Comparative Literature 30A: Topics for the First Essay

Due Date: July 7, in class.

General Instructions: Write a five-page (1400-1600 word) essay on a topic related to Gilgamesh, The Exaltation of Inanna, or The Odyssey. This essay should have a clear, unified topic and an identifiable, arguable thesis statement backed by solid evidence. Your personal response to the material can guide your thoughts, but you must establish your claims using evidence and argumentation considered valid within the discipline of literary criticism or literary history. If you use secondary sources, make sure they are of reasonable quality (no personal web sites, Cliff Notes, or Encarta) and cite them properly. If you decide to use one of the suggested topics, make sure you narrow its focus and make a strong thesis.

  1. Choose one or two of the works and examine how it represents the responsibilities of a ruler toward his subjects and his city. Why (for example) do the people of Uruk ask the gods for help in controlling Gilgamesh’s behavior? Why does Enheduanna think she is justified in asking for Inanna’s help in removing Lugalanne from power? What justifies the continued kingship of Odysseus, and what rulers in the Odyssey have demonstrated poor leadership? What is the difference between rule and misrule in these works, and what can be done about it? Be sure to narrow your focus sufficiently to give your essay depth.
  2. What role does marriage play in any of the societies represented by these works? Why does the institution matter to society as a whole, and not just to the two people who get married?
  3. What are the responsibilities of hosts and guests, and why does this make such a difference in the Odyssey? Why is more than courtesy at stake? What are the characteristics of a good host or a good guest, and what are those of a bad one? Make sure your essay has a central thesis—let us what the concept of hospitality really means.
  4. Both Gilgamesh and the Odyssey contain journeys to the underworld, in which the hero characters from other literary or mythological works. Examine one or both of these journeys, and determine this kind of journey means about the relationship between a work and its competitors or predecessors. In addition, you might consider what these journeys have to do with storytelling and/or reading. What model for literary understanding and knowledge does a trip to the underworld convey?
  5. Each of the works we have studied so far contains either explicit or implicit portraits of storytellers: bards, sirens, poets, priestesses, and even heroes like Odysseus and Utanapishtim. What do these figures tell us about the author (or authors) of a work? What do these figures mean for the interpretation of literature?
  6. Your own topic involving a work or works from the first half of the course, based on an important theme or concept.