LATN 211: Freedom and Slavery in Roman Comedy

Course Description

Roman comedy represents our earliest complete literature in Latin; in addition, it is one of the only genres of Latin literature that was written and performed by and for enslaved and formerly enslaved Romans. This semester, we’ll focus on the plays of Plautus: they are raucous, bawdy fun; while learning to appreciate their humor and vernacular-poetic style, we also have a chance to hear the voices and glimpse the lives of a stratum of Roman society largely excluded from classical Latin. At the same time, they are problematic and messy from a modern perspective, and force us to confront difficult aspects of Roman culture around gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, and other important aspects of Roman and modern identity.


Prof. Farmer

Hi! I’m Prof. Matt Farmer (he/him/his pronouns), and I’ll be your instructor this semester. I prefer to be called “Prof. Farmer” or “Dr. Farmer”. You can read all about my research and teaching here, if you’re curious. If you ever have any questions about this course or just want to chat and get to know each other better, you can email me by clicking here, or you can click here to schedule an appointment with me.

Plan for the Semester

The central task of our work together this semester will be to read four plays; we’ll do so in three different formats. We’ll read Plautus’ Pseudolus and Captivi entirely in English; Poenulus in a combination of English and Latin, steadily increasing the amount of Latin we’re reading each week to build up our fluency in Plautine language; and Amphitruo, which we’ll read entirely in Latin.

Our guide to the world of Plautus this semester will be Amy Richlin’s monumental work, Slave Theater in the Roman Republic: Plautus and Popular Comedy. We’ll read the first part of this book all together, and then throughout the semester, you’ll give short presentations on additional readings from this book. Two of you will present on excerpts from Timothy Moore’s The Theater of Plautus instead; Richlin insists that we read Plautus’ plays as scripts for live performance, and Moore is the world’s leading authority on this approach.

Most days of class, we’ll spend some time talking about the sections of the Plautine comedy you read for that day, and do at least a little translating or close reading of the Latin together; then we’ll hear a presentation from one of you. On a few other days, instead of presentations, you’ll stage performances of scenes from Poenulus and Amphitruo, in Latin.

For the full details of our schedule this semester, click here.


You are not required to buy books for this course; all of your assigned readings will be scanned and provided for you. That said, if you would like to purchase or otherwise obtain the two main books we’ll be working with, they are:

  • Erin K. Moodie, Plautus’ Poenulus: A student Commentary. Michigan.
  • David Christenson, Plautus: Amphitruo. Cambridge.

Assignments and Grading


This semester, we’ll be taking a slightly unorthodox approach to establishing grades: ungrading! Ungrading is a critical pedagogy movement that replaces traditional structures of assessment with a collaborative process that centers self-evaluation. What does that mean for you?

  • Throughout the semester, I’ll ask you to complete process surveys about the work you’ve been doing for the course. I’ll provide a set of prompts that encourage you to think about what you’re learning, what kinds of labor you’re doing, and how you can improve your work.
  • All of the work you’re doing this semester will show up in class. You won’t be taking exams or writing papers that only I see; you’ll be participating in discussion and translation, leading conversations, giving presentations, and performing scenes.
  • I’ll provide you with feedback on the work you’re doing throughout the semester. I won’t give you grades or scores on your work; instead I’ll focus on things I think you’re doing well, and areas where I think you have opportunities to improve.
  • At the end of the semester, you’ll write a letter of assessment assigning yourself a final grade. I’ll respond with my own feedback and thoughts about the grade you’ve given yourself, but unless I think your grade is wildly out of touch with the work you’ve done this semester, I’ll respect your decision.

If you’d like to read more about the theory and research behind Ungrading, I’d encourage you to start here.


Here’s the work I’ll be expecting you to do this semester:

  • Reading: The most important thing you’ll do is to prepare assigned readings for each day of class. Most days this will include some reading from Plautus, in English, Latin, or both, and sometimes some contemporary works of scholarship as well (always in English).
    • English: When you’re reading in English, I’ll expect you to read carefully, thoughtfully, and critically, and to come to class prepared for detailed discussions about the content of the reading. You should equip yourself to do that with notes of some kind, either as annotations on the reading itself, in a notebook, or in whatever form works best for you. I’ve kept the English reading assignments short in this class, because my intention is for you to do all of the reading and to do it thoughtfully.
    • Latin: Our goal in reading Latin in this course is to learn to read Plautus fluently, and to use our Latin skills in order to enjoy and interpret the plays we’re reading. Please do not simply write out a translation; instead, produce whatever notes, annotations, and other preparations you need to talk through the text together in class. Even if I ask you to translate in class, I’ll expect that to be a slow, collaborative process – I’m not interested in a polished translation you wrote out the night before. I welcome mistakes and questions; Latin is hard, but we’re in this together. For full details of how I recommend you prepare your Latin readings, see Prof. Mulligan’s Guide to Preparing a Reading Assignment.
  • Scholarship Presentation: Each of you will lead class for about half an hour once during the semester. You’ll guide us through a conversation about a work of scholarship, either Richlin’s Slave Theater or Moore’s Theater of Plautus. You’ll summarize what you read, and host a conversation about it.
  • Scene Performance: With a small group of other students, you’ll perform a scene in Latin from one of the two main comedies we’re reading, Poenulus and Amphitruo. You’ll decide whether to use masks or costumes, how to distribute parts, and other performance matters. Then, you’ll lead us through a conversation about your performance.
  • Process Surveys: Periodically throughout the semester, you’ll be asked to complete brief process surveys evaluating the work you’ve been doing. You’ll reflect on what you’ve learned, on ways you could improve your work, on accomplishments and on hopes for the future. You’ll be invited to solicit specific kinds of feedback from me, and to assess your overall performance in the course so far.
  • Letter of Assessment: At the end of the semester, I’ll ask you to write a substantial letter of assessment, reflecting on your work over the course of the class. As with your process surveys, you’ll consider what you did and did not accomplish this semester, your successes and your missed opportunities, the work you did and the work that’s left to do. I’ll ask you to assign yourself a final grade, and in consultation with you, we’ll then settle your grade for the course.

Although I won’t be giving scores or grades to individual assignments throughout the semester, the colleges still require you to receive a final grade at the end of the term. We’ll collaborate on deciding what that grade should be, but here are my initial, big picture thoughts on what different levels of performance might look like:

  • 4.0: You went way above and beyond this semester. You did all the reading thoroughly and carefully, and came into class eager to discuss it. You sought out frequent opportunities to improve your Latin, and worked hard to improve your fluency. You attended nearly every meeting of class, and participated thoughtfully in whatever the class’s work was that day; when you couldn’t attend, you made a distinct effort to make up for your absences. Your presentations and performances were thoughtfully and thoroughly prepared in ways that engaged and brought other students into the conversation. You supported other people in the class, and accepted their support gracefully.
  • 3.0: You met basic expectations this semester. You did most of the reading, but sometimes not as thoroughly as you might have. You worked to improve your Latin, but missed some opportunities to do so, perhaps relying too much on translations or translators. Your attendance was regular but not outstanding, and you didn’t always find ways to make up for your absences. You gave the required presentations and performances, but didn’t always plan them in ways that engaged the class or made room for their participation. You neglected opportunities to benefit from feedback.
  • 2.0: You participated in the course, but didn’t live up to expectations. You regularly came to class unprepared, or missed class entirely; perhaps you failed to prepare one of your required presentations. You made some efforts this semester, but it’s clear to you and to me that this class was a low priority for you.

Throughout the semester, I’ll be asking you as a class to expand this sense of what it looks like to contribute to the course and “do the work” of the semester.

Important Statements and Policies


I am committed to partnering with you on your academic and intellectual journey.  I also recognize that your ability to thrive academically can be impacted by your personal well-being and that stressors may impact you over the course of the semester.  If the stressors are academic, I welcome the opportunity to discuss and address those stressors with you in order to find solutions together.  If you are experiencing challenges or questions related to emotional health, finances, physical health, relationships, learning strategies or differences, or other potential stressors, I hope you will consider reaching out to the many resources available on campus. These resources include CAPS (free and unlimited counseling is available), the Office of Academic Resources, Health Services, Professional Health Advocate, Religious and Spiritual Life, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the GRASE Center, and the Dean’s Office.  Additional information can be found at

Additionally, Haverford College is committed to creating a learning environment that meets the needs of its diverse student body and providing equal access to students with a disability. If you have (or think you have) a learning difference or disability – including mental health, medical, or physical impairment – please contact the Office of Access and Disability Services (ADS) at The Director will confidentially discuss the process to establish reasonable accommodations.  It is never too late to request accommodations – our bodies and circumstances are continuously changing. 

Students who have already been approved to receive academic accommodations and want to use their accommodations in this course should share their accommodation letter and make arrangements to meet with me as soon as possible to discuss how their accommodations will be implemented in this course. Please note that accommodations are not retroactive and require advance notice in order to successfully implement.

If, at any point in the semester, a disability or personal circumstances affect your learning in this course, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I want to be sure you are aware of the full range of resources and options available to you.

It is a state law in Pennsylvania that individuals must be given advance notice that they may be recorded. Therefore, any student who has a disability-related need to audio record this class must first be approved for this accommodation from the Director of Access and Disability Services and then must speak to me. Other class members need to be aware that this class may be recorded.

Academic Integrity

In a community that thrives on relationships between students and faculty that are based on trust and respect, it is crucial that students understand a professor’s expectations and what it means to do academic work with integrity. Plagiarism and cheating, even if unintentional, undermine the values of the Honor Code and the ability of all students to benefit from the academic freedom and relationships of trust the Code facilitates. Plagiarism is using someone else’s work or ideas and presenting them as your own without attribution. Plagiarism can also occur in more subtle forms, such as inadequate paraphrasing, failure to cite another person’s idea even if not directly quoted, failure to attribute the synthesis of various sources in a review article to that author, or accidental incorporation of another’s words into your own paper as a result of careless note-taking. Cheating is another form of academic dishonesty, and it includes not only copying, but also inappropriate collaboration, exceeding the time allowed, and discussion of the form, content, or degree of difficulty of an exam. Please be conscientious about your work, and check with me if anything is unclear.