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Introduction to Latin Literature and Culture

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masks of a young man and woman

Instructor: John Gruber-Miller, College 312, x4326,

Class meetings: M-F 9:00-11:15 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.

Office Hours: M W F 11:15-12:00 noon and always by appointment.

Required Materials:

  • Antony Augoustakis, ed. Plautus. Mercator. Bryn Mawr Commentaries, 2009.
  • Robin M. Griffin. A Student’s Latin Grammar. Rev. by Ed Phinney. Cambridge University Press, 1992.
  • John Traupman. The New College Latin and English Dictionary. 3rd ed. New York Bantam Dell, 2007.

Optional Texts

The major goals of the course

  • to learn to read with some facility the Latin verse of Plautus,
  • to understand the culture and society of Republican Rome,
  • to become familiar with Roman theater culture and with the style, types of humor and values in Roman comedy,
  • to make Roman comedy come to life on stage,
  • to learn to work together with your peers on a common project.

Course Requirements

Class Preparation and Participation: preparation of Latin reading and other assignments, quizzes, homework, participation in class discussions and other activities, etc. Go to the list of Online Exercises to review Latin grammar.

Spoken Latin: record a scene with others. Each student should choose a scene of 50-70 lines to record. After making your recording, I will be able to provide you with feedback on your pronunciation, accentuation, phrasing, pacing, and expressiveness before performing the scene in Week 4. Before recording, practice with the other people in your scene. Then record it convincingly with feeling and accuracy. Please make the recording in CAN-8 (Day 12) by using the same mike/headset for everyone. Before presenting the scene, be sure to name the people and their parts and identify the line number at which the scene begins and ends. Due: Day 12 at 5:00 p.m.

Latin compositions: In order to reinforce the grammar and vocabulary of Plautus and to prepare for the midterm and final, students will write two compositions.

  1. Act 1 condensed: with a partner, write a short dialogue (no more than 2 pages, double-spaced) condensing/summarizing what happened in Act 1. Think of it as the Mercator Act 1 in five minutes or less. As you plan the condensation, keep in mind what needs to be kept that contributes to character development, plot, character motivation, and comic interest? It is perfectly acceptable to use Plautus' language in Mercator and adapt what he wrote. Due: Day 5.
  2. Interview or character sketch. Choose one character and create a fictional interview with that character. Write 5-6 questions that Oprah or someone similar might ask this character followed their responses in Latin. Alternatively, write a well-developed character sketch of your favorite character in the play. Write one paragraph (5-6 sentences) in either first or third person about one character in the play we have seen so far. How does this character act? What does this character feel or think about the others? What does this character want or hope to do (motivation)? Why does s/he act/feel/think this way? Whichever composition you choose, please try to use a variety of vocabulary and sentence structures (e.g., participles, subordinate clauses, indirect speech) as a review. It is perfectly acceptable to use Plautus' language in Mercator and adapt what he wrote. Due: Day 14 at 5:00 p.m.

Class Presentation: Either in pairs or individually, each member of the class will give a 20-25 minute presentation during the second week of block on their area of expertise after reading the appropriate secondary material. These reports should accomplish three things:

  1. inform the rest of the class about Roman theatrical practice in your area.
  2. apply what you have read to the play we are reading this block
  3. discuss how the ancient practices are/are not being adapted for the class performance.

Each group should present to the class a detailed written summary/outline of the material they read and a discussion how ancient practices intersect with our performance. These reports will be the topic for the essay section of the midterm. Rubric for oral presentation.

Summary/Reaction: In addition, everyone will read one 12-25 page article on Mercator (articles listed in the bibliography) or on some literary aspect of Roman comedy, write a typed, 1-2 page summary and 1-2 page response to it. If you prefer, you may blend the summary and response into one coherent 3-4 page paper (due Day 11). Rubric for summary-response papers.

Midterm and Final: the midterm will include translation/reading comprehension of both prepared and unseen passages, commentary on particular passages (grammatical, dramaturgical, and/or literary), and essay (more general questions about Roman culture and literary interpretation). The final will include the previous as well as the possibility of an unseen passage to translate with the help of a dictionary and your commentary and/or a short Latin composition describing a character in the play.

Stage Production: Each person will participate in performing a scene of 100-150 lines to be staged during the 4th week of block for the Cornell community. By performing a scene and seeing other scenes performed, you will not only understand the meaning of the Latin text more deeply but also the workings of (Roman) comedy from the inside out. Each person's participation will be crucial to the success of the performance, thus grading will be based on a) the effort you put into your role, b) your constant cooperation with the other members of the production, and c) the timeliness with which you accomplish each task (e.g. learning your lines, finding costumes and props, and music by the deadlines set by the directors). You can find the list of deadlines in the Production Schedule.

At the end of the course, you will write a two page reflection summarizing 1) what you accomplished, 2) how your writing group and scene members worked together, 3) what you wished you had done but were not able to do, and 4) what you learned from the experience about Latin, Roman comedy, Roman society, and collaborating with others.


  • daily preparation for and participation in class, pop quizzes, compositions, etc. 20 %
  • midterm (Day 9) 20 %
  • final (Day 18) 20 %
  • creative project, including presentation, summary/response, and final report reflecting on the experience 40 %

There will be no make-up quizzes. Exams can be made up only if pre-arranged and with a note from a doctor.

Letter grades will be assigned according to the following pattern:

A 93-100

B 83-86

C 73-76

D 63-66

A- 90-92

B- 80-82

C- 70-72

D- 60-62

B+ 87-89

C+ 77-79

D+ 67-69

F below 60

Final Note: Do not get behind at any time. Ask for help before you feel you are slipping. Carpe diem!


Attendance: Since our morning class format is based primarily on participation, discussion, and small group work, it is essential that you come to class every day, prepared and ready to participate actively. Since our afternoon work is team-based and collaborative, it is essential that you attend every meeting or rehearsal by your student team leader. Any unexcused absence after one missed class period will harm your final grade. If you must miss class, please inform me ahead of time if at all possible.

Deadlines: no late work will be accepted. If an emergency or illness occurs, please let me know immediately so that other plans can be arranged.

Academic Integrity: According to the Cornell College Student Handbook, plagiarism is "is the act of taking the work of another and presenting it as one's own, without acknowledgement of the original source." In other words, using others' ideas, words, even sentence structure, without crediting them is a serious academic offense. Plagiarism also includes writing a paper for another person, borrowing or buying an essay and submitting it as your own, or paraphrasing an article but forgetting to document it. Click here for Cornell's policy on Academic Honesty.

Accomodations for different learning styles: Cornell College is committed to providing equal educational opportunities to all students.  If you have a documented learning disability and will need any accommodation in this course, you must request the accommodation(s) from me as early as possible and no later than the third day of the term. Additional information about the policies and procedures for accommodation of learning disabilities is available on the Cornell web site.


Cornell College
600 First Street West
Mt Vernon, IA 52314

John Gruber-Miller
(319) 895-4326

Maintained by: Classical Studies
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