Sparta and Athens
Write an essay on any one of the following twelve topics:
1. This essay topic will require you to do some sort of character study of Agamemnon, Achilles, or Odysseus. Go through the Iliad and Odyssey, and try to find out as much as you can about what Homer tells us regarding the personality of the hero in question. Remember that personality is revealed not just in a character’s words and deeds, and in the author’s comments, but also in how others who are acquainted with a character interact with him. Be sure to continually support your claims with evidence from Homer’s text.
2. The British poet and critic Samuel Butler (1835-1902) published a book in 1897, The Authoress of the Odyssey, having found in this epic such a “preponderance of female interest” that he concluded that only a woman could have composed it. While few scholars nowadays would agree with this hypothesis, it is obvious that the portrayal of women in Homeric epic, compared to the depiction of women in other classical Greek literature, is distinctive. Write an essay analyzing the female characters in the Odyssey, (such as Calypso, Athena, Nausicaä or Penelope) from any standpoint you wish. You may find it helpful to look at exactly what strategies these characters employ in order to get what they want, or in order to influence or manipulate the people around them. It would also be advisable to show that you are paying attention to whether a character under discussion is a goddess or a woman. You may focus on one character, or treat of several, as you prefer.
3. Herodotus has been called both the “Father of History” (by Cicero, in his book On Laws) and the “Father of Lies” (by Juan Luis Vives in his 1612 work, Twelve Books on Disciplines). Give several examples of why Herodotus has been called a “liar,” — I think in particular of Astyages’ cannibal feast, 1.117-118, and the winged snakes of Egypt, 2.75 — and speculate as to why a reasonable person would include stories like that in a “historical” work. In other words, explain what Herodotus’ reasons for writing his Histories are, and show how myths, fables, and rumors (or “lies,” if one must call them that) help Herodotus fulfill his goals for his work. I suggest that you resist the temptation to prove that his purpose is only entertainment, as there is much dry information about tribes, and geography; or that his purpose is onlyto write factual history, as there is much pure entertainment; or that his purpose is only Pan-Hellenic propaganda, as he is frequently critical of the actions of individual Greeks and of certain Greek city-states, and has many words of praise for some barbarian nations. To research this essay, obviously, you will have to look at more of the text of Herodotus than is included in the selections in Herodotus: On the War for Greek Freedom, the text I assigned for the course.
4. Emerson once wrote, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.”  If we were to try to recast his thought in more modern and gender-neutral language, we might say, “In order to fulfill one’s creative potential, in order to be fully alive, one must oppose traditional norms.” This essay will involve your examining the phenomenon of individualism in ancient Greece. You may want to look at Pindar, Sappho, Tyrtaeus (especially the second part of the selection from Tyrtaeus), or Thucydides (especially the introduction). Do any of these authors display an individualist streak? Do any of their works actually flout convention, or rebel against established concepts? Are they really“oppositional,” or is their oppositionality, so to speak, merely a pose, or even a mirage? Justify your assertions with examples, and feel free to define “individualism” in your own personal way.
5. Pericles’ Funeral Oration (in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, 2.35-46) and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address are two of the most famous public speeches ever made in the history of our planet, and have almost the same purpose: to redefine the purpose and meaning of a war in terms of the unique identity and special character of the speaker’s country. For this essay, compare and contrast the Funeral Oration and Gettysburg Addressin any way you consider appropriate. You could examine these speeches along the lines of their historical context, the occasions at which they were delivered, their structure, their tone, the rhetorical methods employed, the political programs they served, or anything else similarly useful as a basis for comparison and analysis. If you choose this assignment, be forewarned that the biggest and most common mistake that students typically make in writing about these two orations is to take them at face value; Pericles and Lincoln were both politicians, and so it is unlikely that either one of them would mean exactly what he seems to say, and nothing more. Another mistake is to write as if the solepurpose of the War Between the States was to bring about the abolition of slavery; according to the Johnson Resolutions, which set out the U.S. government’s reasons for the war, the expresspurpose was “…to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired;…” Slavery, although it was a major causeof the war, was not specifically mentioned by name.
6. Most of us encounter Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) while we are quite young, and suppose that it was originally written for children. We are therefore sometimes surprised, in reading the unexpurgated version of the book as adults, to find that it contains incidents such as this:
…Glumdalclitch setting down my traveling box, I went out of it to walk. There was cow-dung in the path, and I must needs try my activity by attempting to leap over it. I took a run, but unfortunately jumped short, and found myself just in the middle up to my knees.
— from chapter 5 of “A Voyage to Brobdingnag.”
So, it occasionally happens that a work which its author intended for a particular purpose and audience will, in subsequent epochs, be turned to different purposes and recast for different audiences. It has become usual during the past couple of generations to read and stage Aristophanes’ Lysistrate (411 B.C.) as a pacifist and feminist work; e.g., on March 3rd, 2003, more than a thousand public readings of this comedy took place around this country as part of a protest against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But what did Aristophanes have in mind, as far as you can tell? What was Aristophanes really trying to say in the Lysistrate about gender and about politics in the Athens of his own time? If Aristophanes was genuinely trying to promote an actual ideology and certain beliefs in his comedy, what were they? Your assertions in this essay should derive considerable support from the text of the Lysistrate itself. There are some remarks on Aristophanes and his work in A Brief History of Ancient Greece; I have placed my own translation of the play on BeachBoard.
7. Zack Snyder’s 300, which was released in March of 2007, is the movie version of Frank Miller’s 5-part 1998 graphic novel of the same name, which was itself inspired by Rudolph Maté’s 1962 movie, The 300 Spartans, a fairly straightforward Cold War-appropriate retelling of the story of the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. according to the ancient accounts. What 300 is NOT, is any sort of documentary film about the battle. It is a highly stylized, occasionally anachronistic, surrealistic meditation on heroism, manhood, empire-building, the causes of war, and the costs of warfare, and is chock-full of references to the political issues of our own days. For this topic, you will study Herodotus’ account of the battle (in Book 7 of his Histories), and, if you wish, any modern historical analyses of it. Then, you will see the movie, and explain what ideas Miller and Snyder are trying to convey in their very artistic treatment of a real historical event. As a basis for your essay, you could discuss what the author and the director retain of the old story, what they transform, what they omit, and what they add; but mostly I am interested in why, in your opinion, they do what they do with this material. Speculate at will, but defend your speculations fiercely.
8. There are many examples of American architecture that utilize bits and pieces of classical Greek temple architecture. I think, for example, of the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Federal Reserve, Trinity Christian International Center in Costa Mesa, and many others. What message or messages do buildings in our country send by imitating in their own design part of the structure or appearance of an ancient Greek temple? What effect are they aiming at? How do they try to achieve that effect? Do not write an essay about the history of the “Federal” or “Classical Revival” styles of architecture in America; write an essay about the purpose of developing those styles, as far as you can discern what that purpose was. A common strategic error made by many students who write on this sort of topic is to deliver a “laundry list” of features of the Federal Style, and then give short shrift to the main theme of the essay, which is the effect that these stylistic elements are supposed to have on the people who see, live in, work in, or find themselves brought into such a building.
9. Sparta and Athens are about 150 kilometers distant from each other. The ancient Spartans and Athenians spoke mutually intelligible dialects of the same language, participated in the same cults of the Greek gods that all the Greek city-states of antiquity did, developed hoplite warfare tactics at approximately the same period, and ultimately joined forces to defeat the Persian Empire’s invasions of Greece. Yet in other respects, as both the Spartans and the Athenians themselves insisted, they were very different; for example, Athens came to be touted as the archetypal democracy, and Sparta as the archetypal military dictatorship. Why? Why did these two peoples, in your opinion, develop such different forms of government, different attitudes, and different ways of life?
10. In many aspects of their own culture, the Romans borrowed from other cultures, and the Romans themselves were the first to acknowledge this fact.
Captive Greece turned ‘round and caught her wild conqueror, and into
Bucolic Latium introduced the arts; thus that uncouth
Saturnian meter was drained off, and Elegance expelled
Our profound bad taste; but for a long time, nevertheless,
There remained, and still remain today, vestiges of our rusticity.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Epistles, Book II, epist. 1, 156-160
Classical Roman literature and art were inspired and informed by the traditions of classical Greek literature and art, traditions that were already hundreds of years old when the Romans encountered them for the first time. Find some passage in Roman literature, or select a group of passages, or an entire work, that is in some way directly based upon a Greek original; compare and contrast the later work with its source. You might try comparing Catullus’ poem #51 with Sappho’s poem #1 (which you can find in the library or on the Web), or you might try looking at one of the tragedies of Euripides and comparing it to Seneca’s adaptation of it. Is one work necessarily “better” than the other? More elegant? More suited to its own time? What does it mean for the leading citizens of a multicultural global empire to have appropriated the artistic forms of a subject people?
11. Oliver Stone’s cinematic version of the career of Alexander the Great came out on November 24, 2004. Although it failed to live up to its producers’ expectations in terms of box office receipts, it is a significant piece of work, seeing as to how it is the most ambitious cinematic attempt so far to tell the story of Alexander and his conquests. Write a review in which you compare Stone’s Alexander to the Alexander of history. For this, you will need to have some idea of how the ancient historians Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch and Quintus Curtius Rufus viewed Alexander, and what they said about him. I am not asking you to critique Stone’s movie as an historical document, because that is not what it is; it is a work of art. I am asking you to show how Oliver Stone used this historical figure to fulfill his artistic purposes, whatever you perceive them to be.
12. This essay topic is similar to topic #11. Alexander III of Macedon was born in 356 B.C. In 334 B.C. he entered Asia Minor with an army of about 40,000 Greek and Macedonian soldiers, and after nine years of bitter warfare he ruled territory stretching from Epirus and Egypt to what are now Tajikistan and Sindh (in southeast Pakistan). In 323 B.C., he died. A question that springs readily to the minds of many students of the Classics today is, “What was Alexander thinking?” In other words, what could have driven this man to launch this massive and desperate military adventure into the ancient Middle East, and to pursue it as far as he did, at the cost of so many lives and so much treasure?
For where armies have marched,
There do briars spring up;
Where great hosts are impressed,
Years of hunger and evil ensue.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (6th – 4th cent. B.C.?) 30, Blakney trans.
Homer’s “Iliad” made Alexander the warrior. Alexander said so.
— T. DeWitt Talmadge, Perfect Jewels (1888), p. 30.
Scholars and artists over the years have proposed many explanations, of varying cogency, for why Alexander embarked upon his voyage of world conquest. Once again, the ancient historians Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch and Quintus Curtius Rufus are your primary sources, but of course you could assess the views of modern scholars on the subject.
What I am looking for is a typed, double-spaced, grammatically and orthographicallycorrect, three-to-four-page paper. A standard essay, with an introduction, conclusion, and several well-developed expository paragraphs, will probably be adequate. You can use any primary or secondary material that you can find in the library or on the Internet to help you in your task, provided that you cite such material properly.
By necessity and by design, in your essay you will express your own opinions. Very often you will be tempted to engage in speculation. Go ahead; just remember to back up your speculations with some sort of properly-cited evidence or justification, and remember to cite your sources as you use them, whenever you use them. Remember: use of anybody else’s words without attribution is plagiarism, and is a bad thing; use of other people’s words with attribution is research, and is a good thing.
Good academic writing exhibits the seven C’s: Clarity, Correctness, Concision, Consistency, Coherence, Creativity, and Completeness. An “A” paper in particular, no matter what class or teacher it is being written for, no matter what subject it is being written on, will always do the following: employ correct grammar, syntax, spelling and diction; take a definite and explicit position on a topic, defining terms and adhering consistently to those definitions; defend that position by means of coherent arguments and specific evidence; contain correct citations of its primary and secondary sources; flow from point to point, with clear transitions between paragraphs; and demonstrate independent thinking on the part of its author — in other words, it will show that the author has thought about the topic on his or her own, and is neither speculating wildly, nor parrotting opinions advanced by reference works or by the teacher, nor regurgitating the work of others without attribution.
An essay can demonstrate the virtue of “completeness” even if it is relatively short. The author of such an essay raises questions and issues in the introductory paragraph, and answers or at least addresses them before or in the conclusion. A four-page essay is not going to exhaust the subject, or run down every possible avenue of research to the very end, but should do something to deal with most of the reader’s expectations.
An often effective way of gauging the quality of your writing is to show it to a fellow student. If something sounds garbled, vague or hinky to one of your colleagues, it may very well sound that way to me, also. An even better ploy is to take your work to the Writer’s Resource Lab on campus. They are located in LAB-212, their phone number is (562) 985-4329, and they can be found on the Web at www.csulb.edu/~wrl/.
If you have any questions at all of any kind about this assignment, or if you would like me to look at a rough draft, see me during my office hours or contact me via e-mail.
Bring me an actual printed version of the essay; do not try to submit it electronically.