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Clas 256/356.

The Ancient Romance


A Ten Step Program to Reading Ancient Texts One of the beauties of a course like ours is that we come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, each with different caches of knowledge and expertise that we bring to bear on our readings and discussion. However, not all of us are familiar with the study of the ancient world, or even how to approach ancient texts. Moreover, many of us are reading ancient novels for the first time and understanding how to read, comprehend and synthesize all of the information contained within these narratives can seem like a discipline onto itself! Below is a list of some strategies you might employ as you sit down to read our novels. Many of these tips are offered with a view to your response papers. This list is a work in progress, so please feel free to add and edit at will if you find that you have a particularly productive method youd like to share! (1) Use the Apparatus: Several of our books contained heavy footnotes that advise you on the meaning of certain words or alert you to when another author, like Homer, is being (sometimes loosely) quoted. Keep an eye on these glosses to help clarify what you are reading. And, as always, dont hesitate to look up a confusing word, concept, or phrase! (2) The Oxford Classical Dictionary (OCD): A one-volume encyclopedia on the ancient world (literature, religion, geography, archaeology), edited by Hornblower and Spawforth. Considered a standard resource in the field. The (newest) 4th edition is available in the library. The 3rd edition is available online through HELIN digital resources. (3) Other Literature: Does Medea remind you of Macbeth? Explore connections to other characters or pieces of literature as you read. (4) Phenomenology: Do you detect any activities, rituals or other themes that are common in other phenomena that youve studied? (e.g., water as ritually purifying) (5) Mind Movies: When you are reading, if another novel, story, television show, movie or other form of narrative story telling pops into your mind, take note! Likely you are sensing a fruitful comparison between what you are reading and another story you have encountered elsewhere. Try to figure out why you are making that particular association. (6) WTF Moments: There will be moments in some of these novels that may give you pause (Wait, why are women turning into animals in the middle of the night and biting the faces of corpses?; Hold on, did that just say that a bunch of cows sunk a ship?). What about the narrative gave you pause? What is strange or otherwise different about that moment? Does it remind you of anything else weve encountered? Why would the author include this detail?

(7) Common Themes: Do you see any of the themes that have been highlighted in other readings or in-class in this text? These themes can be broad (e.g., virtue and vice) or specific (e.g., bucolic imagery). Can you say more about the use of these themes in the particular context of the piece you are reading? How does it add to the novel? (8) Exploit Pre-Knowledge: Is something in the text triggering your knowledge of facts or other information from another course? Your major? Your research? Job? Life experience? If you are from the physical sciences and were reading about ancient physiology or cosmology, do you have anything you can add to the discussion about how contemporary science still maintains some antiquated views? If you are from the social sciences, is there any technical terminology (e.g., etic/emic) that might help us frame this reading? (9) Personal Interest: If you have any particular personal or academic pet projects or interests, keep them in mind as you read. Do you love video games? See if you can detect the same damsel in distress motif in the novel. Interested in philosophy? What would Plato say about this concept of sexual symmetry that weve been studying in this course? (10) Power Writing: When all else fails, try sitting down (either at your computer or with paper and pen at your desk) and begin writing whatever comes to mind about what youve read. Make lists. Draw pictures. Try a little creative writing of your own in the style of the author. Anything to get your mind moving, mulling over the material. If you are still stuck, begin summarizing the plot of the novel (or other piece of literature) and the characters therein. Sometimes by carefully tracing our steps, we see things that weve missed.