With the popularity of the movie Gladiator, the American public has gained a greater awareness of the vast appeal and importance of the world of ancient Roman spectacle. Drawing upon a combination of visual art and ancient texts, this course will examine the full range of public spectacle in Ancient Rome. We will begin our exploration with the subject of Roman entertainment, such as music and theater, athletic events, and, of course, gladiatorial combats and wild beast fights. We will address not only the entertainment value of these spectacles, but also their broader cultural and political significance in Roman society.
We will then expand our definition of spectacle to include other public activities, particularly those of a ritualistic nature, including the ceremonies of Roman religion, with its processions and sacrifices), the imperial triumphal procession, and the public events associated with Roman funerals. Through critical reading, visual analysis, and class discussion, we will explore the varied roles that spectacle played in Roman society and how such spectacle served to reinforce and maintain the cultural traditions, class hierarchy, and social order of Rome. We will also examine our own culture of spectacle in order to understand better both the past and the present.
The class will be discussion oriented and will require the active and critical engagement of each student. Weekly reading assignments covering a wide range of perspectives will serve as the base for our discussions; we will, however, also examine representations of Roman spectacle in modern media, such as television and film. In addition to writing assignments and quizzes, each student will be expected to keep a journal that explores his/her responses to the readings and discussions.