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LIT 106 E — Reading Antiquity: Historical Fiction Book Club

Quarter: Summer
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 9 weeks
Date(s): Jun 23—Aug 18
Time: 7:00—9:05 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jun 25
Units: 2
Tuition: $495
Instructor(s): Michael Shanks, Gary Devore
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—9:05 pm (PT)
Jun 23—Aug 18
9 weeks
Refund Date
Jun 25
2 Units
Michael Shanks, Gary Devore
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
All history requires creative reconstruction, and we never learn it straight from the source. Today is a golden age of historical novels and films that return us to ancient Greece and Rome. Those who write fictionalized accounts of any period work with the remains of the past to deliver extraordinary insights into the way things were or might have been. The best fiction draws the reader and viewer into a revived past, forged through personal links and human experience.

Each quarter in this ongoing series, we will read works of fiction and watch a film, all set in antiquity. Our discussions will range broadly, in both 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 historical fiction.

This quarter, we are branching out to include a reading set in the 19th century, George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, the critically acclaimed Civil War–era novel with a cast of the living and dead. We will also read Anne Carson’s H of H Playbook, a poetical reworking of an ancient drama about Hercules (and we will read Euripides’s original play), and The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco’s literary medieval murder mystery. Our film will be Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1950), which we will contrast with the soundtrack to the 2019 Tony Award–winning Broadway musical Hadestown.

This course is the fifth in the Reading Antiquity series. 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 programs in Writing and Rhetoric, Urban Studies, and Science, Technology, and Society; and the Center for Design Research at Stanford. He pursues fieldwork examining 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) George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (ISBN 978-0812985405)
(Required) Anne Carson, H of H Playbook (ISBN 978-0811231237)
(Required) Euripides, Medea and Other Plays, Penguin Classics (ISBN 978-0140441291)
(Required) Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose (ISBN 978-0544176560)
(Required) Jean Cocteau (Director), Orpheus (film 1950)