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North Carolina State University

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

Masterpieces of Classical Literature

Greek and Roman Comedy
CLA 320

Spring 2016
TuTh 10:15am-11:30am

003 Winston Hall

Instructor: Professor Gary Mathews

Office: 227 Withers


Office Hours: Tuesdays 1:30-3:30 pm, & by appt.
Course Credit Hours: 3

Prerequisites: Sophomore standing or permission of instructor

Co-requisites: None

GEP: Satisfies Humanities Requirement & Global Knowledge Co-requisite

Other Requirements Satisfied: May be used for partial fulfillment of elective requirements for Classical Studies minor
Course Management: NC State University Moodle and Email. Refer to the course website in Moodle and your NC State email regularly for announcements and updates.

The roots of all Western comedy up to the present lie in ancient Greece and Rome. To trace the origins of today’s “romantic comedy” movies and TV sit-coms, we have to go back to the Roman comedy of Plautus and Terence, and beyond that to the Greek “New Comedy” of Menander. For the roots of the more outrageous comedy of Saturday Night Live and late night talk shows, we have to go back even further, to the Greek “Old Comedy” of Aristophanes. This course will take us there. We’ll look for what made Greek and Roman audiences laugh, and why. We’ll also seek to answer why we still laugh at many of the same on-stage antics (such as slapstick humor, send-ups of politicians and other self-important people, or mix-ups of identity), whereas the Greeks and Romans laughed, or at least winked, at many things we would not (such as a rapist later marrying his victim and all being well, or a “clever” slave stage-managing the action). Our focus will be equally on the literary and dramatic devices of ancient comedy and on the social realities that gave comedy its contemporary wit and “bite.” Plus, we will take a look at (and listen to) a pre-eminent example of a later adaptation of the ancient Greek and Roman comic models, the opera Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.

Textbooks (Required):

Aristophanes, I: Clouds, Wasps, Birds, trans. Peter Meineck.

Edition: 1st (Hackett, 1998)

ISBN: 978-0-87220-360-0

Web Link: Aristophanes

Cost: New $14.00

Menander, Plays and Fragments, trans. Norma Miller.

Edition: 1st (Penguin, 1988)

ISBN: 9780140445015

Web Link: Menander

Cost: New $14.00
Plautus and Terence, Five Comedies, trans. Deena Berg and Douglass Parker.

Edition: 1st (Hackett 1999)

ISBN: 978-0-87220-362-4

Web Link: Plautus and Terence

Cost: New $14.00
Online Resources:

A variety of supplementary course materials for required or recommended reading or viewing will be posted online in Moodle, with links to further online materials and library resources for research on course assignments.

No other course materials or expenses are required.
By the end of the term, the student will be able to:

  1. Identify key factors in the social, historical and theatrical contexts of the three art forms of Old and New Greek Comedy and Roman Comedy.

  2. Relate changes in these social, historical and theatrical contexts to developments in the style and vision of comedies produced at Athens in the 5th and 4th centuries BC and in Rome in the late 3rd-early 2nd century BC.

  3. Identify the dramaturgical devices (especially plot and character) employed in Greek and Roman comedy and analyze their function, including how different devices were suited to the different historical periods above.

  4. Analyze and interpret the themes treated in Greek and Roman comedy in relation to the society of each historical period above.

  5. Identify Greek and Roman models of plot and character in later adaptations such as Shakespeare and modern romantic comedy films and TV sit-coms, and analyze the alternations to those models brought about by the differences in time and place of performance.



Regular attendance is not only required, it is vital to your success in the course. Although there are copious online resources available for the study of ancient Greek and Roman comedy (like just about everything else in the world), there is no substitute for regular, direct personal engagement with an instructor who can offer explanations tailored exactly to the topics at hand in class and the particular questions they raise, as well as with fellow students who are often struggling with the same learning challenges that you are. Being on time is equally important, as late arrivals cause serious disruption of other students’ and the instructor’s concentration. Late arrivals will count against your participation grade; see the criteria for the preparation and participation portion of the course grade below.

Students will not be penalized for documented excusable absences according to the NCSU Attendance Policy. Examples of excusable absences include: official university functions, required court attendance, religious observances, required military duty, illness or injury when certified by an attending physician, death or serious illnesses in the family. Students will also be allowed two (2) unexcused absences without penalty. In accordance with NCSU Attendance Policy, each unexcused absence beyond these two will subtract one (1) percentage point from the final course grade. You are responsible for all work missed and for any assignments announced on a day you were absent, whether the absence was excused or unexcused. For further information, including the university definition of excused absences, see the NC State University Attendance Policy at:

Adverse Weather: In the event of class cancellation due to adverse weather, check for announcements in email and Moodle giving instructions for keeping up with the course work. For more information about NC State campus adverse weather procedures, read the NC State University Adverse Weather and Other Emergency Conditions Policy at: Check email, news, the NC State home page, or call 513-8888 for the latest campus information. Students will not be penalized for absence due to adverse weather, but will be expected to keep up with the course work in accordance with the course policy on absences.


Makeups of the quiz, midterm or final exam will be allowed only in the event of appropriately documented excusable absence according to the NC State Attendance Policy. Except in case of excused absence (again, appropriately documented), no writing assignments will be accepted late without the prior permission of the instructor. Such permission will be granted only for very good reason, i.e., not because you procrastinated or didn’t anticipate conflicts with other course work or employment.

Grade Components:

(10%) Preparation and participation.

(20%) Research paper.

(20%) Term project: including a class presentation and a written component to be handed in.

(10%) Quiz.

(15%) Midterm.

(25%) Final exam.
Letter Grades:

All work under each grade component will be averaged on a 100-point scale, and then the component averages will be combined in the ratios above to yield your final numerical score out of 100. The course letter grade will be determined according to standard NCSU letter grading:

98 - 100 = A+

93 – 97.99 = A

90 – 92.99 = A-

88 – 89.99 = B+

83 – 87.99 = B

80 – 82.99 = B-

78 – 79.99 = C+

73 – 77.99 = C

70 – 72.99 = C-

68 – 69.99 = D+

63 – 67.99 = D

60 – 62.99 = D-

0 – 59.99 = F

Grading of Preparation & Participation:

The following are the criteria for the preparation and participation portion of the course grade:

A+ (100%)

Outstanding effort. Student meets and exceeds all criteria for an “A.”

A (95%)

Student is always very well prepared and attentive, always responds when called on and volunteers often with pertinent answers or questions.

B (85%)

Student is generally prepared and attentive, responds when called on and volunteers on occasion.

C (75%)

Student is usually prepared but shows evidence of being unprepared or inattentive on occasion, usually responds when called on but sometimes has trouble responding, and does not volunteer often; may sometimes arrive late.

D (65%)

Student is unprepared, inattentive, never volunteers, or often comes to class late.

F (0%)

Student exhibits a lack of concern for the class, sleeps in class, always arrives late, or disturbs the class.

Research Paper: The paper will be 8-9 pages in length and explore a key issue in the interpretation of the comedies under study. Detailed instructions will be provided in class and on the course web site.
Term Project: You will have a choice of (1) presenting a scene from one of the comedies studied with other students, or (2) giving a presentation showing how modern comedies (in film, TV, theater, opera, or any other medium) derive from ancient models. Presentations of scenes and comparisons between ancient and modern comedy will take place during the final one or two weeks of class, depending on the number of projects to be accommodated. A written account of your presentation will be due by Monday, April 25. In the case of a scene, your written account will include, e.g., explanation of choices that were made in staging the scene and why, the particular “take” on the scene you were trying to bring out, etc. In the case of an ancient-modern comparison, this will be essentially a formal written version of your class presentation, taking account of further ideas that emerged from the presentation itself and class discussion about it. In either case the written account must be 6-7 pages in length. Detailed instructions for both kinds of project will be provided in class and on the course web site.
Tests: The quiz, midterm and final exam will require students to: (a) provide basic information on the assigned authors and plays; (b) provide basic explanations of critical/historical terminology; (c) analyze and interpret individual plays and make comparisons between plays by different authors in different periods. The final exam will not be comprehensive (i.e., it will cover in detail only the works studied after the midterm: the Roman plays and The Marriage of Figaro), but it will ask you to make general comparisons among all the works studied during the semester.

Last day to add a course without instructor’s permission: Tuesday, January 12

Last day to add a course or drop a course without a W grade: Wednesday, January 20.

Last day students can initiate schedule changes or change to credit only: Wednesday, March 2

Incomplete grades will be given at the instructor’s discretion and only in the event that a student who has finished most of the course work cannot complete the course due to unforeseeable circumstances beyond his/her control. If an extended deadline is not authorized by the instructor or department, an unfinished incomplete grade will automatically change to an F after either (a) the end of the next regular semester in which the student is enrolled (not including summer sessions), or (b) the end of 12 months if the student is not enrolled, whichever is shorter. Incompletes that change to F will count as an attempted course on transcripts. The burden of fulfilling an incomplete grade is the responsibility of the student. See the NC State University Policy on Grades at:


In order to receive a grade of S, students are required to take all exams and quizzes, complete all assignments, and earn a grade of C- or better. Conversion from letter grading to credit only (S/U) grading is subject to university deadlines. Refer to the Registration and Records calendar for deadlines related to grading. For more details refer to the NC State University Policy for Credit-Only Courses at:


Students interested in auditing the course should consult with the instructor. Information about and requirements for auditing a course can be found at the NC State University Policy for Auditing Courses at:


Academic Integrity:

Students are required to comply with the university policy on academic integrity found in the NC State University Code of Student Conduct at:

Academic Honesty:

Students are required to uphold the university Honor Pledge and exercise honesty in completing every assignment. For a detailed explanation of academic honesty see the NC State University Code of Student Conduct at:

Honor Pledge:

Your signature on any test or assignment indicates: “I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this test or assignment.”


Explore career options related to your major, make decisions about your major or minor, build resumes and cover letters, prepare for interviews, develop internship/ job search strategies, maximize career fairs, and more. Make an appointment with your career contact, Jane Matthews (A-H) or Woody Catoe (I-Z), through ePACK. Career Development Center, 2100 Pullen Hall (


Students will be asked to evaluate this course during the last two weeks of the semester using the online NC State University course evaluation website. You will receive an email directing you to the web site where you can complete your evaluation. Please be on the lookout for it and take the time to complete a thoughtful evaluation. Students are strongly encouraged to complete course evaluations, because a high response rate is essential to obtaining meaningful information. Results of student evaluations are used both by me and by my department to improve our courses and curricula.


Students may be required to disclose personally identifiable information to other students in the course, via electronic tools like email or web-postings, where relevant to the course. Examples include online discussions of class topics, and posting of student coursework. All students are expected to respect the privacy of each other by not sharing or using such information outside the course. For more information see the NC State University Policy on Electronically Hosted Course Components at:


Reasonable accommodations will be made for students with verifiable disabilities. In order to take advantage of available accommodations, student must register with the Disability Services Office ( located at 1900 Student Health Center, Campus Box 7509, 515-7653. For more information on NC State’s policy on working with students with disabilities, please see the Academic Accommodations for Students with Disabilities Regulation at:


NC State University provides equality of opportunity in education and employment for all students and employees. Accordingly, NC State affirms its commitment to maintain a work environment for all employees and an academic environment for all students that is free from all forms of discrimination. Discrimination based on race, color, religion, creed, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation is a violation of state and federal law and/or NC State University policy and will not be tolerated. Harassment of any person (either in the form of quid pro quo or creation of a hostile environment) based on race, color, religion, creed, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or sexual orientation also is a violation of state and federal law and/or NC State University policy and will not be tolerated. Retaliation against any person who complains about discrimination is also prohibited. NC State’s policies and regulations covering discrimination, harassment, and retaliation may be accessed at or Any person who feels that he or she has been the subject of prohibited discrimination, harassment, or retaliation should contact the Office for Equal Opportunity (OEO) at 515-3148.

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