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Rome & Renaissance Literature

Instructor: Prof. Julia Hairston [see profile]
Disciplines: Literature, History

This course makes use of a wide variety of literary genres—familiar letters, novelle, lyric poetry, dialogue, autobiography, and saints’ lives—both as they relate to Rome and for their roles in cultural and literary debates of early modernity. The city will serve as the keyhole through which we view a number of important developments taking place in Italy that later spread to the rest of Europe: not just humanism and neo-Platonism, but also the growth of etiquette, the dispute over which artistic form is finer—poetry versus painting and sculpture or what is the correct literary language, and the debate over the worth of women and their roles in society.

These topics derive directly from the texts under consideration, and we read all primary texts closely, engaging the characteristics of each genre as well as the interrelations between the texts themselves. The readings are of two types—lesser known works which are patently “Roman,” i.e. they take place in Rome or are by Roman authors, and fundamental texts of the Italian Renaissance which, in addition to commenting on or contributing to cultural debates of the Renaissance, also reflect Rome’s roles within those debates.

Site visits include Villa Farnesina, the luxurious residence of Agostino Chigi, a 16th-century Sienese banker to the popes; Castel Sant’Angelo in which Pope Clement VII took refuge during the Sack of Rome in 1527; the Biblioteca Angelica and adjoining Church of S. Agostino; piazza del Pasquino, site of the famous “talking statue,” and Tor de’ Specchi, the convent founded by Santa Francesca Romana.


  • a mid-term exam
  • a final paper (8-10 pages)
  • a final exam