, and at the height of the Empire (1st-2nd centuries CE) they developed a sophisticated taste for indulging their passions for entertainment. Essential to these interests were many 'arenas' where the Romans - both the masses and the imperial elite - pursued and satisfied their desires: the amphitheater, theater and circus; the baths; and the dining table. At these venues the Romans exhibited their proclivities for sadism and brutality, self-indulgence and gossip, and gluttony. These human characteristics underscored and, at times, undermined the Roman ethos of dignitas - dignity and self-worth - and gravitas - seriousness of purpose - and it is this odd contradiction that forms the essence of this seminar. Georges Ville's description of the gladiator as "une impensable monstruosite" pertains in fact to all of these aspects of Roman life (La Gladiature en Occident des origines a la mort de Domitien [Rome, 1981], p. 471).
Over the course of the semester we will examine the rich collection of recent scholarship that attempts to explain the phenomena of entertainment in the Roman world. Readings in the primary sources will help us elucidate the nature of the Roman psyche, and we will apply what we have learned to critique a few cinematic presentations of Roman self-indulgence.
Your contributions to the seminar consist of extensive class discussions of the primary and secondary literature, and the development of a research project on a topic of your own choosing that examines in detail one aspect of the world of spectacle, leisure and decadence.
Goals:
  • to understand the sources - literary, historical, archaeological, art historical - for the study of aspects of Roman imperial lifestyles
  • to assess scholarship that draws upon these sources to gain a comprehensive perspective on 1st and 2nd century CE Roman indulgence in bloodsport, dining and other forms of entertainment
Skills:
  • to communicate effectively in classroom discussion
  • to conduct research by traditional and digital methods
  • to develop critical thinking abilities and learn to articulate them orally and in written form
  • to write a literary, historical, art historical, philosophical or archaeological analysis supported by primary and secondary sources