LS 819: The City of Rome in the Western Intellectual Tradition

Fall 2015  | Dr. Emily O'Brien

Course Outline:

Rome – the eternal city, caput mundi and the place where all roads lead. This course explores the extraordinary power this city has exercised over the intellectual culture of the West. We begin our exploration by studying a series of ancient, medieval and Renaissance texts that shaped in fundamental ways the visions and experiences of later authors. We will spend the bulk of the course in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, examining works by some of Europe and America’s most celebrated intellectuals. In the final weeks, we will move into the twentieth century and add film to our discussions. To help give focus to this chronologically wide-ranging course, we will give particular (though not exclusive) attention to examining how our texts speak to the following five themes (and, in the process, speak to one another):

 (1)           Rome as a physical space (including architecture and the interaction between nature and the man-made environment) 

(2)           War, violence and destruction

(3)           The spiritual landscapes of Rome and the city as a site of self-discovery

(4)           Art – its purpose, power and meanings

(5)           Time and history

Assignments for the course will consist of one short (10-minute) seminar presentation and three analytical essays on our assigned texts. The first essay requires you to examine a single text or a set of readings from one week in the course. The second essay asks you to put in conversation with one another texts from different weeks (and different time periods). The third essay asks you to write on a single theme (or aspect of that theme) that we have discussed in the course and to draw on a number of texts to develop your analysis.


(Note: some minor adjustments will be made before the semester begins. Also, a few reading selections are still listed as TBA. Details about those readings will be available shortly.)

 Sept. 14th – Week I

 Cicero, De Republica (54 BCE), II. 2-7

Virgil, The Aeneid (30-19 BCE), Book I. 1-296; Book VI, 752-97; Book VIII

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities (c. 7 BCE), I. 9, 31, 45, 60, 77, 84, 89;

II. 56

Livy, History of Rome (29 BCE – 17 CE), Book I. 1-16

Propertius, Elegies, IV. 1 (after 16 BCE) (especially lines 1-76)           

Plutarch, Parallel Lives (between 46-119 CE), Life of Romulus

 Sept. 21st  – Week II

 Horace, Satires (c. 35 BCE), Satire II. 6

Livy, History of Rome (29 BCE – 17 CE), Book V

Ovid, Tristia (after 8 CE), Books I and III, selections TBA

Pliny the Elder, Natural Histories (77-79 CE), Book 36, selections TBA

Juvenal, Satires (early 2nd century CE), Satire III

 Sept. 28 - Week III

 Augustine, City of God (c. 413-426 CE), Books 1 – 4, selections TBA

Poggio Bracciolini, On the Vicissitudes of Fortune (1443) Book I, selections TBA

Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch), Familiares (1337), II. 14; VI. 2

Joachim Du Bellay, The Antiquities of Rome (1558)

                       “Description of Rome” (1558)

 Oct. 5th – Week IV

 Johann Joachim Winckelmann, selected essays: “Description of the Torso in the

            Belvedere in Rome” (1759); “Essay on the Capacity for the Sentiment for the

            Beautiful in Art” (1763); “Instructions for the Connoisseur” (1759); “On Grace in

            Works of Art” (1759)

John Dyer, The Ruins of Rome (1740)

Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-89),

              selections TBA



 Oct. 19th  – Week V

 Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV (1812-16)

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Italian Journey (1816)

 Oct. 26th – Week VI

 Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci (1819)

                                    “The Coliseum” (1818)

                                    selected poems, TBA

Mary Shelley, “Valerius: the Reanimated Roman” (1819)

Nov. 2nd – Week VII

 Giuseppe Giacchino Belli, Sonnets (1830s), selections TBA

Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy (1846)

Margaret Fuller, Dispatches from Rome (1848), selections TBA

 Nov. 9th  - Week VIII

 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun (1860)

 Nov. 16th – Week IX

 Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (1867), Chapter 1; Chapters 26-28

Thomas Hardy, selected poems (1887): “Rome: the Vatican: Sala delle Muse”; “Roman

Gravemounds”; “Rome: On the Palatine”; “Building a New Street in the Ancient Quarter”; “At the Pyramid of Cestius near the Graves of Shelley and Keats

Oscar Wilde, selected poems (1880s- 1900): “Rome Unvisited”;  “Burden of Itys”;

 “Urbs Sacra Aeterna”

Henry James, Italian Hours, essays on Rome (1872-1909): “Roman Rides”; “Roman

Neighbourhoods”; “The After-Season in Rome”; “From a Roman Notebook”;

“Other Roman Neighbourhoods”


 Nov. 23rd – Week X

Carlo Emilio Gadda, That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana (1946)

 Nov. 30th – Week XI

 Roberto Rossellini (dir.), Rome, Open City (1945)

 Dec.  7th – Week XII

Vittorio De Sica (dir.), Bicycle Thieves (1948)

Alberto Moravia, Roman Tales (1954)


End-of-semester screening (?): Paolo Sorrentino (dir.), “La Grande Bellezza” (2013)

Date TBA


 The following texts are on order at the SFU bookstore


Charles Dickens, Pictures from Italy. Penguin Classics, 1998.

 ISBN-13: 987-0140434316

 Carlo Emilio Gadda (Trans. William Weaver), That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana. New York Review of Books Classics, 2007.

ISBN-13: 987-1590172223

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Italian Journey. Penguin Classics. Reissue edition, 1992. ISBN-13: 987-0140442335

 Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, Oxford World's Classics, Oxford Univ. Press Reissue edition, 2009.

ISBN-13: 987-0199554072

 Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Cenci. Kessinger Publishing, 2005.

ISBN - 13: 9781425464936

 The following text is out of print, but copies are available through various booksellers (e.g. I’ll also be putting copies on reserve:

 Alberto Moravia, Roman Tales. Translated by Angus Davidson.

 Roman Tales came out in several editions, and you are welcome to use any of them (they are all the same translation):  Secker and Warburg, 1956; Farar, Strauss and Giroux, 1957; Penguin, 1959; New American Library, 1959; Harper Collins, 1976; Oxford, Twentieth Century Classics, 1988.

 The rest of our readings will be available electronically (as e-reserves or online) and in a custom courseware reader (for purchase at the SFU bookstore) once the semester starts.

For those of you who are interested in starting in on these readings before the semester begins, I have compiled below a list of the books from which they are taken. You can track down these books on your own and use the schedule of weekly readings to determine what sections to read. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have. In the list below, I have indicated which editions we will be using in the course. For the readings translated from Latin, Greek, French or Italian, it would be a good idea to stick to the editions I’ve identified here. For the readings originally written in English, it doesn’t much matter which edition you read. For the two films, please view the Criterion Collection versions.



St. Augustine. City of God. Translated by Henry Bettenson. Penguin Classics, reprint edition, 2004.


Belli, Giuseppe Gioacchino. Sonnets. One World Classics, 2011.


Bracciolini, Poggio. On the Vicissitudes of Fortune (De Varietate Fortunae).

I’ll be giving you my own translation from the Latin (no English translation exists!).


Byron. Lord Byron: The Major Works. Oxford World’s Classics, 2008.

Our selection is also available at:


Cicero. On the Commonwealth (De Republica) [Note: the link sends you to a page entitled Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations. The De Republica (On the Commonwealth) is actually part of this electronic source, too]


Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities.


Du Bellay, Joachim. "The Regrets," with "The Antiquities of Rome," Three Latin Elegies, and "The Defense and Enrichment of the French Language." A Bilingual Edition. Edited and translated by Richard Helgerson. U of Penn Press, 2006.


Dyer, John.

Also at: SFU Library electronic resource: Dyer, John. The Ruins of Rome (1740)


Fuller, Margaret. These Sad but Glorious Days: Dispatches from Europe, 1846-1850. Edited by Larry J. Reynolds and Susan Belasco Smith. Yale University Press, 1991.


Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

details TBA


Hardy, Thomas. The Collected Poems of Thomas Hardy. Wordsworth Classics, 1994.


Horace. Satires and Epistles. Translated by John Davie. Oxford World’s Classics. 2011.


James, Henry. Italian Hours. Penguin Classics, 1995.


Juvenal. The Sixteen Satires. Penguin Classics. Translated by Peter Green. 2004


Livy. The Early History of Rome. Books I-V of The History of Rome from its Foundations. Translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. Penguin Classics, 2002.


Ovid. Ovid with an English Translation: Tristia, Ex Ponto. Translated by Arthur Lesley Wheeler. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1924.


Petrarch. Rerum Familiarum Libri, I – VII. Translated by Aldo S. Bernardo. State University of New York Press, 1975.


Pliny. Natural History. Translated by Henry Riley. London: H. G. Bohn, 1857.


Plutarch. Parallel Lives. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge: Harvard

University Press, 1914.*.html


Propertius. The Poems of Sextus Propertius. Translated by J. P. McCullough.

University of California Press, 1972.


Shelley, Mary. Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories with Original Engravings.

Johns Hopkins Press, 1990.


Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “The Coliseum.” In Zastrozzi : a romance, and,

   St. Irvyne, or, The Rosicrucian : a romance. Broadview Press,

   2002. (Appendix B) Selected poems, TBA


Twain, Mark. The Innocents Abroad. Dover Publications, 2003.


Wilde, Oscar. The Ballad of Reading Gaol and Other Poems. Penguin Classics, 2011.


Winckelmann, Johann Joachim. Essays on the Philosophy and History of Art, vol. 1.

Edited by Curtis Bowman. Continuum Classic Texts, 2005.


Virgil. The Aeneid. Translated by Robert Fagles. Viking, 2006.



Rossellini, Roberto. Rome, Open City. Criterion Collection, 2009. (1 copy at SFU libraries)


De Sica, Vittorio. Bicycle Thieves. Criterion Collection, 2007. (4 copies at SFU libraries)


[During the course, you will be able to stream these films through the SFU library.]





Course Readings:

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe - Italian Journey, Penguin Classics, (Reissue edition, 1992), ISBN-13: 987-0140442335

Charles Dickens - Pictures from Italy, Penguin Classics, 1998, ISBN-13: 987-0140434316

Carlo Emilio Gadda (Trans. William Weaver), That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, New York Review of Boks Classics, 2007, ISBN-13: 987-1590172223

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, Oxford World's Classics, Oxford Univ. Press (Reissue 2009), ISBN-13: 987-0199554072