Comparative Literature 30A: Topics for the Second Essay

Due Date: Wednesday, July 23, in class.

General Instructions: Write a five-page (1400-1600 word) essay on a topic related to any of the following works: Oedipus Rex, Antigone, Symposium, Beowulf, El Cid, or Inferno. 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 development of knowledge and/or human consciousness. For example, how does Sophocles describe knowledge and understanding in Oedipus, and why does he reveal such ambivalence toward it? Why does Plato include the alternative arguments about love, and what does Socrates’ mode of argumentation have to say about the competing literary models put forth by Agathon and Aristophanes? Be sure to cite specific examples from the text or texts you use and examine the language of the text carefully.
  2. All of the works listed above discuss the rights and responsibilities of a citizen, either implicitly or overtly. What are they, and how do they relate to the author’s concept of civic and political organization? What does the society in question reserve for the individual, and what does the individual owe to the city, country, or clan to which he belongs? You also might consider this question in terms of obligations to the sovereign, or compare two works on this issue.
  3. Choose a work, and explain how the idea of piety functions in it. Is piety represent blind obedience to authority, or does it represent a genuine understanding of one’s place within the ethical universe? Is it some mixture of both?
  4. How does the Aeneid reveal a consciousness of the trajectory of history? How do its allusions to Greek mythology and history work with (and against) its portrayal of Roman history and politics? What future does Virgil see for the Roman Empire based on his view of the past?
  5. Who are the insiders and outsiders in one of these texts, and what does their character and status say about the idea of social organization depicted in it?
  6. To what extent are human beings masters of their fates, or mastered by it? Examine the workings of fate in one or two of the works listed above, making sure to compare overt statements on it with what happens in the text.
  7. Your own topic involving a work or works from the list above, based on an important theme or concept.