Pictures of a bowl showing Greek boys at school, a clay tablet inscribed with Sumerian cuneiform, and   Egyptian hieroglyphics:  3 kinds of ancient writing.

LOW-STAKES WRITING:  IN-CLASS MINI-ESSAYS

On the dates listed in the SYLLABUS, you will spend the first 10-15 minutes of class writing about a question I will pose on that day's reading.  I will alert you in the preceding class about some topics to consider as you do the reading so that you can come to class prepared to write about them.  Each mini-essay should quote from or refer to the text at least once or twice.  Use these textual references to support whatever point you are making.  For help with quoting a literary text, see QUOTING. Aim for conciseness so you can say what you want in 10-15 minutes.  

These mini-essays are LOW-Stakes Writing because I will not grade them. You are free to experiment and to make "mistakes."  I will comment, however, on the effectiveness of your thesis, the adequacy of your evidence, and the completeness of your essay.  I will also point out serious grammatical errors that you need to attend to in future.  All this commentary is to help you reconsider your thoughts and reuse them in the longer essays described below.

Although these mini-essays are not graded, they "count."  I will give zeros for essays that show no acquaintance with the text and for missing essays.  And if you are late or absent the day of a mini-essay, you cannot make it up.  Together with the essays described next, these mini-essays account for 60% of your final grade.

HIGH-STAKES WRITING:  AT-HOME ESSAYS

For Oct. 13, Nov. 12, and Dec. 10 (this third paper is optional), write at home a 3-4-page essay (at least 750 words) from the sets of topics below.  I expect your essay to show that you have read and thought about the text(s) and about the feedback you received on the in-class writing. You don't have to read or quote anything else.  One of the first two papers MUST be on a museum topic.

Each essay should have a thesis and evidence to support it, including at least THREE specific references to the text(s). By reference I mean either a quotation or a paraphrase of specific lines in the text followed by text title and line or page numbers in parentheses.  Use such references to support what you are saying about the text. See QUOTING for help.  See also the Model Student Essays below for examples of good textual references. Also look at Good Essays for other strong student writing for this course.  Do not summarize the plot in these essays; refer only to parts of the story that support your point of view.

I like to read clear, persuasive, correct prose. (Don't you?)  Some of the topics will ask you to compare/contrast. If you have forgotten how to organize such a piece, see Comparing and Contrasting, or see me. For more, excellent online assistance, see the "Writing about Literature" link on the English Dept.ís homepage, http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/~english. Students who took English 101 and 201 long ago and feel "rusty" and in need of one-on-one assistance should see someone in the Writing Center, 2450N.

Do not do any research on line or elsewhere for these essays.  I want your thoughts and responses to the books.  WARNING: The college now subscribes to Turnitin.com, a service that tracks down the sources of plagiarized papers.  If you can find a paper on the Internet, so can Turnitin.com.  I can find it also (I have done so easily). Do not be tempted by the "easy" availability of materials on the World Wide Web because if you hand in a paper that you took even partially off the Web, I will fail you for plagiarizing.  I am sure that you will have something to say on the topic you choose. Why lean on others to say it for you? If you need help, donít copy. Come see me instead! It is better to be late with your paper than to cheat and get it in on time.

Papers riddled with grammatical and mechanical errors will be DROPPED A FULL GRADE, so proofread carefully. Also, any paper graded "B" or lower may be REVISED to improve it for a possibly higher grade. If you decide to revise your paper, you must discuss the revision first with me and then hand in the revision within 2 weeks of the class on which I hand the papers back.  Missing essays are counted as zeros, and late essays are docked a half grade for every class they are late. 

Finally, I prefer that these essays be typed/printed (use size 12 point font). Each essay should have a cover sheet giving the paper's title, your name, the course section, and the date submitted.  I will not accept e-mailed papers except in an emergency.  Together with the in-class writings, these longer essays are  worth 60% of your final grade.

To sum up, each essay should contain:

I will grade your essay on:

TEXTS and DUE DATES

Essay #1, due Oct. 13  (Topic and Outline due Oct. 1):  On the Iliad.  

READ the general info about these essays, above, before writing.  Then choose one of the following topics for your paper. Whichever topic you choose, begin with an epigraph, a brief quotation from the Iliad (no more than 1-4 lines) that you center under your title and print in italics without quotation marks.  Choose for your epigraph something that powerfully states an idea central to your paper. In your paper, quote from the Iliad, and if you have chosen a museum-related topic, give the museum label number of any museum object you discuss. If you quote the words of the podcast or of any museum material, be sure to cite your source and use quotation marks.  If you choose a museum topic here, you do not have to write on a museum topic for the next paper.  On Oct. 1, bring to class to hand in your chosen topic and an outline of what you plan to cover in your paper.

NON-MUSEUM TOPICS

1. Contrast Hector and Achilles in the Iliad. In the context of the poem, who is the greater hero? Why? At what costs does one become a hero in this culture? Use specific examples and quotations from the beginning, middle and end of the Iliad to make your essay rich in textual support.

2. Discuss the theme of supplication in several key scenes involving Achilles. What do Achilles' reactions to these various supplications show us about the conflict he is feeling? Be sure to explain what supplication is, and refer to and quote from supplication scenes from the beginning, middle, and end of the Iliad for a complete picture of Achilles' internal struggle.

3. Even though Homer was composing the Iliad for a Greek audience, he went to great pains in his work to show that the enemy Trojans were just as human as the Greeks. Why do you think Homer did this? (Provide more than one reason.) Give several specific examples and quotations from the beginning, middle, and end of the Iliad to make your essay rich in textual support.


MUSEUM TOPICS

4. This topic is about ancient Greek armor.  Find 2-3 passages in the Iliad in which Homer describes the death of a warrior. See, for ex., the end of Book 4 and Books 16 and 20-22. Does the armor the warriors are wearing protect or not protect them? Then consider the pieces of ancient Greek armor you saw in the museum. How does this actual armor help explain the battle scenes you have chosen? What more have you learned about ancient Greek warriors from examining their armor? Write a paper discussing the scenes you chose from the poem in relation to the actual armor you saw.

5. In the Iliad, the sadness of Achilles over Patroclusí death brings out for us the pathos of human mortality. How does Achilles express his grief over the death of Patroclus? In what ways does he honor Patroclus? Now describe one ancient Greek grave monument displayed in the museum that also makes you feel the pathos of human mortality. Why do you think the survivors wanted such monuments? Relate what you say about the monument to Achillesí grief and desire to honor his friend. Let your main point be your opinion about Greek attitudes toward the death of loved ones.

6. The ancient Greeks imagined their gods in the shape of humans, or anthropomorphic, thus ennobling the human body. But the gods were greater than humans, even the great Achilles, because they never die. What other things distinguish Greek gods from mortals? Find 2 descriptions of different gods in the Iliad to illustrate their powers. Then find 2 ancient Greek paintings depicting gods. Which make the gods seem greater, the poem or the vase paintings? Write a paper in which you discuss the Homeric depictions of the gods, referring specifically to the text, and compare/contrast these with the vase paintings, which you also refer to specifically.

7. Is a picture more or less than a verbal description? Read in the Iliad, Book 13, lines 1-80, the description of Poseidonís journey to the battlefield to encourage the two Ajaxes. Then practice some slow looking at the drinking cup (kylix) representing this scene (Track 8 on the podcast, #1989.281.62). Do the two paintings, the god and heroes on one side and Poseidon's stable on the other, help you see something that you didn't notice or understand when you read the poem?  Does knowing the poem help you see anything in the paintings you might not have noticed otherwise?  What does the text leave out that the paintings include, and vice versa?   What responses do the paintings versus the poetic passage arouse in you as you examine them?  Discuss these questions in an essay in which your thesis is your opinion about the difference between a picture and a verbal description.

 

Essay #2 due Nov. 12:  On Gilgamesh / Aeneid / Oedipus Tyrannus  

READ the general info about these essays, above, before writing.  Then choose one of the following topics for your paper.   Many of these topics involve comparison/contrast.  Review some strategies for writing comparative essays at CompareIn your paper, quote from the relevant text, and if you have chosen a museum-related topic, give the museum label number of any museum object you discuss. If you quote the words of the podcast or of any museum material, be sure to cite your source and use quotation marks.  If you did not write on a museum topic for the first paper, you MUST choose a museum topic for this paper.


NON-MUSEUM TOPICS

1. There are many tragic deaths in the Aeneid (Dido, Pallas, etc.). What point or points do you think Virgil is making by depicting these tragedies? Choose three examples of tragic deaths in the poem to illustrate what you think is/are Virgilís reason(s). Refer to and quote from these examples in your essay.

 2. How is Aeneas different from Achilles in the Iliad? In your paper, you will be contrasting the new Roman hero created by Virgil with the older Homeric hero. Why must Aeneas be different from Greek heroes? In your explanation, refer to and quote from specific parts of the Aeneid. (While you should refer to specifics in the Iliad, your focus should be on the hero of the Aeneid. For help organizing your contrast, go to Compare.)

3. Dido's story is tragic, from great queen to suicide. The critic Viktor Poschl says, "Dido's tragedy develops from her great and noble soul....Everything she does and all that she suffers springs from her innermost being. She is doomed to die, not because of the situation, but because of the interaction of her character with the situation." First discuss some evidence in the poem that Dido has a "great and noble soul." Then show how her great nobility, interacting with events in Books 1 and 4 of the Aeneid, eventually causes her tragedy. Quote from the Aeneid to support what you say.

4. What do you think  Gilgamesh and Achilles experience when each loses his closest friend?  Compare and contrast the relationship of Gilgamesh and Enkidu with that of Achilles and Patroclus and the heroes' reactions to the deaths of Enkidu and Patroclus.  What life lessons does Gilgamesh learn by the end of his story?  Are these similar to or different from the lessons Achilles learns?   Organize your argument as a comparison/contrast with your focus on Gilgamesh, and refer specifically to and quote from each poem.  (For help organizing your comparison, go to Compare.)

5.  Considering Gilgamesh, Achilles, and Aeneas, in what respects are these ancient heroes both valuable and dangerous to others?  What are the qualities that make Gilgamesh heroic? Compare/contrast these qualities with those that make Achilles OR Aeneas heroic. What conclusion(s) can you draw from these similarities and/or differences?   (Set up your essay as a comparison/contrast with the emphasis on Gilgamesh.  Review strategies for writing comparative essays at Compare.)

6.  Oedipus in Oedipus Rex is a good and noble king, as Achilles in the Iliad is a good and noble warrior. Yet tragedy happens to both men. Compare the character traits and actions of the two men to show how these traits and actions lead to each manís tragic end. If they themselves caused their respective tragedies, why do we feel sorry for them? Refer to specific parts of the play and the epic in your discussion.

7.  Discuss the opposites that meet in the character of Oedipus in Sophocles' play Oedipus the King.  For example, he is both king and outcast, seeing and blind.  Why do you think Sophocles makes him a character of such extremes?  Be sure your essay makes a main point and refers to several places in the play as evidence for what you say, citing lines.  

MUSEUM TOPICS

8. Explain in your own words the propaganda that Augustus Caesar put out about himself and about Rome when he became emperor. How did he want people to think of himself and of Rome and the Romans? In your explanation, refer to some of the things you saw at the museum. Then discuss how Virgil supported Augustus Caesarís propaganda in his poem, the Aeneid. Hint:  Look in Books 6 and 8.  Quote from the poem 2-3 times.

9. Given what you learned by walking the Roman podcast, imagine what Augustus Caesar would think of various actions of Aeneas in Virgilís poem. Where in the Aeneid would he approve and where would he disapprove of Aeneas? Refer to and quote from 2-3 places in the poem. Also refer to a few objects in the museum that display what you think is Caesarís attitude about the ďgood Roman.Ē

10. Augustus Caesar wanted Romans to practice self-restraint, endurance, and simplicity in their public and personal lives. Yet the Romans, like Aeneas in Didoís kingdom, had access to all sorts of luxury and wealth. Show this contrast between a luxurious and a more restrained lifestyle by describing in your own words the two Roman bedrooms (Tracks 7 and 8 on the Roman podcast). Where in the Aeneid do we see Virgil showing the same negative attitude toward luxurious living and positive attitude toward self-restraint and a simple lifestyle? Hint:  Aeneas admires the grand city Dido is building, but Virgil sees it negatively as a distraction from Aeneas' mission.  Refer to and quote from 2-3 places in the poem.

 

Essay #3, due Dec. 10:  On Euripides' plays/ Catullus    

This last paper is OPTIONAL.  If you are satisfied with your course grades thus far, you need not write this paper.  READ the general info about these essays, above, before writing.  Then choose one of the following topics for your paper.  Many of these topics involve comparison/contrast.  Review some strategies for writing comparative essays at Compare

TOPICS:    

1.  Many modern scholars conclude that Euripides probably invented Medea's murdering of her children.  Why do you think Euripides has Medea kill her children at the end of the play Medea? Note that I am not asking why Medea murders them, but why the playwright created her as such a character.  Offer at least three possible reasons, and then argue in favor of one of them, using specifics from the play to prove your assertions.

2.   In Medea, Euripides took characters from mythology and made them seem like a real married couple.  Yet his play also contains supernatural, unrealistic elements.  How does Euripides make Medea and Jason seem like a real-life couple?  Cite 2-3 ways in which they seem real.  What are 1 or 2 unrealistic elements he puts in the play as well?  Why does he use them?  What do these add to his play?  Why do you think Euripides mixed these realistic and unrealistic elements in his play? 

3. Aristotle said that the two effects of a tragedy on the audience are pity and fear, pity for the suffering person(s) on stage and fear that the same fate might befall us. Compare/contrast the ending of Oedipus Tyrannus with that of Medea in light of Aristotleís remarks. Do you think that each play achieves in you or other audiences the same effects or different effects? Refer specifically to each play in your argument.

4. Ancient audiences often claimed that Euripides disliked women or at least depicted them at the extremes of emotion.  Some of his female characters, like Alcestis, seem too good to be realistic, and others, like Medea, seem too bad.  Compare/contrast these two female characters to try to explain why Euripides made them so extreme.  Do you think he has some point to make through these characters, or is he simply using them to create exciting drama?  Quote from each play to support what you say.

5.  Compare/contrast Catullus's anger toward Lesbia's infidelity in some of his poems with Medea's toward Jason's in the tragedy Medea. Your main focus should be on Catullus. Be sure your essay has one main point and that your similarities and/or differences are organized logically and coherently. Quote from Catullusís poems to support what you say.  (For help organizing your comparison/contrast, go to Compare.)

6.  Compare/contrast Catullus's anger toward Lesbia's infidelity in some of his poems with Dido's toward Aeneas in Virgil's Aeneid. Your main focus should be on Catullus. Be sure your essay has one main point and that your similarities and/or differences are organized logically and coherently. Quote from Catullusís poems to support what you say.  (For help organizing your comparison, go to Compare.)

7.  If you were to read Catullusís poems about Lesbia as a biographical account about the development of an actual love affair, how would you arrange the poems chronologically? Choose at least five or six of the Lesbia poems and argue for one way of arranging them chronologically. Which seem to be written early in the affair, which in the middle, which later and near the end? Quote from the poems to prove what you say. Be sure you make one main point in the essay as a whole.

 

 

Model Student Essays:

1.  This essay, written for Lit. 230 in Fall, 2002, answers the question "Is Achilles in Homer's Iliad  heroic?"  Note the writer's use of quotations in paragraphs 3 and 5 and his use of paraphrase in paragraph 4.  In paragraph 2, the writer argues for a view of heroism in the Iliad that is different from our own contemporary view.  In the third paragraph, the writer produces a thesis, which I have boldfaced.  It is the writer's opinion about Achilles' heroism according to the poem.

Achilles' Heroism

Is Achilles heroic? I believe many in todayís society view a heroic person as one who displays characteristics of leadership, bravery and courage under great duress. A hero is believed to be altruistic and noble in nature, and to have the uncanny ability to instill a sense of confidence and strength in people, no matter how desperate the situation. Despite how highly we envision our heroes, heroism is something that is often romanticized and is not really expected in todayís society.

However, in Homeric society, heroism has a slightly different meaning. In this society, being considered heroic is not only defined by a personís ability to exhibit bravery and courage; it holds a greater distinction. The label of hero is indicative of a manís station in society, lineage, relationship to the gods, wealth amassed and success on the battlefield. The accolades and respect given to men are also very important in this heroic society because they are a measurement of a manís glory and ultimately, his honor. Being heroic is a part of this societyís culture. Not only is it a way of life for men, but a way to fortify their legacies.

Achilles, as rated under these Homeric requisites, is heroic. Achillesí heroic persona is partially built around his being revered by his fellow Achaeans for his exploits on the battlefield, as well as his undying love and compassion for his countrymen. Patroclus expresses this reverence for Achilles during Hectorís storming of the Achaean ships on the beachfront. Patroclus says to the Myrmidons, "Remember whose men you are and whose honor you are fighting. And fight so that even wide-ruling Agamemnon will recognize his blind folly in not honoring the best of the Achaeans. FOR ACHILLES!" (Book 16.273-80). Although disappointed with Achilles for not joining in the battle, Patroclus leading the armyís charge in the name of Achilles is a testament of Achilles' heroic stature and the esteem they hold for him.

Achillesí distinction as a hero is further exemplified through his relationship with the gods. Achilles is the son of the goddess, Thetis, and is favored by several of the gods of Olympus, in particular the goddess Athena, who provides Achilles with guidance and watches over him. Athena notably prevents Achilles from killing Agamemnon in Book 1 when Agamemnon dishonors him by taking his war-prize, Briseis, from him, and informs him of the "magnificent gifts" he will receive because of Agamemnonís arrogance. The god Hephaestus also plays an intricate role; he designs Achillesí golden armor and vaunted shield, allowing him to reenter the war against Hector and the Trojans (Book 18). Both Hephaestus and Athena were also instrumental in rescuing Achilles when he battled with the river Scamander in Book 21. The constant involvement of the gods in Achillesí life is indicative of his stature in their eyes and mortals as well. Achilles association with the gods gives him the appearance of a "superhero," a man who is stronger, faster than everyone else. Hectorís depiction of Achilles during the war is representative of this; he referred to Achilles as having "hands of fire, and fury like cold steel" (Book 20.379) prior to his bloodthirsty tirade, murdering countless Trojans on the plains of Ilion in honor of Patroclus.

In spite of all of the signs indicating that Achilles truly is a hero, I feel that moment that best epitomizes Achillesí heroic nature is his willingness to disregard the prophecy of his impending death and honor the death of Patroclus by killing Hector. Achilles begins to reevaluate his perception of honor and realizes that honor is not measured by personal accolades or accomplishments in battle, but by virtue. This is shown when Achilles addresses Thetis and says, "Then let me die now. I was no help to him [Patroclus] when he was killed out there. He died far from home, and he needed me to protect him. . . .  Yes, the warlord Agamemnon angered me. But weíll let that be, no matter how it hurts, and conquer our pride, because we must. But know Iím going to destroy the man who destroyed my belovedóHector" (Book 18.101-20). Achilles at this point starts to go toward the path of recognizing that heroism is exhibited through actions of compassion and virtuosity. That in itself is heroic.

 

2.  In this next paper, written in Fall, 2001, the writer addresses the topic of what happens to characters in Homer's Odyssey who succumb to their appetites when they should control them.  The essay has an excellent thesis in boldface and a conclusion that takes this thesis a step further.  The writer also makes smooth connections between the examples in the middle of the paper.  Finally, note how book and line numbers are hidden after each quote.

The Trouble with the Belly

Throughout the Odyssey, characters that follow their bellies and succumb to their appetites rather than controlling themselves usually end up meeting their deaths, despite the idea that they thought they would be saving their lives by eating.  Homer, however, is not making a point about eating (or the desire to eat) in particular. He is rather trying to teach his audience that they must control all their desires.  Homer makes this theme prominent in the poem because he wants to suggest that one must use his mind before surrendering to desire. Three major events in the poem that support this thesis are the times when Odysseus' men encounter the one-eyed giant Polyphemus, when Odysseus' men are turned into swine by Circe, and when they eat the Sungod's sacred cattle on the island of Thrinacia.

As Odysseus and his men aimlessly wander the sea, they end up on a piece of land that one-eyed giants control.  At this point, Odysseus and his men are starving: they are out of food, and desperate to fill their bellies.  Odysseus is wise, but in Book 9 he learns that you will not always receive good hospitality nor have your starving belly satisfied by your host with food.  He and his crew descend into Polyphemus' cave, where they discover hordes of cheese and milk.  His crew encourages him to make away with what they have now and leave the island.  But Odysseus will not.  He says later, "But I would not give way--and how much better it would have been--not till I saw him, saw what gifts he'd give" (9, 257-59).  Greedy Odysseus would rather wait and see if he can get more out of the person who lives here.  When the giant arrives, Odysseus pleads, "But since we've chanced on you, we're at your knees in hopes of a warm welcome, even a guest-gift, the sort that hosts give strangers.  That's the custom" (9,300-02).  At this time in Greece, all who lived under the watchful eye of Zeus treated their guests warmly.  Odysseus knew this fact and wished to stay longer so he could make out with more gifts.  Little did Odysseus know that Polyphemus would reply, "We Cyclops never blink at Zeus and Zeus' shield of storm and thunder, or at other blessed gods--we've got more force by far" (9, 309-11).  After that, Odysseus and his men are held captive and some are eaten by Polyphemus.  Due to Odysseus' greed, six of his men are eaten, and he also loses two of his ships as they try to flee the one-eyed giant.

Barely escaping with their lives, Odysseus and his men reach the island of Aeaea, where Homer will again prove to the readers that one must control himself before he lets his lazy stomach make all the decisions, before he gives in to desire.  Odysseus sends a platoon of men led by Eurylochus to search for food.  Suddenly, the men are surrounded by mountain lions and wolves that do not have any intention of hurting them.  The men do not question the fact that these man-eating animals do not attack them.  Instead, the drugged animals lead them to Circe's gates.  Here they are captivated by singing that makes them move closer to the palace, but not once do the men stop to question their actions.  They make their way inside, where Circe gives them a place to sit and a poisonous potion to drink.  After the drinks are finished, Circe strikes the men with her wand and they become mindless pigs.  Not one man said a word to Circe after entering her house. Instead they are seduced by the food and drink she has to offer.  Luckily, Eurylochus, who had cautiously stayed outside, runs to the ship and tells Odysseus, who skillfully goes and saves his men by resisting her drink.

Homer goes on to make his case for the necessity of controlling the human appetites when Odysseus and his men arrive in Thrinacia.  On this island, the Sungod grazes his fertile cattle.  Odysseus and his men are brought to this land by the winds, and once again they search for food.  Tiresias, a Theban prophet, had earlier warned Odysseus that any man who feeds off the Sungod's cattle would face death because the Sungod has much love for his cattle.  Odysseus explains to his men what will happen if the cattle are harmed, but the men's promise to obey their leader soon diminishes.  For several days the men are stranded there and food becomes scarce.  One day while Odysseus is asleep, they kill and roast some of the cattle.  When Odysseus wakes up and sees what they have done, he knows it's too late to save them: "The hides began to crawl, the meat, both raw and roasted, bellowed out on the spits, and we heard a noise like the moan of lowing oxen" (12, 426-28).  The Sungod pleads to Zeus for vengeance, and in Book 12, ll. 416-19, Zeus says that he will send a lightning bolt to their ships and smash them to splinters.  The men still pay no attention to Odysseus and the signs from the gods, and for six more days they eat the cattle.  When they leave, the skies begin to turn black and lightning begins to strike the ships.  The ships are all destroyed, and all the men, except Odysseus, are killed.

In the Odyssey, Homer succeeds in teaching his readers that a crying belly (a human desire) is dangerous and must be controlled, for it will eventually reveal itself to your enemies and make you vulnerable.  Your enemies will then react to your weakness by enticing you, making it seem like they want to feed you or satisfy your desire.  They will fill you with food and lies, however, and will strike you down like so many of the men in the Odyssey.