Classical and Post-Classical Latin

Module code: EN3148

Module co-ordinator: Professor Sarah Knight

This module is aimed at beginners who have never studied Latin, although provision will be made for students who have taken Latin GCSE and/or A-level.

For educated English-speaking people up until the early twentieth century, Latin was not a dusty object of curiosity -- a 'dead' language -- but a vital language on which the discussion of philosophical ideas, the writing of history, the delivery of education, and the development of literary expression depended. 

The richness and diversity of Latin texts -- from the language's first flourishing in ancient Rome to its ubiquity in the religion, philosophy, and literature of the Middle Ages and then the 'rebirth' of classical ideas and art during the Renaissance, when Latin editions and English translations sprang up throughout Europe -- are still remarkable to us today. Throughout its history and development, literature in English has owed a vast debt to Latin literature and culture. This module will help foster an awareness of how the Latin language works and why Latin was of fundamental cultural importance not only in the world of ancient Rome but also throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

The texts studied on this module convey the full range of how Latin developed across two millennia and show what a vivid, flexible, elegant language it was.  Readings, drawn from a variety of sources, will include: 

  • Virgil's pastoral poems
  • A medieval saint's life
  • An erotic poem by Catullus addressed to an unreliable mistress
  • A letter in Latin from an Elizabethan undergraduate to his brother complaining about bad college food
  • Strange, wonderful, and often brutal mythological tales
  • Coins, graffiti, and inscriptions

Students will also consider these texts in English translation, where available, to get a fuller sense of historical and cultural context.

The module's themes include history writing, letters, biography and hagiography (saints' lives), student writing, pastoral poetry, legal texts, mythology, geography and travel writing, erotic/love poetry, satire and humour, oratory, rhetoric, and sermons. 


The module is taught through a weekly textual analysis seminar and a weekly language seminar. In the textual analysis seminars, you will read a range of literary and historical texts that illustrate how Latin developed during the classical, medieval, and early modern periods. In the language seminars, you'll be introduced to the basics of the Latin language, including vocabulary and grammar, and then move on to the translation of short passages.

Students will be asked to buy a copy of the Cambridge Latin Grammar (Cambridge University Press) for reference and revision. The module has an extensive Blackboard site that provides grammar and textual support for the assigned texts. 

By the end of the module, students will have...

  • Gained a basic understanding of the grammar and mechanics of the Latin language
  • Considered the different ways in which Latin was used within specific social and historical contexts, from ancient Rome up to the early modern period
  • Gained experience in presenting to their peers
  • Engaged in focused, small-group discussions
  • Developed a deeper understanding of the Latin foundations of English
  • Enhanced their ability to use the English language correctly and creatively
  • Expanded their critical awareness of primary source materials and modern scholarly literature
  • Approached translations in a critical and informed way
  • Developed their problem-solving skills
  • Expanded their skills in critical analysis and research


  • Commentary and analysis of a short Latin text (translation provided), 1,000 words maximum (25%)
  • Thematic essay, 2,500 words maximum (50%)
  • Two-hour examination (25%). The exam assesses translation skills; students will be allowed to take a dictionary and a reference grammar into the exam.