BA Latin and Italian

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Nature, Poetry, and Art: Ancient Pastoral and its Reception

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE24201
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Three crucial episodes in the history of European imaginative responses to the natural world are examined in this course. The first is the pastoral poetry of Theocritus and Virgil (3rd and 1st centuries BC), which documents a fictional world inhabited by shepherds and herdsmen who often manifest a heightened attunement to animal and vegetal life. The second is the landscape painting of the seventeenth century, in particular that of Nicholas Poussin and Claude Lorrain, in which landscape becomes a fully fledged agent in pictorial dramas. The third is the conceptualization of nature by early modern poets and thinkers such as Milton, Rousseau, and Schiller, culminating in Wordsworth’s philosophical epic, The Prelude. In studying these episodes, we shall trace continuities and explore differences between ancient and modern thinking, and consider how the pastoral tradition might help us imagine responses to the environmental crisis that faces humanity today.

The material studied complements courses such as the Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as courses studied on the English Literature and Art History programmes.


  • To help students trace changes and continuities in the European environmental imagination.
  • To pursue comparative study of ancient and early modern conceptualizations of the non-human environment.
  • To enable students to understand the ideas and techniques employed by the poets, philosophers, and artists under discussion.
  • To enable students to engage with the most important critical debates pertaining to the primary material.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of the course all students should be able to

  • show a knowledge and critical understanding of the content, form, conventions, and aims of bucolic literature and early modern landscape painting 
  • demonstrate an appreciation of the influence of cultural contexts on how the poems and paintings were created 
  • demonstrate understanding of the influence of Theocritus on Virgil, and of ancient bucolic literature on Milton and Wordsworth, and to understand the differences between these authors’ poetic achievements
  • demonstrate understanding of the role played by the natural world in selected philosophical arguments
  • to understand the differences between ancient and early modern representations of landscape and rural life

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students should be able to:

  • demonstrate subject-specific skills, including the ability to respond thoughtfully to difficult and complex texts and paintings, and demonstrate the ability to comment critically upon that material.

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Manage time and resources
  • Discuss complex texts clearly in writing and conversation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • construct an argument in written and oral form;
  • pose questions about complex issues;
  • assimilate and summarise large quantities of evidence;
  • locate and retrieve relevant information from primary sources;
  • conduct bibliographic searches;
  • present the results in a professional manner with appropriate reference to sources and modern published scholarship;
  • use e-resources and gain knowledge of research methods and resources;
  • engage in critical discussion.

Employability skills

The course involves a large number of skills that can be deployed in different form outside the classroom. These include the ability to analyse and respond in a sophisticated way to large amounts of information, to assess the merits of opposed or differing critical positions, to produce cogent syntheses of arguments, and to retrieve information from complex sources and present it as part of cogent arguments.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 40%
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%

Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral feedback


Written feedback


Examination marking



Recommended reading

R. Hunter, Theocritus: A Selection (Cambridge, 1999): Introduction.

K. Volk (ed.) Oxford Readings: Virgil’s Eclogues (Oxford, 2008).

P. Rosenberg and K. Christiansen, Poussin and Nature (New York, 2008).

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Thomas Phillips Unit coordinator

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