Lit. 230 Writing Assignments - Spring 2013


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


On the dates listed in the SYLLABUS, you will spend the first 10 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 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 fail essays that show no acquaintance with the text.  And if you are late or absent the day of a mini-essay, you cannot make it up.  Each missed or failed quiz means 2 points off your in-class essay grade, discussed next.  Together with the in-class essays described next, these mini-essays account for 60% of your final grade.


On Feb. 26, March 21, and May 2, you will write a one-hour in-class essay on the reading we have discussed in the preceding weeks.  I will tell you the possible topic(s) for these in-class essays ahead of time.  You will be able to use your book and one page of notes as you write because you will have to refer to and quote from the text.  I will read these essays as if they were drafts of papers.  You may also reuse some of these essays for your one at-home paper, described next.  These 3 in-class essays will count for 20% each, or 60% of your final grade


Everyone must write one paper at home.  You may write your one paper for any of 3 due dates, depending on the texts you want to write about.  You earn 2 bonus points on your final grade if you write your paper by April 23.  The 3 due dates are:

Your paper should be 4-5 pages (at least 1000 words) on one topic from the lists 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.  You may recycle writing you did in class if it fits your 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, 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, a service that tracks down the sources of plagiarized papers.  If you can find a paper on the Internet, so can  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.  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.  This one longer essay is worth 20% of your final grade.

To sum up, each essay should contain:

I will grade your essay on:


READ the general info about these essays, above, before writing.  Then choose one of the following dates and topics for your paper. Whichever topic you choose, begin with an epigraph, a brief quotation from the text you're examining (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 text at least 3 times to support what you say.

ESSAY #1: The Iliad   DUE: March 5  (earns 2 bonus points)

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

2.  Discuss the theme of supplication in several key scenes involving Achilles.  Wht 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 supplication scenes from the beginning, middle, and end of the Iliad for a complete picture of Achilles' internal conflict.

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 from the beginning, middle, and end of the Iliad to make your essay rich in textual support.

 4.  Contrast what happens in Book 24 of the Iliad with what happens in Book 1.  (Think of Book 24 as a repetition of Book 1, but in reverse order.)  In your analysis, try to explain why Book 24 is a satisfying ending to the poem, even though the story of Troy is not still finished.  Use specific examples from the Iliad to make your essay rich in textual support.

MUSEUM TOPICS: If you have taken my Ancient Greek Art podcast tour, you may want to choose one of these topics for your paper.

5.  How do the pieces of ancient armor you saw in the museum compare and contrast with the armor Homer's warriors wear?  Consider, for ex., how the real armor and examples of armor in the Iliad would honor their wearer.  Consider how the real armor and examples of armor in the Iliad protect or do not protect their wearer.  What else does the real armor "tell" you about ancient warriors in comparison to what Homer describes?

6.  In the Iliad, Achilles

ESSAY #2: The Aeneid or Greek Tragedy  DUE: April 23 (earns 2 bonus points)

1. There are many tragic deaths and a great deal of suffering in the Aeneid. What point or points do you think Virgil is making by depicting these tragedies? After all, isnít he writing about the glorious founding of Rome? Choose three examples of tragic deaths or other suffering in the poem to illustrate what you think is/are Virgilís reason(s) for including them. Refer to and quote from these examples in your essay.

2.  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." That is, what noble qualities does she possess?  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.

3. Sophocles produced Antigone about ten years before Oedipus Tyrannus. Some readers see Oedipus in the later play as a combination of traits from both Antigone and Creon in the earlier play. Show that this is true, and discuss whether it is this combination of traits or some other factor that makes Oedipus a tragic figure.  Quote from or refer to the play, citing line numbers, to support what you say.

4. The play Antigone displays the conflict between the rights of the family and the laws of the state or community. This conflict between private rights and public laws remains with us today in America. Analyze both Creonís position and Antigoneís opposing position (causes, effects, what is ethical/not ethical about each). Then compare their dilemma to a contemporary controversy over private rights vs. public law. How can that controversy be resolved without tragic results?  Quote from or refer to the play, citing line numbers, to support what you say.

5.  How are Oedipus and Pentheus both responsible and not wholly responsible for what happens to them in their plays? What other forces are at work in making their lives tragic?  Do you feel equal pity for them, or does one playwright arouse more pity in you for his tragic protagonist than the other?  Arrange your argument as a comparison, and develop a main point about the ways in which these tragedies arouse our pity.  Refer specifically to each play in your argument.

6.  Ancient audiences often claimed that Euripides disliked women or at least depicted them at the extremes of emotion.  For example, in the play Medea, Medea seems too bad to be realistic.  But then if we consider Hippolytos himself, he seems too good to be realistic.  Contrast these two 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 the play to support what you say.

7. Ancient Athenians felt that a woman's place was in the home. Yet in all the plays we have read, (Antigone, Oedipus Tyrannus, Medea, The Bacchae) the women come outside to take some action or other. The Greek audience would see this appearance of women as a sign that something was wrong in the world of the play and that the men were not "doing the right thing." Choose either Sophocles' Antigone or Oedipus Tyrannus and either Euripides' Medea or The Bacchae, and consider these remarks in terms of the women and men in the two plays. You will be doing so in order to compare/contrast the attitudes of the two playwrights toward the role of women. Be sure your essay makes a main point that unifies the similarities and/or differences you discuss. Also be sure to refer to several specific places in each work as evidence for what you say, citing lines.

MUSEUM TOPICS: If you have taken my Roman art podcast tour, you may want to choose one of these topics for your paper.

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. 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 "good Roman."


ESSAY #3:  Genesis and Exodus  DUE May 16

1. Look at how God is portrayed in several key scenes in both Genesis and Exodus (for ex., the creation in Gen. 1-4, and the parting of the Red Sea in Ex. 14). What qualities does he possess? How does he differ from the Greek gods as seen in the Odyssey and the Oresteia? Your essay should be a comparison/contrast in which you focus on God in the bible, using references to the Greek works to explain God more fully. Cite the chapters and verses of any biblical passages you use, as well as the books and/or lines of any passage from the Greek works. (Spell God with a capital G because that is his name, but spell god with a small g when referring to gods with other names, like Athena.)

2. Several important stories in Genesis involve brothers: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. What aspects of the relationships between brothers and between brothers and God does each of these three stories bring out? What conclusions do these stories lead you to make? (Interpret the word aspects broadly.) Be sure you have a main point to make about brotherhood in Genesis. Also be sure you refer to several specific places in Genesis as evidence for what you say, citing chapter and verse.

3. Jacob in Genesis, like Odysseus in the Odyssey, is a trickster who succeeds through his wits perhaps more than through his other qualities. Choose 3 or more scenes from Genesis  which Jacob resorts to trickery, and explain his motives for doing so and why you think God allows him to succeed. How does he suffer "payback" for his tricks? Be sure you have a main point about Jacobís trickiness, and cite specific verses from Genesis to explain what you mean.

4. Consider the women in Genesis. How is their portrayal evidence that the Israelites were a patriarchal culture? Choose 2 or 3 key women and show how their characters, words, and actions illustrate a patriarchal slant. Quote from and refer to specific passages to illustrate what you say, citing chapters and verses.

5. How might you adapt the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37-47 to a MODERN setting as a made-for-television movie? Write up your adaptation as a screenplay or short story, and then briefly defend it as if you were addressing potential producers of the movie. Keep the essential elements of the biblical story, but consider what would "sell" to a modern audience as well. At the end of your hypothetical proposal, cite the chapters and verses of the biblical story that inspired you.

6. Discuss the relationship between Moses and God in Exodus, and compare/contrast it with the relationship between Odysseus and Athena in the Odyssey. Focus on Exodus, and make some main point about God that explains Mosesí relationship with him. Refer to several places in Exodus as evidence for what you say, citing chapter and verse. Also cite the book and lines of any passages in the Odyssey that you use.

5. Oedipus in Sophoclesí play is a good man, and Joseph in Genesis 37-47 is a good man. Yet Oedipus comes to a tragic end, while Joseph achieves great success and is reunited with his family. What is the philosophy of human life that underlies Oedipus Tyrannos, and how does it contrast with the philosophy underlying Genesis? That is, how does each work explain what happens to each man? Use specific references from both the play and the biblical narrative in your contrast. (This is a challenging, but rewarding topic. See me for help if you like.)


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.