Centre for Continuing Education

Portraits of Italy Course: From Ancient Rome to Rossini

History. See the future. It’s in the past.

The world as we know it today has been shaped by events of the past. Learn about history the smart way with History courses at the University of Sydney.

This history course will focus on some of the major figures in the cultural life of Italy during the Ancient Roman period, the Renaissance, and the early 19th century. Beginning with the work of the very appealing poets Horace and his friend Tibullus, who lived during the 1st century BC, we will then examine the life and writings of Pliny the Younger from the 1st century AD, a native of Lake Como, who has left us the best descriptions of the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, as well as lovely descriptions of the natural environment that he knew and of his sea-side villa and life-style. The fascinating figure of Leonardo da Vinci will represent the Renaissance period; both his art and writings from his Notebooks will be examined in detail, and we will conclude with the life and music of Rossini, one of Italy’s greatest composers and the last representative of the ‘Classical Tradition’ in music, including DVD excerpts from his early comic masterpieces 'L’Italiana in Algeri' and ‘La Cenerentola’.


On completion of this history course participants will:

  1. Have a deeper understanding of the different personalities studied, their achievements and the varied cultural environments in which they lived.
  2. Be able to appreciate the central role played by the arts in Italy during the Ancient Roman period, the Renaissance and the early 19th century.
  3. Be able to appreciate the very significant social and cultural changes that occurred in Italy over the vast time span covered in the course.
  4. Be able to appreciate, nevertheless, the continuities in Italian cultural life over these centuries and the continuing centrality of the ‘Classical Tradition’.


The course content which will be covered in this history course will include:

  • Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC): poet, satirist, Augustan ‘poet laureate’ and philosopher.
  • Albius Tibullus (c.55-19 BC): poet of love, elegy, friendship and religion.
  • Gaius Plinius Secundus (61-113 AD): imaginative letter writer and diarist, lawyer, provincial governor.
  • Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519): universal genius, artist, scientist, art theorist, philosopher.
  • Giacchino Rossini (1792-1868): child prodigy and outstanding composer—the string symphonies and the comic operas 'L’Italiana in Algeri' and ‘La Cenerentola’.

Intended Audience

This History course is suitable for personal interest adult learners, university students and active retirees who have an interest in history and/or Italian Cultural Life and the the Renaissance period.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

What others say.

  • These classes are mentally stimulating as well as being friendly and informative.

  • These lectures are full of good background information, and for me the learning outcome is always excellent. Very happy to recommend these lectures to all my friends.

  • Second time I have done this same course. It is so well done, fascinating slides with stories to go with them. Very informative as well.