Senior Seminar:  Women in Ancient Literature

Lit. 400-02 & -50, Spring 2011

Prof. Pat Licklider


  EMAIL ADDRESS:            PHONE: 237-8598

OFFICE: 712 Annex (619 W. 54th St., west of 11th Ave.)

OFFICE HOURS:  Tuesdays & Thursdays, 1-1:45 & 3:30-4:30, or by appt.





Women in the Classical World, ed. Elaine Fantham, H. P. Foley, N. B. Kampen, S. B. Pomeroy, and H. A. Shapiro. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

This book is expensive. I have placed two copies on reserve in the library, and you may use these instead of purchasing it. If you want your own copy, look for used copies, especially online. Also, consider sharing the cost and use of one copy with another student.

Almost all the ancient texts you will need are available in English translation online, and you may read them there. However, many translations are old and thus hard to read. It is also tedious to read a long work like Homerís poems online, so I have ordered the following for your convenience. I have also placed copies of the collection of Euripidesí tragedies on library reserve.

Homer, Odyssey, translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Sappho, Poems and Fragments, trans. by Stanley Lombardo. Indianapolis, Hackett Pub., 2002.

Euripides, Grief Lessons, trans. Anne Carson. New York: NY Review of Books, 2006.


Participation in discussions and attendance are essential to success in this class. After 3 absences, your grade will drop a half-step. After four absences, you will fail the course. A pattern of lateness will be counted as additional absences. Do not schedule doctorsí appointments or job interviews during class time. And arrange your work and childcare schedule so you can be punctual for class. Needless to say, there is no eating or drinking in class. Also, please turn off cell-phones, beepers, iPods and other electronic devices.


In addition to actively reading and participating in class discussions, you will write brief weekly responses on the assigned readings. These will help you identify key issues and lead you to a paper topic. For these in-class writings, which are Pass/ Fail and worth 2 points each, you will be able to use your texts and your notebooks, so careful note-taking and reading are essential for your success. These in-class responses count for 20% of your final grade.

PAPERS:  Click here for the Research Paper.

Members of the seminar will write one short research paper and one 12--page research paper. For this long paper, you will submit a formal proposal, a brief annotated bibliography, a first draft, and a final version. In the second month, you will form study groups of three members each to help one another write strong papers. Each group member will write a critique of the other membersí first drafts. At the end of the term, during the final exam period, you will also make an oral presentation on your research and answer questions from your classmates. Later in the term, I will provide fuller explanation and instruction on each of these stages. Late papers will not be accepted. I also cannot accept papers by email. Arrange to have your paper printed before the start of class. Here is how these pieces of writing will be valued for your final grade:


Plagiarism means using the ideas, words, or images of others without giving credit to them. It almost goes without saying that by this time of your college career, you should know how to use the work of others responsibly, citing your sources accurately. I will assume that everything not cited in your papers is your own original work. If I suspect that this is not the case, I will submit your paper to for verification and will then follow the collegeís policy concerning plagiarism. See the college bulletin for further explanation.


Writers at any stage of their careers benefit from a second pair of eyes. This is why I include peer critiques of drafts in this course. For additional help in formulating a thesis, organizing your research, fine-tuning your sentences, or any other aspect of your writing, go to the Writing Center, located in 2450 North Hall. The Center, which is free, is staffed by well trained tutors and is NOT a remedial service.


For Writing Aids, such as my advice on organizing a comparison, for Literature Aids from Others, and for Cultural Websites, click the above link.


Given that the majority of you have read at least the Odyssey, we will focus on this Homeric poem.  But if we have time, we will review key parts of the  Iliad in class.  I hope those of you who have read the Iliad will lead these discussions.  If you have NEVER read EITHER poem, read the entire Odyssey at your own pace, but keep up with the assigned books below, starting Feb. 15.  If you have read only the Iliad, read the assigned books of the Odyssey below.

Feb. 1: Introduction; Sappho vs. Euripides on women in love

Feb. 3: Read for today about the twelve Olympian gods of the ancient Greeks on (Ignore the ads.) Click on "Greek Gods and Goddesses" and then on "Olympians Gods." Choose one of these goddesses, click on her image, and read her entire entry: Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, Artemis, Demeter, or Hestia. What aspects of human activity does she preside over? What stories are told about her? How is she depicted in vase paintings?

Feb. 8: Lecture on the Theogony, the Greek creation story by Hesiod, a contemporary of Homer. Start reading Chapter 1 of Women in the Classical World (WCW), due Feb. 24.

Feb. 10: Read for today the summary of the life of Cleopatra and Roman poetry about her. See the handouts.

Feb. 15: Read or review Bks 1-4 of Homerís Odyssey, focusing on the females Athena, Penelope, and Helen. If you have never read the Odyssey, start with the background info at Also use my Study Aids and the summaries at

We will also look at the Iliad, Book 6, for Helen and Andromache (Hector's wife).  See for excellent background and summaries of books of the Iliad.

Feb. 17: Read or review the Odyssey, Books 5 and 6, 10 and 11, focusing on Calypso, Nausicaa, Circe, and Odysseusí mother in Hades.

We will also look at the Iliad, read Book 14 when Hera seduces Zeus.

Feb. 22: Cleopatra research paper DUE. Also, read or review the Odyssey, Books 19, 21, 22, and 23, focusing on Penelope, Eurycleia, Melantho, and Athena.

We will also consider the lamenting women in the Iliad, Books 16 and 24.

Feb. 24: You should have finished reading Chapter 1 of WCW by now.  Also, for today, read and take notes on one of these articles.  You should be prepared to write about or discuss your article from your notes.  The first two are on electronic reserve.  The password is women.  The last one is online.  In the Google search box, type Google Scholar and then Helene P. Foley in the Google Scholar search box. 

1) "The Plan of Athena" by Sheila Murnaghan,  pp. 61-80 in The Distaff Side: Representing the Female in Homer's Odyssey, ed. Beth Cohen (1995).
2)  "Penelope as Moral Agent" by Helene Foley, also in The Distaff Side, ed. Cohen, pp. 93-115. 
3)  "'Reverse Similes' and Sex Roles in the Odyssey" by Helene P. Foley, pp. 59-78 in Women in the Ancient World, ed. John Peradotto and J.P. Sullivan (1984). 

Mar. 1: Start reading Chaps. 3, 4 & 5 of WCW. Plan to have finished by Mar. 10. Also, read Euripidesí play Medea at    If you have never read any Greek tragedy, first read Edith Hall's short essay, "Introduction: What is Greek Tragedy?" from Greek Tragedy (2010).

In the next 2 weeks, we will read four Greek tragedies. Two, Alkestis and Hippolytos, are in the book Grief Lessons, and the other two are online, The Trojan Women at and Medea at the website above.  If you wish to use the plays in books instead, find a translation in the JJ library or order one from another CUNY school.

Over these two weeks, everyone should also read selections from Edith Hall's book Greek Tragedy (Oxford UP, 2010), "Women and Men," pp. 126-137, and "Tragic Inclusiveness," pp. 148-155, on electronic reserve.

Mar. 3: Read Euripidesí Alkestis in the book Grief Lessons.

Mar. 8: Read Euripidesí Hippolytos in the book Grief Lessons.

Mar. 10: Read Euripidesí The Trojan Women at

Mar. 15: Start reading Chaps. 6, 7, 9 & 10 of WCW. Plan to finish by Mar. 24. For today, read Froma Zeitlinís article "Playing the Other: Theater, Theatricality, and the Feminine in Greek Drama" from Representations No. 11 (Summer, 1985), pp. 63-94. As you read, think of how her argument applies to ONE of the plays weíve read.

Find the Zeitlin article online using JSTOR. (Start on the JJ library website. Click "Shortcuts to Popular Databases," then on JSTOR. Log in. In the Search Box, type in "Playing the Other." Zeitlinís article is the first in the list.).

Mar. 17: Read the poetry of Catullus (translated by Charles Martin) at Catullus.  How does Catullus characterize his lover, whom he calls "Lesbia"?

Mar. 22: Read Book 1 of Virgilís Aeneid. You may buy Stanley Lombardoís abridged version, The Essential Aeneid  (Hackett Pubs., 2006).,or you may read the assigned books of the poem online at You can find notes on and summaries of the poem at and on The Classics Page,  How is Juno (the Roman Hera) portrayed in Book 1? How is Venus in Book 1 both like and unlike Nausicaa in the Odyssey? Is Venus motherly?

Mar. 24: Formal proposal DUE. Study groups discuss these in class.

Mar. 29: Read Chap. 11 of WCW. Then read Books 2 and 4 of the Aeneid. How has Virgil made Dido reminiscent of Cleopatra? How does he make you feel about Dido? Do you find his portrait ambivalent?

Mar. 31: Read summaries of the skipped books and then Book 7 of the Aeneid. How has Virgil portrayed Amata? What other female characters that we have met thus far does she resemble?

April 5: Brief Annotated Bibliography DUE

Prof. Matthew Perry of the History Dept. visits to talk about Roman women.

April 7: Read the 3 selections from Robert Alterís book The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books, 1981) on electronic reserve, Chaps. 3 and 6 and part of Chap. 5, and then read the biblical book of Ruth online at Or choose a different translation you like better at or at For a discussion of the kind of marriage Ruth seeks with Boaz, see 

What evidence is there in the book of Ruth of the narrative aspects Alter discusses?

April12: Read about some women in the biblical book of Judges. First read the Introduction to this book online at and then read chapters 11 (Jephthah and his daughter) and 13-16 (the saga of Samson). Or read another translation you prefer at or at

April 14: Read the biblical story of creation in Genesis, Chaps. 1-3 online at Or choose a different translation you prefer at or at

Read closely, especially if you think you already know the story. Try VERY HARD NOT to bring your own preconceptions about this story to your reading. Pretend youíve never heard this story before and are reading it for the first time. How do the two accounts of the creation of humans in Chaps. 1 and 2 differ? What does Chap. 3 say about the process by which Eve eats the forbidden fruit?

April 17-26: SPRING BREAK Write your First Draft.

April 28: First Drafts of final research paper DUE. Bring 3 copies. Study groups work together.

May 3: Read the Poems and Fragments of Sappho translated by Lombardo (Yes, ALL of them).

May 5: Critiques of your study groupís first drafts DUE. Bring 2 copies. See separate handout for how to write a good critique. Study Groups meet to exchange the ideas in these critiques.

May 10: Class Presentations of Research Papers (10 minutes each). See separate handout.

May 12: Class Presentations of Research Papers

May 17: Final Research Papers DUE