in LIT. 230

Here are two strong essays, written for the in-class essay on the Iliad in Fall, 2006.  This first essay answers a question about whether Achilles changes in the poem. I liked the fullness of the writer’s explanations of each change and the excellent quoting.  Although the ending was rushed and needs 1-2 more sentences by way of conclusion, I gave the essay an A.

            Achilles is a man who is greatly respected by his peers. He is son to a goddess, leader of the Myrmidons, and great friend. He is told by his mother that while battling in Troy he will die. Throughout the poem Homer builds Achilles’ personality and also depicts events that lead to very drastic changes Achilles experiences and character.

            When the poem starts Achilles is a sympathetic, caring warrior who sees his army dying of plague. He calls all to a meeting and addresses the King to return what he took in order to please the god Apollo and cure the men. King Agamemnon agrees, but since he would be losing out and is being challenged by Achilles, he takes Briseis away from Achilles. In disgracing Achilles in front of all the troops, he becomes angry. He refuses to fight on any side of the war and especially not for King Agamemnon. He is so outraged he does not care about the safety of the warriors. He tells his mother Thetis to request that Zeus “help the Trojan cause, pin the Achaeans...trap all can reap the benefits of their king...see how mad he was to disgrace Achilles” (Book 1, ll. 486-490). He called a meeting for the sake of the Achaeans and being dishonored completely makes him forget how much he cares about the safety of the men. King Agamemnon challenges Achilles worth and status, no one goes against the king to stand up for Achilles and now they are being defeated. They are going to learn how valuable he truly is to them. With this request, Achilles shows how hurt he is by the actions of the king and because he is fighting a war he will die in for the sake of others, his anger drives him to completely remove himself from war.

            Achilles gets his desire for the Achaeans to be pinned and trapped which drives Patroclus to request Achilles subside his anger. Though Achilles realizes his anger is enough, he cannot go back on his word and Patroclus enters the war with Achilles troops. Close friends with Achilles, Patroclus is killed by Hector and this is the action that cause Achilles to disregard anger and kill all Trojans. In Book 21, we see another contrast with the early Achilles who was sympathetic. Lycaon, a brother of Hector, is seen by Achilles for a second time. On the first occasion, he caught Lycaon and sold him into slavery, but this time, he has lost all reason when he lost his dear friend Patroclus. Lycaon pleads with Achilles to sell him again. Achilles replies, “Fool, don’t talk to me of ransom...Before Patroclus met his day of warmed my heart a bit to spare Trojans...auctioned as slaves.... Now not a single Trojan flees his death...even for me ... death ... and fate are waiting” (Book 21, ll. 11-124). Angry with life’s events, he will take life. He will not spare any Trojan especially of the people he cares about, Patroclus, has died. He himself will face death and there is no use in trying to escape fate. Lycaon was meant to die at the hand of Achilles. He felt sympathy and sold him off as a slave the first time, but seeing him a second time confirms for Achilles that fate is unavoidable. He will die, Patroclus has died, and all those fated to die by his hand will die. He will not sympathize or delay what fate has in store.

            Once he has killed Lycaon, he continues on killing all Trojans that come in his path. He finally kills Hector and drags his lifeless body for all of Troy to see on the back of his chariot. Hector, who killed Achilles good friend, will be eaten by dogs, plans Achilles. He drags the body and all the troops stand around and stab Hector. He is enraged still by the death of Patroclus and also of his own soon to come death. He refuses to return the body of Hector to his people. But yet again we see the change when he orders “Bathe and anoint the body” (Book 24, l. 682), then in line 691, he “lifted Hector up in his own arms and laid him down on a bier.” Achilles has come to terms with his fate and has pitied Priam, remembering his own father Peleus. He returns the body of the man who killed his dear friend. He knows he will not be seen by his own father and realizes that Priam, like his own father Peleus, should have that right.

In this next essay, which answers the question about the qualities a hero in Homeric culture must possess, I praised the writer’s many excellent specific examples and quotes.  I wondered why the writer strangely omitted Achilles’ anger when discussing his display of emotions, as well as his withdrawing from the war, which many other readers see as unheroic.  But because of the many other heroic qualities it discusses, I gave this an A-.

            According to Homer, in my opinion a hero must be one with outstanding qualities that separate the superior from the mortal men. A good example of a person who shows the qualities undoubtedly is Achilles. Qualities in Achilles’ character include bravery, a man who will be a protector to the masses. The person must also be loyal to those he loves. I believe in this piece of literature, the qualities of a hero must be a combination that allows the hero to appeal to many, just as Achilles is. Achilles is sensitive, but masculinity shoots from his pores. He defends his people against the ones who provoke fear in the average, and he is utterly unshakably loyal to those he loves.

            During the poem, Achilles is a man who has been known to stand up for what he believes. To the very end of the story Achilles displays his bravery even when he knows he will die. Towards the end of Book 19, Achilles speaks of his fate and won’t let it stop him. “Why, Roan Beauty–why prophesy my doom? Don’t waste your breath. I know well, I know–I am destined to die here, far from my dear father, far from mother. But all the same I will never stop till I drive the Trojans to their bloody fill of war (ll. 497-500). Maybe it is his bravery that pushes him to still fight against the Trojans even after he has killed Hector. Also Achilles displays bravery when standing his ground against Agamemnon. “Shameless–armored in shamelessness–always shrewd with greed! How could any Argive soldier obey your orders, freely and gladly do your sailing for you or fight your enemies full force? Not I, no” (Book 1, ll. 174-79). No other man dare talk to Agamemnon in such a manner except Achilles for he acts in a manner that demands respect from others. Agamemnon sees this and despises it.

            Throughout this story Achilles time and time again fights other people’s battles. For they don’t have the courage or strength, powerful Achilles protects the many. In the beginning, Calchas begs for Achilles’ protection against Agamemnon. “Even if he can swallow down his wrath today, still he will nurse the turning in his chest until, sooner or later, he sends it bursting forth. Consider it closely, Achilles, will you save me?” (Book 1, ll. 95-98) Achilles answers, “Courage! Out with it now” (book 1, l. 99). Achilles assures Calchas that no one shall do harm to him and that he has no reason to fear. Actions such as these allow people to trust a man like Achilles because he demonstrates his power, ensuring your safety against the strongest of lords.

            Achilles’ loyalty to Patroclus alone solely seals his fate. Once Achilles kills Hector, he is destined to die shortly after. Not even the thought of death can turn him astray from avenging Patroclus. “But brilliant Achilles taunted Hector’s body dead as he was, ‘Die, die! For my own death, I’ll meet it freely–whenever Zeus and the other deathless gods would like to bring it on!’” (Book 22, ll. —) This shows that Achilles’ loyalty as well as anger will not let him sympathize with dying Hector...even in his last moments. Hector begs for mercy on his dead body, but unaltered and unshaken, Achilles cannot be led away from his loyalty to his best friend and in turn shows no mercy.

            Other qualities portrayed through Achilles are his ability to show emotion. During one book, Achilles drops to his knees and cries for his mother (Book 1, ll. 416-424). He prays to Thetis to come to him for he is overcome with emotion after his argument with Agamemnon. It takes a strong man to cry and even a stronger man to ask for help.

            Overall Achilles was fated to die, but his heroic qualities are what make him somewhat godlike. Achilles shows bravery by standing up against Agamemnon by speaking his mind. Even before battle, Achilles shows no fear about fighting the Trojans. He is a protector by demonstrating this to Calchas, not only through Calchas, but by being the savior of his camp. He is loyal in that he avenges Patroclus’ death by killing Hector even though it leads to his own demise. His emotion makes him humanlike. Praying and weeping for his mother shows he isn’t afraid to ask for help, a very important quality in a hero. Overall, it is Achilles’ heroic actions that make him appear sort of godlike and his emotions that seals his heroism to all.

Here are three strong essays, written for the in-class essay on 1 and 2 Samuel in Fall, 2006.   All three answer a question about kings bending the rules.  The first makes several interesting points.  The only reason it received an A- rather than an A is that the writer did not connect the two kings' human weaknesses to their role as king to show why they were necessary evils for the people of Israel.

Despite the fact that Samuel warned people that having a king can cause tyranny, taxation, and mandatory mobilization, the Israelites insisted on appointing one. The first kings of Israel, Saul and his successor David, are described as very human and at some point tragic because they had to combine the perfection of God’s anointed kings and the weaknesses of human nature, which results in their bending the rules set by the Lord, the kings themselves, and the moral norms in the society.

Saul’s violation of the rules deals with an era of political transition for Israelites from a theocracy to a monarchy. Despite Saul’s appointment as king, the power over the kingdom remains in Samuel’s hands, the religious leader. Saul’s mission is to obey Samuel’s orders. In one statement, Samuel tells Saul to go to Gilgal and wait for him seven days to perform a sacrifice. "Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what to do" (1 Samuel 10:8). However, Saul breaks the rule and performs the sacrifice himself in order to stop his forces from dwindling. Faced with an army dropping toward six hundred, he overrules the law of God. By doing so, he fulfills his desire to project the image of a strong, effective, decisive military leader. In spite of Samuel’s anger at Saul’s disobedience, the king breaks a rule again when in Chapter 15 he overrules Samuel’s order: "Now go and smite Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Samuel 15:3). Saul makes war on Amalek and crushes it. However, he brings back Agag, king of Amalek, and "the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them" (1 Samuel 15:9). So by breaking this rule, Saul possesses material goods and the people’s acceptance. Saul disobeys because he is more concerned with material objects than with spiritual and religious matters, as are most humans. Saul evaluates his leadership by human standards. Another example of breaking the rules is illustrated in chapter 28 of 1 Samuel, when Saul, after abolishing the mediums or wizards in his land seeks one for advice. He is breaking his own law.

In addition, by trying to kill David out of jealousy, Saul breaks a regulation set by the Lord, valued in father-son relationships, and accepted between government officials: David is God’s anointed, Saul’s son-in-law, and the leader of Saul’s army. Attempts to kill David are driven by jealousy and the desire to preserve his own leadership, which was threatened by David’s growing power over the people of Israel.

David in his turn, despite the fact that his foremost quality is obedience to God’s rules, breaks them when in 2 Samuel 11 he sleeps with another’s man’s wife and in order to hide his wrongdoing, sends her husband on a suicide mission. His violation of the rule is driven by lustfulness. This violation leads to another, when his son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar, which eventually results in committing a fraternal crime. By his illicit affair with Bathsheba, he set an example for Amnon. By failing to punish Amnon for his crime, David breaks his rule of justice.

Saul and David are described as very human and in some places evil. The dilemma represented in the books of Samuel is that humans, even kings, are not perfect. They are weakened by their temptations.


This second essay also makes several interesting points  The only reason it received an A- rather than an A is that the writer could have used a second example of Saul's bending the rules to balance the two examples in the David section.

In 1 Samuel 8:10-18, Samuel explains to the people of Israel the drawbacks of having a king. Samuel makes it clear to the people that a king will take advantage of them and profit off of them for his own benefit. Throughout the two books of Samuel it is evident how both kings Saul and David take advantage by bending rules to fit their own needs.

In the instance of Saul, he was not very confident in his standing as the king of Israel. He often ignored what God asked of him in order to appease the people of Israel. One example of this is in 1 Samuel 14-15, when God asked Samuel to totally destroy everything in the city of Amalek. Saul did not follow the Lord’s rules by not killing the animals and the king Agag. Because of this defiance, God said to Samuel, "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions" (1 Samuel 15: 11). The judgment of God after Saul ignored his rules is to anoint another person to become king.

David was a king that was not without faults himself, but the reason why God’s favor never left him is because he never doubted himself like Saul. David took advantage of his standing as king on different occasions. An example of this is David’s affair with the married woman Bathsheba. This affair went against laws brought forth by God. Nathan said to David, "This is what the Lord God of Israel says: I anointed you king over Israel and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own" (2 Samuel 12: 7-10). David was able to learn from his transgressions in part because he held God’s favor.

Another transgression of David is when he did nothing about the rape of his daughter Tamar by her half-brother Amnon. It seems as if David was unmoved by the situation. It is somewhat interesting to me that the story does not elaborate more on rape, but goes into full detail about the murder of the rapist. David used his role as king to pick and choose which crime he was going to condemn. It may have been because "His firstborn was Amnon, the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel" (2 Samuel 3:2).

These two kings in my opinion were necessary evils because through them Israel was shown by example that even people anointed by God are human. Saul was necessary because the kingdom needed a strong presence with all the fighting and conflict they were having with the Philistines. David was necessary for an even more important reason, to show that people are human and they make mistakes, and lastly, that God is forgiving.


This final essay also makes several interesting points, particularly about the general dangers of kings who abuse their power.  It also provides more than one example for each king.   It received an A. 

            In the bible, there is a recurring theme of the dangers of having a king, as shown in the reigns of King Saul and King David. Samuel had warned the citizens of Israel not to have a king, “And you yourselves will become [the king’s] slaves. When that time comes you will complain bitterly because of your king, whom you yourselves chose, but the lord will not listen to your complaints” (1 Samuel 8:17-18). God allows for the people to have a king to show that they were an unnecessary evil because a king is corrupt, tyrannical, may be a noble and wise ruler in the beginning but ultimately with the corrupting effect of power becomes despotic and will do anything, even kill, to hold onto power. Both kings David and Saul ultimately do the very thing Samuel warns about: the enslavement of the people to serve their own interests.

             The first king of Israel is King Saul. After he is anointed king, Saul initially is a very effective ruler, until David enters the picture. Saul initially likes David and uses him to try regain favor with God. However, over time David became more popular than Saul and Saul definitely has a major issue with this. “[Saul] was jealous and suspicious of David from [when the people said that ‘Saul has killed thousands, but David tens of thousands’].” (1 Samuel 18:9) Saul is definitely losing his grip as a king, since he even says, “[the people] will make him king next!” (1 Samuel 18:8) This shows that merely because David is more popular than Saul is, he automatically loses favor with him as a result. This shows that instead of being a king who can subordinate his own personal insecurities and rule the nation, being jealous of what someone else has is going to make it even harder for Saul to govern Israel effectively. Furthermore, this shows that Saul as a king is an unnecessary evil because now he is afraid of David supplanting him as king merely because of popularity, not on the basis of any actual evidence that this has happened. Thus, it shows how dangerous it is tovest one man with unlimited power to rule, and since his suspicions are on no basis whatsoever, he will only fall prey to his own insecurities and fears, instead of ignoring this and ruling the nation as he should.

            Saul’s bad actions as king do not end here. As a result of this jealousy and this perceived threat to his power, he makes an attempt on David’s life. “‘I’ll pin him to the wall,” Saul said to himself, and he threw the spear at him twice, but David dodged each time.” (1 Samuel 18:11) This action on the part of Saul shows what happens when one individual is given unbridled power: that person falls prey to his/her own devices and will only act for his/her benefit, regardless of the cost to others. In this case, Saul has allowed his personal insecurities to rise to the level of attempted murder. This clearly illustrates the danger of one man rule: he/she can do whatever he wants and there is no way of restraining them effectively without risking becoming a victim of a king’s wrath. Saul, instead of focusing on his job to act as a ruler of the nation and act in accordance with his own system, sees his own actions as a just exception to the rules that govern his own society.

            This conflict between David and Saul continues when Saul tries to kill David twice, when David flees from Saul and his court. David, before he left Saul, was again targeted by Saul to be killed, but he dodged again. While David is away from Saul, Saul orders the priests to reveal where David is and since they did not know, Saul orders their death. “‘Kill the Lord’s priests! They conspired with David and did not tell me that he had run, even though they knew all along’” (1 Samuel 22:17). Saul has again shown his willingness to act on the basis of pure suspicion, without even stopping to think, even when the fate of many people is in his hands. Saul did not even ask for evidence supporting the accusations made against the priests. He just acted on his own free will. This reinforces the point that having a king is dangerous because if the nation relies upon one ruler, and if that ruler is corrupt, paranoid, and willing to do anything to get ahead, then the king’s officials are going to reflect that mentality. The people themselves have no way of being able to rectify any injustices against them because the king will use his power to suppress any complaints as rebellious or treasonous acts the state, and will be punished fully and be made an example for others.

            The final dangerous act committed by Saul, which shows that there is no need for a king, is when he is confronted by David on why he is trying to kill him. David tells Saul, “‘You are hunting me down to kill me, even though I have not done anything wrong’” (1 Samuel 24:11). Saul says in response, “‘You are so right, and I am wrong. You have been so good to me, while I have done wrong to you!’” (1 Samuel 24:17). This appears to be a genuine, sincere response by King Saul: that he realizes his errors and is willing to amend them. The only problem is once again, he goes after David and again David asks Saul for the reason he is doing this, notwithstanding the fact Saul has admitted his wrong the last time. Saul again promises not to go after David again, “‘I have done wrong. Come back. David, my son! I will never harm you again, because you have spared my life tonight. I have been a fool! I have done a terrible thing!’” (1 Samuel 26:21). These words now seem like an empty promise because despite the fact he admitted his mistake the first time, he did it again. This example shows how dangerous King Saul is due to the fact he cannot even be trusted to keep his own word! How can there be an effective king in a nation if he is not to be trusted? What is the point in having a king if you never know what he is going to do? This shows a major problem with kings and the power they have due to the fact that a king could act arbitrarily and there could be no recourse to stop the king at all.

            The next king who succeeds Saul is King David. Unlike Saul, King David’s reign is much longer and he is capable of more vile acts than Saul was as king. An example of this is demonstrated when Abner is killed by Joab for killing Joab’s brother Asahel. Instead of acknowledging responsibility that he knew that there was an unavoidable conflict between the two, he allows for them to fight each other and then blames Joab after the fact. “‘The Lord knows that my subjects and I are completely innocent of the murder of Abner. May all the punishment for it fall on Joab and all of his family!’” (2 Samuel 28:29). David only reprimands his military commander Joab; he does not even impose punishment on Joab. This is another problem with having a king: even though his subjects can commit vile crimes, unless they go against him or his family, he will protect them, if they can used for any political advantage that can be gained from keeping them. David’s words were not even really a complaint, and instead they were an unofficial sanction of Joab’s acts.

            Another one of David’s acts, which is a flagrant abuse of power, is between him and Bathsheba. He noticed that she was bathing alone, and he desired her and slept with her. The only problem with Bathsheba is she is married to Uriah, and also is pregnant by David. David sends for Uriah and tries to get him to go home and sleep with his wife, so David could not be held responsible for his act of getting her pregnant. However Uriah refuses to go home, so David “wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by Uriah. He wrote: ‘Put Uriah in the front line, where the fighting is heaviest, then retreat and let him be killed’” (2 Samuel 11: 14-15). This is definitely an evil thing to do: David is covering up his crime, by having the only person, Uriah, who would have had a problem with this, killed. This is clearly an abuse of power designed not only to set an example to those who do not follow his orders, but also to show that the king can do no wrong. Even if he is doing wrong, then his status as king exempts him from responsibility.

            Therefore, having kings in Israel is an unnecessary evil that only causes more problems than it is worth having. Both David and Saul show what happens when you possess the power of a king: he ultimately becomes a corrupted, despotic ruler who only acts in ways that will benefit his own rule or those who are of immense importance that the king needs to rule, and the king and his advisors are above the law, which provides an unlimited potential for the abuse of power. Kings through history have shown that when they possess the power, they are mostly corrupted officials who are willing to do anything to maintain their power, even at the expense of their own subjects, especially those who are poor and cannot fight back to stop the king’s actions. Thus, Saul and David’s actions remind people of the old maxim, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Clearly as a result of possessing absolute power, they became slaves to the power they had, instead of the masters of that power.


Here are two strong essays written for an in-class assignment on Greek tragedies in Fall, 2006.  The first discusses the bad end of Oedipus, a good man.  It is thoughtful and well organized; it earned an A-B+.

In Sophocles' play Oedipus the King, Oedipus is a good man.  However, the end of his life is one that a good man should not have.  Oedipus was a good man for many reasons.  Upon hearing his fate of killing his father and marrying his mother, he left his homeland so that could not happen.  He also kept his word about what he would do to the murderer of Laius.

One reason why Oedipus is a good man is because he tries to reverse his horrible fate.  "I was fated to lie with my mother...and I was doomed to be the murderer of the father that begat me.  When I heard this I fled" (Oedipus the King, ll. 865-69).  When Oedipus hears this, he does not want it to happen.  If he were to kill his father and marry his mother, he would be a horrible person.  So in order for him to continue being a good person, he had to leave his family and country behind.  He feels that it is better to go to a new country than to accept his fate.

Another reason why Oedipus is a good man is that he kept his word about the murderer of Laius, even though it was himself.  When he hears the story of Laius' death, Oedipus says, "Upon the murderer I invoke this curse--may he wear out his life in misery to miserable doom!" (Oedipus the King, ll. 260-63)  He wants the murderer to be banished from the country and to live his life in misery.

When Oedipus finds out that he is the murderer, he does not use his power as king to get out of his law.  He immediately blinds himself and then tells Creon, "You shall send me out to  live away from Thebes" (Oedipus the King, l.88).  Oedipus wants Creon to banish him from Thebes.  This shows that Oedipus is a good man because he keeps his word.  He now has to live his life in misery because he is blind and lives in another country.

Another reason why Oedipus is a good man is that he cares for his children.  Before he leaves the country, he tells his daughters to pray like this, "Give me a life wherever there is opportunity to live, and a better life than was my father's" (Oedipus the King, ll. 1580-83).  He wants his daughters to live a better life than he did. He leaves them behind while he goes to suffer in another country.  Oedipus does not want his daughters to have to suffer.

Only people who are good act the way Oedipus does.  This is why Oedipus is a good man.  Oedipus' life ends up so badly because he tried to defy the gods.  He tries to reverse his fate, and that eventually leads to his fate coming true. If he had never tried to reverse the fate, he might not have ended up killing his father and marrying his mother.  One cause that leads to Oedipus' bad end is that he tried to reverse his fate.  Because he did so, he actually confirms it.  Another cause is that he is a good man.  Since he is a good man, he tries to reverse his fate.  These two causes lead to his bad end.


The second essay compares Clytemnestra and Medea as two strong female characters.  Because the writer ran out of time, the writer did not write as complete a conclusion as might be.  Otherwise, the essay is well organized and full of good quotations and good points of similarity.  It received an A-.

Medea and Clytemnestra, in the plays Medea and Agamemnon respectively, share characteristics that are usually perceived as strong for women.  Examples of these characteristics are vengefulness, manipulation, and their special abilities.  Both of them are different, however, in the way that they carry their plans of revenge out and the way they are able to manipulate people.  The authors of these plays use literary elements of foreshadowing and irony to convey their points.

We are introduced to Medea's strong character by the Nurse's speech at the opening which conveys to the reader that Medea is dangerous.  We also realize that in order for her to run away with Jason, her disloyal husband who has married another woman, she killed her own brother.  With these examples, the author uses foreshadowing to convey to his readers the strong personality of Medea and her potential to hurt others in her anger.

We also find that Medea is a strong character when she is willing to sacrifice (kill) her own children in order to avenge the hurt that her husband caused her by marrying another woman.  For instance, in lines 776-81, Medea proclaims, "For I shall kill my own children.  My children, there is none who can give them safety.  And I shall leave the land and flee from the murder of my dear children....  For it is not bearable to be mocked by enemies."  From this quote, the reader knows ahead of time what lies in store for the children.  However, we also realize that she calls her children "dear children," meaning that she loves them.  The fact that she is willing to sacrifice something that is dear to her in order to hurt her betrayer shows that she is not a soft woman.  From her words, "For it is not bearable to be mocked by enemies," we also recognize that one of her motives for revenge is fear of losing her pride in front of other people.  Usually we find that men are the ones who go to the extreme to protect their honor and pride, but Medea doing this from the desire to protect her pride shows that she is not an ordinary woman but a strong one.

We also witness in the beginning of the play that she is an extraordinary persuader in the way that she is able to sway the women to her side by using phrases like "We women suffer the most," therefore applying her cause to the other women.  Medea also displays her extraordinary abilities like magic when she makes a poison dress to kill the princess and consequently the father.  We also know that Medea is manipulative when she pretends that everything is all right.  For instance,  she says, "We have made peace and all our anger is over" (l. 873).  Medea is not only manipulative but intelligent in the way she chooses to hurt Jason.  She does not kill him but rather kills the children since children are a symbol of a man's worth and honor.

Clytemnestra in the play Agamemnon shares similarities with Medea.  She too is a strong character.  For instance, when her husband Agamemnon went to Troy, she was able to rule the city, which is not common to see even in contemporary times.

Like Medea, she is hurt by her husband.  However, Clytemnestra is angry and vengeful because Agamemnon sacrificed her daughter Iphigenia to Artemis to obtain a favorable wind for the Greek fleet.  She is similar to Medea because she seeks revenge for the hurt  that her husband caused but in a rather different way.

She shows character traits like manipulation and her power of persuasion when she lures Agamemnon to walk on the expensive cloth which depicts his deep and high hubris and pride, and, in the process, reveals his propensity for destroying things that are valuable.  She says, "If Priam had won as you have, what would he have done?" (l. 908).  This quote is important because it communicates to Agamemnon that he should celebrate and be proud of the fact that his enemies did not triumph over him.

Like Medea, Clytemnestra kills an innocent person in her quest to avenge her hurt.  She kills Cassandra, who is a princess brought from Troy as a concubine for Agamemnon.  Cassandra is important because her speech reveals the imminent death that awaits Agamemnon and Cassandra, thereby foreshadowing these deaths for the audience.

Clytemnestra shows pride when she declares that she struck Agamemnon twice and then a third time and that he deserved it because he killed her daughter.  This speech shows she is similar to Medea because we find that both of these characters try to justify their actions to the chorus.  

Although Medea and Clytemnestra are different in the way they go about avenging their losses, we find that both show similar traits like manipulativeness, cleverness, special abilities, pride, persuasiveness and the ability to do what society deems as awful, that is, killing or murdering a person.


Here are two essays, written for the first essay assignment in Lit. 230, Fall, 2003, that I consider well done.  They both answer this question on Homer's Odyssey:

In the first essay, note that the writer has a clear thesis in the first paragraph (in bold), examples and quotations in the middle that both illustrate this thesis and elaborate it, and a conclusion in the next-to-last paragraph that takes the thesis a bit further.  The only weakness is that the final paragraph, which merely repeats the intro, is not entirely necessary.  The paper received an A-B+.

ESSAY 1 on The Odyssey

What Kind of Hero Is Odysseus?

Cleverness and fearlessness are definitely two qualities that someone must possess if he or she wishes to classify him or herself as a hero. Surely you cannot be a hero without these two traits because as a hero it is your job to put yourself in harm’s way so that others can be saved. Odysseus clearly has these two traits in him, which make him such a great hero. However, he also possesses a quality that tends to take away from his other good traits. Odysseus at times can be someone who looks for trouble, which makes him at times an instigator of some of the hardships that he and his crew endure. I cannot say that that is a trait which is found in many heroes. I don’t recall ever reading that Superman or any other hero for that matter boasted about what he or she had accomplished. Despite the flaw that Odysseus has, he is still a true hero because he always takes on the hard times that come his way and never gives up.

Odysseus shows throughout The Odyssey how much of a clever individual he is. The episode, however, that strikes me the most is when he meets the Cyclops. The Cyclops is unaware that Odysseus is concocting a scheme to attack him once he drinks enough wine to get drunk. Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his name is "Nobody." When Odysseus and his crew start to attack the Cyclops, the Cyclops shouts out to his friends, "Nobody, friends, Nobody’s killing me now by fraud and not by force" (Bk.. 9, 454-55). Odysseus knew that when the Cyclops’s friends heard the Cyclops tell them how "Nobody" was killing him, they would just ignore him. This allows Odysseus to blind the Cyclops and save the rest of his crew.

Odysseus shows how much of a fearless individual he is when he has to meet Circe. Eurylochus returns to Odysseus to tell him how his crewmen were turned into animals. Eurylochus fears that the same thing would happen to Odysseus saying, "Don’t force me back there, captain, king-- leave me here on the spot. You will never return yourself, I swear, you’ll never bring back a single man alive. Quick, cut and run with the rest of us here-- we can still escape the fatal day!" (Bk. 10, 293-98). Odysseus hears every word but speaks these words in return, "Eurylochus, stay right here, eating, drinking, safe by the black ship. I must be off. Necessity drives me on." (Bk. 10, 299-301). The fact that Odysseus puts his life on the line in order to rescue his crewmen shows that he knows what he has to do as a captain. He could not just let his men be turned into animals and not do anything to rescue them. Odysseus goes to meet Circe and rescues his friends.

The one trait about Odysseus that I think is unique to him is how much of an instigator he can be at times. After Odysseus successfully defeats the Cyclops and saves his men, he can easily just set sail and his life, and the life of his crew would be safe. However, instead, Odysseus decides to gloat about what he has accomplished. Odysseus tells the Cyclops, "Cyclops-- if any man on the face of the earth should ask you who blinded you, shamed you so-- say Odysseus, raiders of cities, he gouged out your eye, Laertes’ son who makes his home in Ithaca" (Bk. 9, 558-62). When he reveals to the Cyclops his true name, the Cyclops makes a prayer to his father, Poseidon, that Odysseus, "Never reaches his home. Or if he’s fated to see his people…let him come home late and come a broken man" (Bk. 9, 590-93). When the Cyclops says those words, Poseidon hears them and makes Odysseus’s journey home long and painful.

It would appear that the Greeks liked their hero to be one who is clever, fearless and a little conceited. This makes for a better story because you have the hero who never backs down from a fight and then when he wins boasts about it. Having a hero who is an instigator will guarantee that there will always be stories to be told about the great trials that that hero went through. Sure people would like their heroes to be a little bashful, but the bashful hero does not have nearly as many adventures as the boasting hero does. The bashful hero will try to find a charmer’s way of resolving the problem. Odysseus has a lot of good traits, but he also possesses one that ends up making his life difficult and hard.

Odysseus is clearly a hero, a unique one but a hero nonetheless. He accomplishes many feats, although some of them were his fault. He never gives up despite the hardship that he endures and is not satisfied until he makes it back home to his native land of Ithaca. I believe that although he possesses some flaws, he is still a hero who should be admired.

ESSAY 2 on The Odyssey

Note that this second essay, which should have been given a title, develops each of the writer's points about Odysseus in ample middle paragraphs with textual citations in each one.  The writer also tries to connect the three highlighted qualities to one another.  The conclusion tries to take the essay a step further, but it is a bit too short to do the job fully.  It received an A-.

If you asked me what I thought were the characteristics of a hero, I would say an intelligent, articulate, and honorable person. These are definitely qualities that Odysseus has in Homer’s Odyssey. I believe that this is an outline also of the characteristics that the Greeks thought man should have. The Odyssey has characters with personalities of all sorts, and you can see those that represented the Greek culture and those that were looked upon with shame.

            There are many lines throughout the poem that show Odysseus’ intelligence. We also know how clever he is because of the love that the Goddess Athena (goddess of intelligence and war) has for him. In the Odyssey even before we meet Odysseus himself, we are told of his wise ways. When the son of Odysseus, Telemachus, meets Queen Helen, she tells him stories of his father, and one that stuck with me was the one where Odysseus, “Scarring his own body with mortifying strokes, throwing filthy rags on his back like any slave, [he] slipped into the enemy’s city, roamed its streets—all disguised, a totally different man, a beggar… That’s how Odysseus infiltrated Troy , and no one knew him at all.”(4, 274-80) This shows his clever ways that got him into the city which he helped destroy to bring back the beloved queen to her husband. In reading this passage you can see that Odysseus is a hero, but this is only the beginning of the stories that we hear or see throughout the poem.

            When I say articulate, I mean a person who knows how to speak and present himself well in any circumstance, and we also see this characteristic in Odysseus. When Odysseus sets foot on the land of the Phaeacians, the first person he sees is Princess Nausicaa. Now Nausicaa is a young lady, and Odysseus has just reached land after being thrown off a ship and battling with the sea. He is naked and he is filthy, and he takes all this into consideration before he even lets himself come in the eyesight of Nausicaa. When he decides that he cannot wrap his arms around her knees because of the state that he is in and also because of her youth, he approaches her in a perfect manner. He speaks to her and he gives her nothing but compliments knowing that this will win a young girl’s heart and she will help him get to the person he needs to see in order to finally complete his mission home. “Here I am at your mercy, princess—are you a goddess or a mortal? …Compassion—princess, please! You, after all that I have suffered, you are the first I’ve come to. I know no one else… Show me the way to town, give me a rag for cover…And may the good gods give you all your heart desires.” (6, 163-98) After hearing all this, the princess could only help this man, and that’s exactly what she does. This shows Odysseus as being articulate, but it is also another episode of him using his wits to get what he needs.

            Honorable: everything that Odysseus deals with and survives to make it back to Ithaca is honorable. He outsmarts goddesses, he gives his all to save his men, he actually gives up the opportunity to become immortal and live forever. Why?  Because he wants to go home to his beloved family and land. I also believe what makes him honorable is the fact that King Agamemnon had told Odysseus not to trust any woman including his wife because of what Agamemnon’s wife did to him, but when he finally reveals himself to his wife, he tells her all and he holds nothing back. He tells her of all the trials that he had gone through to get to Ithaca.  He even tells her “how he reached Ogygia’s shores and the nymph Calypso held him back… craving him for a husband—cherished him, vowed to make him immortal… but she never won the heart inside him, never.” (23, 376-80) This makes him a million times more honorable to me because he shared with his wife the honest truth about his life without her.

            Odysseus also has the strength of a couple of men together, he has the looks and the works which I also believe the Greeks valued because everyone they speak of is so beautiful that people tend to think they are gods. But I believe on the top of the Greeks’ list of how to be a hero and how to be a true Greek are living through your intelligence, never giving up, and staying honorable to the very end.

 Here is one essay written for the essay assignment on Aeschylus' three plays The Oresteia..   The thesis in the first paragraph is fully developed in the middle.  It received an A- (its conclusion needed to go further than the paper's intro).  It also needed a title.

Essay on Aeschylus

Aeschylus’ Oresteia is a graphic and poignant series of 3 plays whose primary purpose was to convey the political transition from monarchy to tyranny and finally to the establishment of a democratic society.  In doing so he also excelled in portraying this politically evolving society’s sense of morality and justice.  In maintaining that a monarchy-driven civilization and one subjected to tyranny sustained vicious cycles of  bloodthirsty vengeance, he showed that a democracy is the form of governing that would exact civil justice and put an end to blood justice.  The dominant theme of this series of plays is that murder and the malicious thirst to avenge would never satisfy justice, but it would only breed fresh ruinous urges to kill.  He showed that the law, derived and upheld by mortal men in court, once objectively applied, would ensure that both sides would be justly heard, a righteous verdict would be announced and  no man would be arrogant or heedless enough to take the law into his own hands.

Aeschylus makes the endings of the first 2 plays so similar in order to accentuate this political creed.  In doing so he equates the brutal acts of revenge of both Clytemnestra and Orestes.  His gruesome depiction of both murder scenes implies that neither the mother’s nor the son’s manner of lifting the curse of butchered kin that festers in the spirit of their house will be effective.  Of great importance is the crimson, embroidered robe that Clytemnestra uses to lure her husband into the house.  It is a piece of cloth that will have deep symbolism by the end of the Oresteia.  In Agamemnon, it is the shroud that clothed the freshly bathed body of Agamemnon, which will in the end cover his stabbed corpse and the dead body of his mistress, the prophetess Cassandra.  “This was my work, I do not deny it, he could not have escaped his destiny.  I cast my vast net, tangling around him, wrapping him in a robe rich in evil,” cries Clytemnestra standing amid the bodies of her victims (ll.1380-1383, p.55) .  Holding her weapon of death dripping with blood, she feeds the unquenched, ensanguined floor of the house, but she believes that the evil will be terminated for “by the justice [she] exacted for [her] child, by Ruin, and the Fury in whose honor [she] sacrificed this man” (ll. 1432-1433, p.57), the ancient legacy of death and ruin that runs through the veins of this damned family will be obliterated and will take “its evil to some other family” (ll. 1573, p.62).  But this will not be the case, for “It is the law, that spilled blood soaking the ground demands blood in return.  Murder screams for the Furies to stand for those long dead, to bring on Ruin in the trail of Ruin” ( ll. 400-404, p.85).

In the Libation Bearers Orestes will return to his homeland to avenge his father’s death.  Threatened with great misfortunes by the god Apollo if he fails to honor his father’s death by killing his own mother, Orestes uses deceit just as his mother did and lies his way into his own house.  The red, blood-drenched robe will now cover the murdered bodies of his mother and her lover, Aegisthus, suggesting that the chain of murderous events has not been broken: “A trap for a wild animal, a shroud of death from head to foot, a robe from the bath to cover a coffin.  No, it is a trawling mesh, a hunting net, a garment to fetter the feet” (ll. 998-1001, p.110).  Another hideous scene of murder is put before the audience and readers; Orestes also in his turn stands above the deceased bodies of his mother and her lover and excuses himself: “While I still have my sanity, know this: I killed my mother with Justice at my side.  She was a defiled murderer, the gods hated her” (ll. 1026-1028, p.111).  But his confidence begins to falter and he begins to feel the gravity of his immoral doings: “I must run from the blood that I shed, run from my own blood” (ll.1038, p.111).  The Furies, hideous-looking, ‘vengeful hellhounds’, deities that avenge those murdered by kin, begin to haunt Orestes.  Their ulterior motive is to kill him, drink his blood, take revenge for the damned spirit of Clytemnestra.  Aeschylus ends the 2nd play by inquiring, “When will it end? When will it be calm?  When will it sleep, this fury, this Ruin?” (1075-1076, p.113).  He does this to demonstrate one more time that more death, more spilled blood, more hatred will only continue to perpetuate itself.  The intensity of these scenes evokes feelings of disgust but also a sense of mercy and a final perception that the law of retribution will never eliminate the urge to avenge. 

In the final play, The Furies, Aeschylus assembles all parties, the guilty, the vengeance seekers, the gods and the good men of Athens, to give life to the first civil court of a democratic society.  Athena, goddess of human ingenuity and resourcefulness, born from the head of Zeus, motherless, impartial and just, founds this court and insists that “the citizens must uphold the law and there can never be no deviation, for pure water can never be drawn once the well has been fouled.  There will be no anarchy, nor the rule of tyranny.  Citizens, embrace the middle way, but never banish fear, for the mortal who has no fear can never know Justice” (ll. 694-699, p.146).  The court acquits Orestes and the goddess Athena appeases the infuriated Furies who believe they have been disgraced and robbed of their ancient rights by promising to build them shrines and ensuring them that they will receive respect and be worshiped with honor, instead of being feared and despised as they were before.  The infamous red cloth is once again presented but in a much different light: “clothe them in robes of honor steeped in crimson, lead on the light, burn high the torches.  This communion of kindness shining on our land will reap an eternal harvest of great, good men” (ll. 1028-1031, p.159).  The crimson robe no longer symbolizes death, malice and vengeance but honor and respect.  Finally, peace is restored and true justice prevails.  The Furies, instead of chanting their spellbinding curses and wretched magic, now sing a blessed benediction: “Let dust not drink the citizen’s blood, may slaughter not breed slaughter, no more blood-crazed retribution, for this city will never feed Ruin” (ll. 980-983, p.157).

Aeschylus’ Oresteia is a brilliant account of how blood justice and revenge cause only further disaster and  bloodshed.  The establishment of a court run by a democratic people is portrayed as the most virtuous way to urge a society to respect not fear the law and the most efficient way to terminate legacies of hatred and revenge.