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LIT 106 — Reading Antiquity: Historical Fiction Book Club

Quarter: Summer
Day(s): Mondays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 9 weeks
Date(s): Jun 21—Aug 23
Time: 7:00—9:05 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jun 23
Units: 2
Tuition: $495
Instructor(s): Michael Shanks, Gary Devore
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Registration opens May 17, 8:30 am (PT)
Please Note: No class on July 5
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—9:05 pm (PT)
Jun 21—Aug 23
9 weeks
Refund Date
Jun 23
2 Units
Michael Shanks, Gary Devore
Registration opens May 17, 8:30 am (PT)
Please Note: No class on July 5
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
All history requires creative reconstruction, and we never possess a full picture from the sources. Today we are in a golden age of the historical novels and films that return us to ancient Greece and Rome. Those who write fictionalized accounts of any period in history work with the remains of the past and can deliver extraordinary insights into the way things were or even could have been. In the best fiction, reader and viewer are drawn into a revived past. Creative works make the past live again, forging personal links through human experience.

Our reading planned for this quarter includes The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, a retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War; Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, a first-person reimagining of the life of the Roman Emperor Hadrian; and Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin, which gives voice to the silent heroine of Virgil’s the Aeneid. Our scheduled film will be Stanley Kubrick’s classic epic of Roman slavery, Spartacus.

This course is the first in a series titled “Reading Antiquity.” Each quarter, we will read works of fiction and watch a film, all set in antiquity. We will range far and wide in our discussions both in our definition of antiquity and the themes covered, including the shape of history, the deep movements and structures of change, sexual representations, violence and politics, famous and marginalized voices, constructed realities, and the agendas that drive the writings of history. While these courses build upon one another, each course can be taken independently as well.

Professor of Classics; Professor of Archaeology, Stanford

Michael Shanks is a specialist in long-term humanistic views of social change, design, and innovation. He is a senior faculty member in the Archaeology Center; the Program in Writing and Rhetoric; Science, Technology and Society; Urban Studies; and the Center for Design Research at Stanford. He pursues fieldwork into the Roman borders of Scotland, and he also advises businesses and organizations on managing change.


Gary Devore has excavated in the ancient ruins of Pompeii and also at sites near Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England. He was one of the directors and principal investigators of Binchester Roman Excavations, and is a former director of the Pompeii Archaeological Research Project, Porta Stabia. Devore received a PhD from the University of Bradford (UK) and taught at Stanford for a decade.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles (ISBN 0062060627)
(Required) Ursula K Le Guin, Lavinia (ISBN 0156033682)
(Required) Marguerite Yourcenar, The Memoirs of Hadrian (ISBN 0374529264)