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Unit Overview


What roles did men and women play in Greek and Roman society? How many genders were there in antiquity? What did ancient writers think about heterosexual and homosexual relationships? How did ancient doctors conceptualise the human body? Were ancient Christian attitudes towards sex different from those of non-Christians of the same period? This unit addresses these questions, as well as others, by introducing students to ancient attitudes towards sex, gender, and conceptions of the human body from Classical Greece through to the advent of Late Antiquity.

In the first part of the unit, students will investigate ancient sexualities and attitudes towards sex through a close reading of poetry (such as poems by Sappho, Catullus, Ovid), and by interpreting the material culture from the ancient world (erotic art, graffiti). In the second part of the unit, students will consider constructions of gender during the early centuries CE, using the ancient Greek novels as a starting point. Students will investigate not only how the ethical vocabulary of Greece and Rome was heavily gendered, but also how it evolved over time. In the final component, students will investigate how conceptions of the human body changed from Classical to Late antiquity, by examining art, medical texts, and also the writings of Christian theologians.

Ultimately, this unit challenges students to think more deeply about the differences and similarities between ancient and modern approaches gender, sexuality, and the body, and the utility of employing contemporary theoretical frameworks for interpreting the ancient evidence.

6 points
Not available in 2024UWA (Perth)Face to face
Details for undergraduate courses
  • Level 3 option in the Classics and Ancient History; Gender Studies major sequences
  • Level 3 elective

Students are able to (1) identify some of the key characteristics of Greco-Roman attitudes towards sex, gender and conceptions of the human body during the period of the Roman Empire; (2) evaluate the different types of evidence studied (literary texts, sub-literary texts, inscriptions, and material culture) that contribute to our understanding of Greco-Roman attitudes towards sex, gender, and conceptions of the body; (3) critically evaluate modern scholarship relevant to the area of study; (4) conduct research in this area of study using print and electronic resources; and (5) demonstrate critical reasoning and analytical skills.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) examination; (2) assignment; and (3) tutorial participation. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Associate Professor Christopher Mallan
Unit rules
Any Level 2 CLAN, HIST
or GEND unit
Advisable prior study
CLAN1002 Glory and Grandeur
Contact hours
Lecture x 1 hr per week
Tutorial x 2 hrs per week (up to 3 hours per week)
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.