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Unit information: The Passions in 2016/17

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Unit name The Passions
Unit code CLAS30035
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Lampe
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Classics & Ancient History
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Long before Freudian psychodynamics, Darwinian evolutionary psychology, and recent cognitive science, classical authors were creating and putting in action sophisticated theories of emotion. In this unit, we will examine an array of Greek and Roman texts, ranging from tragedy and history to oratory and philosophy, in order to see what insight classical discussions and depictions of emotion can give us into both ancient cultures and modern experiences. We will also delve selectively into modern discussions of passions, emotions, and sentimentality. Among our themes will be the relation between feeling and thought in emotions, whether emotions must be opposed to reason, whether emotions can be educated (leading to greater emotional intelligence), and the extent to which emotions are culturally specific. Among the emotions on which we'll focus are pride and honour, shame and regret, boredom and melancholy, love and lust, compassion and pity, anger and hatred.

By the end of this unit, students will:

  • be able to distinguish and discuss the phenomenology of emotions, the relation of emotions to emotional dispositions, and the relation of emotional dispositions to education, character, and biological psychology,
  • possess a sophisticated understanding of the ways in which passion and reason can be related and opposed, including several ways of thinking about emotional intelligence,
  • understand the emotional theories of (some works of) Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics,
  • be able to speak with sophistication and enjoyment about the emotions of heroes, heroines, and historical figures in a range of classical genres.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, successful students will:

1) be able to explain and apply a range of ancient and modern theories of the nature of the passions;

2) be able to explain and apply a range of theories about the therapy and cultivation of the passions;

3) be able to use the understanding gained in (1) and (2) in order to enjoy and interpret with greater sophistication works from a variety of genres, such as ancient Greek tragedy, ancient philosophy, modern graphic novels, and modern cinema;

4) have developed their ability in extemporaneous discussion during seminars;

5) have had the opportunity to develop their ability in research and formal writing, to a standard appropriate to level H/6.

Teaching details

3 hours of seminars per week.

Assessment Details

One 3000 word essay (50%) and one 2 hour exam (50%). Both will assess ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

Barton, C. A. Roman Honor: The Fire in the Bones. Berkeley, 2001.

Kaster, R. A. Emotion, Restraint, and Community in Ancient Rome. Oxford, 2005.

Konstan, D. Pity Transformed. London, 2001.

Nussbaum, M. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of the Emotions. Cambridge, 2001.

Padel, R. Whom Gods Destroy: Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness. Princeton, 1995.

Sorabji, R. Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation. Oxford, 2000.