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LIT 106 F — Reading Antiquity: Historical Fiction Book Club

Quarter: Winter
Day(s): Thursdays
Course Format: Live Online (About Formats)
Duration: 9 weeks
Date(s): Jan 12—Mar 9
Time: 7:00—8:30 pm (PT)
Refund Deadline: Jan 14
Unit: 1
Tuition: $415
Instructor(s): Gary Devore, Michael Shanks
Class Recording Available: Yes
Status: Open
DOWNLOAD THE SYLLABUS » (subject to change)
Live Online(About Formats)
7:00—8:30 pm (PT)
Jan 12—Mar 9
9 weeks
Refund Date
Jan 14
1 Unit
Gary Devore, Michael Shanks
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.

Our readings planned for this quarter include Perfume (1985) by Patrick Süskind, a historical fantasy novel about an 18th-century perfumer and serial killer that explores in words the ineffable traces of the past, such as the “scentscape” of an ancient city; The Odyssey by Derek Walcott, a 1993 play using Homer’s original story to explore the concepts of homecoming and alienation in Afro-Caribbean culture; and Creation (1981) by Gore Vidal, a novel set in 5th-century Greece, the times of Herodotus, that serves as an iconic reframing of how we can understand classical antiquity. Our film will be the irreverent and controversial Life of Brian (1979), by Monty Python, which satirizes organized religion but rewards a deeper understanding of what is being targeted by the jokes.

​​This course is the sixth in the Reading Antiquity series. While these courses build upon one another, each course can be taken independently as well.


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.

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.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Patrick Suskind (Author), John E. Woods (Translator), Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (ISBN 978-0375725845 )
(Required) Derek Walcott, Homer, The Odyssey: A Play (ISBN 978-0374523879)
(Required) Gore Vidal, Creation: A Novel (ISBN 978-0375727054 )
(Recommended) Monty Python, Monty Python's Life Of Brian (DVD) (ISBN n/a)