Masters of Power: 10 Ancient Lives
Prof. Vincent Farenga
This course satisfies the G. E. requirement in Category V, Arts and Letters, because it
introduces you to works of literature, philosophy, history and film that span the ancient
and modern worlds, asking, ―What is the meaning of an ancient life in our modern
We examine ten remarkable individuals in Greco-Roman antiquity: a democratic
statesman (Pericles), brilliant generals (Alcibiades and Julius Caesar), a world conqueror
(Alexander), an empire builder (Augustus)—but also a philosopher of dissent (Socrates),
a monstrous tyrant (Nero), a power-mad matriarch (Agrippina), and two tragic lovers
(Mark Antony and Cleopatra).
We’ll find their stories in Greek and Roman historians
and biographers (Thucydides, Plutarch, Arrian, Tacitus and Suetonius) and philosophers
(Plato, Xenophon, Diogenes Laertius).
We also examine modern attempts to capture the same lives: in Shakespearean drama
Antony and Cleopatra
); in historical fiction (Robert
 and a novel about Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War,
Tides of War
); in feature films and TV series (Oliver Stone’s
[2006-7], Joseph Mankiewicz’
); the Royal Shakespeare Company’s
; and the BBC’s
These ancient-modern comparisons will illuminate the different meanings an ancient life
For the ancients a ―life‖ is a tale that is morally or politically useful to others,
but modern artists transform these lives into characters in a drama, novel, or film.
Goals of the Course: What Will You Learn?
the most memorable stories
in the Western tradition about antiquity’s most
powerful individuals—and how they are powerfully relevant to our lives.
You’ll appreciate how
strong an impact genre
can have when it frames a life differently
as history, biography, philosophical apology [self-defense] and dialogue, tragedy, novel,
You’ll understand different ways to
evaluate and interpret
a human life:
as an agent of power;
as a moral character, a model, and
a ―person‖; and
as a ―character.‖