MA Classics and Ancient History

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Latin Letters

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE60012
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology & Egyptology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course will introduce students to a substantial selection of Books of letters taken from the principal epistolary corpora of Latin classical and late antiquity. Through close (and comparative) reading of Books of prose letters by particularly Cicero, also Seneca, Pliny the Younger, Fronto and Symmachus - as well as a book of poetic letters by Horace - students will be asked to investigate and think about a range of topics key to this emergent area of scholarly research. 


Students will engage with the following problems and topics:

a) the problem of defining an epistolary 'genre'

b) the editorial process which lies behind the creation of ancient books of letters

c) the relationship between individual letters and the collections in which they appear

d) the relationship between letters, history / biography / autobiography   

e) the relationship between writer and addressee          

f) the varied functions of the letter (didactic, consolatory, political, philosophical)

g) the importance of letters as a means of self-representation

Knowledge and understanding

• Knowledge of a range of books of Latin letters

• Understanding of how books of letters were put together and the consequences for how read them.

· Knowledge of key aspects of the cultural contexts and expectations surrounding the production of letters in the Roman world

Intellectual skills

  • ·The ability to construct an argument in written and oral form;
  • The ability to assimilate and summarise large quantities of evidence, and to engage critically and analytically with this evidence
  • The ability to conduct independent research at a sophisticated level, and to present the results in a professional manner with appropriate and detailed reference to sources and modern published scholarship.

Practical skills

  • · Time-management
  • The ability to work co-operatively in small groups
  • The ability to engage in critical discussion and debate.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • The ability to analyse and examine complex information.
  • An ability to synthesise an argument in a cogent form
  • The ability to retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a compelling and cogent fashion, as exemplified by engaging at a sophisticated level with difficult primary and secondary material.
  • Development of presentation and discussion skills (including confidence) through face-to-face discussion of difficult topics in class.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Written communication
The course involves a large number of important employment skills, most notably an ability to analyse and examine complex information, an ability to synthesise an argument in a cogent form, the ability to retrieve information from complex sources and present it in a compelling and cogent fashion.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Written feedback

Formative and summative

Oral feedback, class discussions



Recommended reading

M. Trapp, Greek and Latin Letters: an Anthology (Cambridge, 2003) 1-43

R. Gibson and A. Morrison, ‘What is a letter?’, in R. Morello and A. Morrison (eds.), Ancient Letters (Oxford, 2007), 1-16

R. Gibson, ‘On the nature of ancient letter collections’, JRS 102 (2012) 56-78

M. Beard. ‘Ciceronian Correspondences: making a book out of letters’, in T.P. Wiseman (ed.), Classics in Progress (2002), 103-44

P. White, ‘The editing of the collection’ = Chp. 2 of Cicero in Letters (Oxford, 2010), 31-61

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 3
Project supervision 3
Seminars 14
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Maria-Ruth Morello Unit coordinator

Additional notes

14 hours topic-based seminars (= 7 x 2hour seminars)

3 hours essay planning and development workshops

3 hours dedicated Office Hours


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