Chapter Eight. Planning a Course
Once the department had set its schedule for the following year, instructors could begin to design the courses they would be teaching and generate a syllabus for each course. In the early years of our period, syllabi were sometimes short, casual, or made up as the course went along. This was perhaps especially true in graduate courses, where the instructor might well want to adjust the specific readings in the course in order to accommodate the interests and abilities of the students. When our distinguished historian, Robert Broughton, offered a graduate seminar on Cicero’s letters, he did not decide at the very beginning of the course which letters to read. Rather, each week, he would choose what we would read that week, write out the assignment on a small sheet of paper, and leave the paper in the seminar room for the students. This way, he could add items that would shed light on specific questions that had come up in class, or that seemed to respond to the particular interests of his students. At the same time, of course, he did have major themes in mind, and those gradually became clear to the students over the course of the semester. Generally speaking, though, faculty tended to decide before a semester began more or less exactly what they wanted their students to read and study. In larger undergraduate courses especially, careful organization was desirable and helped students plan their time and work. There were several steps involved in designing the syllabus for such a course. I will illustrate them by describing the planning for Classics 35, “The Age of Augustus.”
This course dealt with the literature and art produced in the period from about 60 BC to AD 14. We offered the course because the decades it covered encompassed the collapse of the Roman Republic, the bitter civil wars that ensued, and the establishment of the Roman Empire under the first emperor, Augustus. It was not a history course, however, but a literature course, for many of Rome’s finest works of literature were produced in these years, at least partly in response to the historical events. Cicero, Vergil, Horace, Livy, and Ovid were all at work in this period, and we have a wealth of supplementary material from other sources, including tombstone inscriptions, speeches, letters, and accounts of the period written in the decades after Augustus’ death.
As instructors, our first task was to find accurate and readable translations of the authors we wanted to read, and perhaps a modern account of the historical background. We learned about what was available in various ways: from advertisements in professional journals; book displays at professional meetings; conversations and correspondence with colleagues; library holdings; and from a very large two-volume work called Books in Print, a reference work that appeared once a year and tried to list, both by author and by title, every book that was available in that year. Books in Print was, of course, outdated as soon as it appeared, and books listed in it had sometimes gone out of print by the time one got around to ordering them, but it was useful, and it was the best tool we had. Student Stores pleaded with us to check it before submitting our book orders for courses.
The central, and essential, work in this course was Vergil’s Aeneid, the great epic poem of Rome’s origins, set in distant, mythical times. There were usually several translations of the Aeneid in print. The trick was to choose one that students could understand and would enjoy, and that was not too expensive. There were prose translations, and they generally were a bit easier for students to read, but I wanted my students to be fully aware that they were reading a poem, and I therefore avoided prose translations. The verse translations were sometimes prosaic themselves (Copley, 1965), and sometimes readable but not very reliable (Humphries, 1951), but in 1971 Allen Mandelbaum published a translation that paid careful attention to Vergil’s similes and metaphors, and in 1983 there appeared a fine verse translation by Robert Fitzgerald, who was a poet himself. How to choose between these and others? One could compare given lines to see how close to the Latin they were, and how effective in English. One could read through a passage of, say, twenty pages, and try to gauge what students would get out of those pages, and how they would react to them. There were practical considerations as well. Were the lines numbered, so that in discussion one could refer to a specific line or passage easily? Was there a good glossary? Perhaps a useful introduction or notes? Eventually, the instructor would choose a particular translation, then move on.
We come to Livy and his history of Rome. Here the first question would be, which parts of Livy do we want to read? We could read his stories of early Rome–legend mixed with history–or we could read part of his account of the wars with Hannibal, only some of which was fictional. The former (early Rome) would require one volume (a translation of Books 1 to 5), the latter (Hannibal) another (Books 21 to 30). Similarly, we did not have time in this course to read all of Horace or Ovid, much less of Cicero, so there were constant choices to be made. Of Horace, would we read his lyric poems, satires, or verse letters? Or would we read a sampling of all? In each case, the instructor would choose what to read, then try to find a good modern translation. If no satisfactory translation of a given work was available, or if it was available only in a book that would add too much to the cost of books for the course, the instructor simply had to omit that work in that semester, or translate it for inclusion in a coursepack.
The coursepack could be an important element in the course, because it was completely under the instructor’s control. Do you want to have the students read just parts of Cicero’s speeches attacking the fabulously corrupt governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres? You can translate the passages you want and put them in the coursepack. Are there tombstone inscriptions that have never been translated into English at all? The instructor can select ones that provide material important for the themes of the course, translate them, and put them in the coursepack. Do you want to include just one or two of Vergil’s Eclogues, so that your students will not have to buy a translation of all of them? Include your own translations; and that will enable you to preserve the imagery that is present in the Latin, if that is what you want your students to study. Of course, such a coursepack has one great disadvantage: it requires the instructor to do a lot of work. Accurately translating a hundred pages of Latin takes time. As a result, coursepacks were often assembled gradually, over a period of years; in the meantime, the instructor might put books containing, say, the Eclogues on reserve in the undergraduate library, until he or she could find the time to do a course-specific translation. There were also some useful anthologies of historical and cultural materials, such as Lewis and Reinhold’s two-volume Roman Civilization, or Jo-Ann Shelton’s As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History. Such anthologies inevitably contained much material you did not want and omitted many things you did, and they often had a particular point of view that did not mesh exactly with your own. Lewis and Reinhold was specifically, and intentionally, historical, while the texts in Shelton’s book were chosen to illustrate society and culture. Neither was aimed primarily at presenting or supplementing the literature of the Augustan period, but even so they were useful .
Similarly, it could be difficult to find a single book that would explain the history of the period effectively, with just the right amount of detail. Here again the coursepack could play an important role, since the instructor could write a narrative, or provide a time-line if that was all that was needed, and prepare a glossary of terms and short biographies to help students keep track of events. I tried a number of different published histories, but none of them was ever totally satisfactory, and eventually I wrote my own: a narrative, with introductory sections on topics such as Roman religion and the Roman political system, and various digressions as we came to interesting characters (Julius Caesar), events (one of Caesar’s bitterest battles in Gaul), or customs (strange Roman festivals).
Gradually, the instructor assembled a list of five or six paperback books, supplemented by the materials in the coursepack (either newly translated or written, or brought forward from some previous semester; the coursepack was never exactly the same from one year to the next). The next step would be to plan the course in a day-to-day sense: what, exactly, would the students read for each day? And what would the instructor present, or have the class discuss, each day? A detailed calendar was needed. There were pitfalls to avoid. Labor Day, when there were no classes, came up very early in the fall semester. Since Labor Day fell always on a Monday, any discussion not finished the previous Friday would seem distant by the Wednesday after Labor Day. Best, therefore, to finish a topic on the Friday before Labor Day and start a new one on the Wednesday after it; this would require some conscious planning. So too with fall break, which came in late October, and Thanksgiving break, in late November: it was not kind to schedule a quiz or exam the day after any such break, or to have a paper due then. That would hang over the students all during the break, like the sword of Damocles, and make them cranky.
At the same time, it was useful to make sure that a given topic–Livy, say, or the history of the Roman civil wars–could be thoroughly treated in, for example, four consecutive class meetings, so that ideas could be set out and developed, and discussion continued, from class to class, without being interrupted. Hardest to fit in was the Aeneid: in twelve “books,” the Aeneid was best, or at least most logically, taught at the rate of one book per class on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. That meant that you needed twelve consecutive classes without any break–no Labor Day, then, or fall break, or Thanksgiving–plus perhaps one at the beginning for introductory matters, and one at the end for an hour exam on the whole of the poem. Finding twelve or fourteen classes in a row, with no interruptions, could be a challenge, especially as you would not want to begin the Aeneid until after your students had studied the civil wars, and so after about a third of the course.
Many other courses required similar calculations, but some were not so complex. In lower-level Latin and Greek classes, it was largely a matter of considering the textbooks that were available, choosing the one that seemed most effective, and then dividing its chapters among the available class periods. Elementary Latin and Greek classes met, through much of our period, four times a week, so there were fifty-six class meetings per semester; save three aside for full-period exams, and you have fifty-three classes. After experimenting with various texts, the department used, for Latin, Wheelock’s Latin: An Introductory Course. The first edition of this book had forty chapters. We taught it in such a way that it took about a semester and a half, or seventy to eighty class meetings, so one needed to move along at an average rate of one chapter every two classes or so; but some chapters could be covered in a single class, while many required two classes, and a few took three or more. The instructor did not need to follow a rigid schedule, but he or she did need to be sure not to move too slowly. On the Greek side, the department changed texts frequently, using, over the course of the decades, Crosby and Schaeffer’s An Introduction to Greek, Hansen and Quinn’s Greek: An Intensive Course, the Reading Greek series from Cambridge University Press, Balme and Lawall’s Athenaze, Book I: An Introduction to Ancient Greek, and perhaps one or two others. Each instructor determined how rapidly to move through the material, the only requirement being to finish the text by the end of the second semester of study.
In graduate-level courses in an author, such as Sophocles on the Greek side or, in Latin, Tacitus, students were ordinarily expected to buy just a text of the author in the original language, usually the Oxford Classical or the Teubner text. That would enable the teacher to assign various passages, long or short, and to move around in the author’s works. The students’ texts were supplemented by commentaries and secondary studies, both books and articles in journals, that dealt with literary, philological, and historical questions. Drawn from the department’s own collection, from Davis Library, or from the instructor’s personal books and papers, the secondary works were placed on a reserve shelf in the department library, where the students used them as they prepared for a class. Late in the twentieth century, it became possible to assign some materials, such as particularly influential articles, in online versions, but even as late as 2000 this was less common than assigned reading in hard copy.
Planning a course involved a series of logical steps: deciding exactly what the content should be, based on the goals of the course; finding or creating the texts and other materials that students would need in order to master the content; and organizing the materials in a logical and coherent sequence, taking the calendar into account. The result of this would be a syllabus such as the one that follows for Classics 35, “The Age of Augustus.”
The Age of Augustus is an introduction to the most important literary and artistic works created during the last years of the Roman Republic and the principate of the Roman emperor Augustus, and to the historical and social material necessary for a deeper understanding of those works. The course covers roughly the years 60 BC to AD 14. The reading will be taken from the following texts.
Werner Eck, The Age of Augustus. Translated by D.L. Schneider. Oxford and Malden MA, 2003.
Virgil, The Aeneid. Translated by R. Fitzgerald. 2nd edition. New York, 1985.
Horace, Satires and Epistles of Horace. Translated by Jacob Fuchs. New York, 1977.
Livy, The Early History of Rome. Translated by A. de Selincourt. London and New York, 1960.
Ovid, The Erotic Poems. Translated by P. Green. London and New York, 1982.
Classics 35: The Age of Augustus. Coursepack. Prepared by G.W. Houston, 2005.
The first five items are available in Student Stores. The coursepack is available on our Blackboard site (www.blackboard.unc.edu). Note: The coursepack is arranged on a day-by-day basis. Under each day you will find notes that will help you understand that day’s reading. IMPORTANT: The coursepack also contains many of our texts, especially for the first part of the course, so you will need to print out the coursepack before you come to class on January 14.
Class meetings are in Murphey Hall 104 at 9:00 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. You should plan to attend all classes, and you should read the assignment for each class BEFORE coming to class, so that you can discuss the material with understanding. Always bring the relevant books or coursepack to class, as we will almost always be using them in our discussions.
TOPICS OF CLASS MEETINGS AND ASSIGNMENTS for each day are as follows.
Wednesday, January 12. Introduction: The Good Old Days. No assignment.
January 14. That Was the Way It Was. Politics and Society in the Roman Republic. Reading: in the coursepack under January 14.
Jan. 17. No class: Martin Luther King Day.
Jan. 19. Why the Gods Love Rome. Reading: coursepack, for January 19.
Jan. 21. Cicero and the Chaos of the 50’s BC. Reading: coursepack, for January 21.
Jan. 24. Cicero, “In Defense of Caelius,” sections 1-36 (in coursepack for January 24).
Jan. 26. Cicero, “In Defense of Caelius,” sections 37-end (in coursepack for January 26).
Jan. 28. Julius Caesar and the Art of War. The 40’s BC. Reading: coursepack, January 28.
Jan. 31. The Ides of March and Its Aftermath.. Reading: Eck, The Age of Augustus, pp. 6-21; coursepack, January 31.
Feb. 2. From the Proscriptions to Actium. Vergil’s Eclogues. Reading: Eck, pp. 22-40; coursepack, Feb. 2.
Feb. 4. Horace. Life and Works. Satires 1.1, 1.6, 2.6. Epistle 2.2.
Feb. 7. Horace. Some Jerks in Rome. Satires 1.8, 1.9, 2.5, 2.8.
Feb. 9. Horace and Friendship. Satires 1.5, Epistles 1.7, 1.18, 1.20.
Feb. 11. First Hour Exam.
Feb. 14. Vergil. The Aeneid, Book 1.
Feb. 16. Aeneid 2.
Feb. 18. Aeneid 3.
Feb. 21. Aeneid 4.
Feb. 23. Aeneid 5.
Feb. 25. Aeneid 6.
Feb. 28. Aeneid 7.
March 2. Aeneid 8.
Mar. 4. Aeneid 9.
Mar. 7. Aeneid 10.
Mar. 9. Aeneid 11.
Mar. 11. Aeneid 12.
March 14-18. No class: Spring Break.
Mar. 21. The Aeneid, review and afterthoughts.
Mar. 23. A New State Evolves. Reading: Eck, pp. 41-76.
Mar. 25. No class: Good Friday.
Mar. 28. Some Augustan Monuments: Forum, Mausoleum, Temple of Apollo. Reading: Coursepack, March 28.
Mar. 30. Second Hour Exam.
April 1. No class. Your instructor will be at a professional meeting.
Apr. 4. The Augustan Principate. Reading: Eck, pp. 77-104.
Apr. 6. Augustus and the City of Rome. Reading: Eck, pp. 105-125.
Apr. 8. The Ara Pacis Augustae and the Horologium Augusti. Reading: Coursepack, April 8.
Apr. 11. Livy, Introduction. Reading: Livy, The Early History of Rome, pp. 33-51, 57-63.
Apr. 13. Livy. The Story in History. Livy, pp. 85-101, 114-120.
Apr. 15. Verginia and the Decemvirs. Livy, pp. 219-43. ALL PAPERS DUE AT CLASS TIME TODAY.
Apr. 18. Livy and the Ideals of Old Rome. Livy, pp. 213-216, 362-368, 378-402.
Apr. 20. Ovid, Roman Schools, and the Suasoria. Ovid, The Amores 1.8, 2.2, 2.7, 2.8, 2.19, 3.4, 3.7.
Apr. 22. Ovid and the Traditions of Love Poetry. Ovid, The Amores 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.9, 2.13, 2.18, 3.11A.
Apr. 25. How To Enrage an Emperor. Ovid, The Art of Love, Book 1 (entire), and Book 2 lines 359-408.
Apr. 27. Ovid and the Girls. Ovid, The Art of Love, Book 3.
Apr. 29. Looking Backward. Reading: The Laudatio Turiae (in coursepack); Augustus, Res Gestae (in Eck), sections 1-7, 13, 19-21, 24-25, 29, 34-35.
Saturday, April 30, and Thursday, May 5, are Reading Days.
Friday, May 6, 8 AM, in our regular classroom: Final Examination.
 Lewis and Reinhold was first published in 1951-55 and so was beginning to seem out of date by 1975. Shelton’s book first appeared in 1988 but was updated in 1998 and later.