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The World(s) of Didactic Poetry (CLA3118)

30 credits

This module will explore a diverse range of ancient poetic texts which all purport to ‘teach’ something to the reader, whether that be the origins of the universe, when to gather honey from bees, or how to put on the right amount of make-up. It will take in various texts and subject matters, from agricultural (e.g. Hesiod’s Works and Days, Virgil’s Georgics), cosmological (e.g. Aratus’ Phaenomena, Manilius’ Astronomica) and others such as Nicander’s Theriaca Lucretius’ De rerum natura, and selections from Ovid.

The course will consider the poems individually, as well as themes and ideas they have in common; myth, plague, star constellations, farming, death, love and seduction, the cosmos, animals, and the ages of man. The relationship between didactic and other types of poetry (especially epic) will also be examined, in order to contextualise didactic as a ‘genre’ that evolved over hundreds of years of literature.

This course has a philosophical focus throughout (given the subject matter of the texts), and time will be dedicated to the consideration of broader topics, such as what knowledge is, how we learn, and the presentation of space and time. In addition, the course will encourage participants to engage with the texts as a way of reflecting on modern concerns (e.g. environment and sustainability, race and ethnicity, animal ethics, the nature of the individual). It also includes a creative/reflective component, which prompts the participants to explore the idea that we might be the didactic addressees.