Comparative Literature 30A: Topics
for the Second Essay
Due Date: In 1319 Girvetz, Friday, July 27, by 1PM.
General Instructions: Write a five-page (1400-1600
word) essay on a topic related to any of the following works:
Euripides’ Medea, Sappho's lyrics, Plato's Apology, Aristotle’s Poetics, Virgil’s Aeneid, The New Testament, Augustine’s Confessions, Beowulf, or Dante’s Inferno. This essay should have a clear topic and an arguable thesis statement. 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, Wikipedia, or Cliff Notes) and cite them properly.
- Choose one or two of the works and examine how it
represents the development of knowledge and/or human consciousness. What are Plato's ideas of the about the education of the young? How does Augustine
think about the difference between his past self and his present identity?
How does the narrator of Beowulf discuss the difference between
Beowulf’s pre-Christian world and his own? Be sure to cite specific
examples from the text or texts you use and examine the language of the
- 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.
- Choose a work, and explain how the idea of piety functions
in it. Does 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?
- How does the Aeneid (or any other relevant work)
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?
- 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?
- To what extent are human beings masters of their fates, or
mastered by them? 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.
- Your own topic involving a work or works from the list
above, based on an important theme or concept.