2023-2024 Catalog

LATN 349 Beyond Resentment: The Literature of Life-Affirmation from Ancient Rome to the American Blues

This course explores some historical examples of ways of confronting the sort of ressentiment—“a generalized feeling of resentment and oftenhostility harbored by one individual or group against another”—that pervades our cultural discourse, wracks our political life, and makes us miserable as individuals. We shall engage in close examination of the ancient Roman authors Cicero (106 – 43 BCE), Seneca (4 BCE – 65 CE), Epictetus (c.50 – 135), and Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 CE) and the classically-influenced American cultural critic Albert Murray (1916-2013). We shall interrogate both the strengths and weaknesses of the programs and techniques that these authors—all of whom lived through times of social and personal turmoil—proposed for remaining centered in a sense of their own dignity and in a feeling of gratitude for the blessings that were intermingled with their tribulations. In the case of Murray, we shall assess the adequacy of his theory about the African-American Blues tradition and compare it to that of some scholars who had preceded him. We shall attempt to determine the limitations and strengths of his perception that the Blues idiom represented not “the anguished outcry of a victim” but “an exercise in heroic action” through which the individual makes “an affirmative and hence exemplary and heroic response” to both the suffering particular to historically conditioned forms of oppression as well as to the absurdity of the human condition. Topics covered include the theory of ressentiment, the emotions in ancient Roman thought, Roman techniques for cultivating positive, empowering affective responses not only to “microaggressions,” but to even themost horrific events, and Albert Murray’s theory of the “Blues idiom” as “survival technique [and] esthetic equipment for living.” 

Students completing the final paper in this course with a grade of C or higher can use this work to satisfy the Second-Stage Writing Requirement.


Latin 201 or approval of instructor.

Core Requirements Met

  • Global Connections
  • Pre-1800