10101 prompts

All papers due on Fridays by 9 a.m. via email in a Word attachment, 2-3 pp. Please avoid summarizi

6 September:  Joseph in Genesis.

Let's say that you're teaching the Bible as literature to a group of bright high-schoolers, and your best student, a bomb-thrower (who likes you), concludes aloud to the class that the story of Joseph (Genesis 27-50) has nothing redemptive or heroic about it. She claims that it's a tale of human misery, greed, stupidity, and disloyalty.  You need to respond.

20 September:  Moses in Exodus

You're doing the same job, teaching the Bible as literature to a group of smart people who are younger than you are. Bomb-throwing student from last time really likes you, so she's going to challenge you again.  You have pointed out that the God in Exodus is remarkably human. She takes that assertion and runs with it. In fact, she argues, this deity is so human that he's as disagreeable as he is human.  Which specific aspects of this all-too-human disagreeable deity do you think she means? Cite some of them and answer her, agreeing or disagreeing.

4 October:  Homer, Odyssey

Your class has read the excerpts from Odyssey in our anthology (195-380).  Some of its members might have read it more closely than you have.  A small cadre, delighted by the marital togetherness in Book 23 in the olive-tree bed (357-64) after all the violence upon the hero's return to Ithaca, nevertheless does not believe that this warm reunion was inevitable. What can you say in response? What evidence does Homer give you in his depictions of Odysseus and Penelope that what occurred is exactly what should have happened?

11 October: Sophocles, Oedipus

As you have probably heard, things do not turn out well for the hero of our tragedy, since that is generally what is expected in this dramatic genre.  Sophocles seems to believe much more in determinism than in free will. Yet, at the same time, Oedipus could have stopped his inquiries at any juncture and gone on with his life. Or could he have done so? As an ancient Greek philosopher once said, character equals fate. Who you are determines what happens to you.  

How does the playwright invite you to solve this conundrum? Would Oedipus’s character allowed him to change his fate?

As part of your analysis, take this notorious speech by Jocasta into account:

Why should man fear since chance is all in all

for him, and he can clearly foreknow nothing?

Best to live lightly, as one can, unthinkingly.

As to your mother’s marriage-bed, don’t fear it.

Before this, in dreams too, as well as oracles,

man a man has lain with his own mother.

But he to whom such things are nothing bears

his life most easily.  (ll. 1044-51)

25 October: Virgil, Aeneid

This might surprise you, but in the Middle Ages (coming soon), the Aeneid had avid readers, and readers knew the characters very well: Aeneas, Dido, Turnus, Lavinia, Anchises, as well as the goddesses Juno and Venus.  Their favorite books were 2, Aeneas's recounting of the fall of Troy, and then 4, the love story with Dido.  Though Virgil seems very clear that most of the hero's actions are beyond his control and he must devote himself to his duty over love, medievals often read the Dido episode differently.  They believed that Aeneas was faithless, treated Dido badly, and was a sorry excuse for a  man.  Based on your reading of Virgil's epic poem, how would you answer this charge that I've underlined?

1 November: Sappho and St. Augustine

Though  our writers are  separated  by  centuries, language,  sex,  religion,  and sexual  orientation,  they  nevertheless  write  about themselves  and  their  feelings   Find  a Sappho  lyric  that  would  seem  to have  something  in common with  a passage from Augustine    

15 November: Beowulf

What qualities in Beowulf make the hero heroic?  Is everything deed-oriented, or are any of his qualities intrinsic? Does he have any interior life? If not,  why not?

6 December:  Dante, Inferno

Usually, a first-person narrator in any genre represents the author's attempt to invite us to "relate to" the speaker. Do you think this is the case with Inferno?  If not, why not? If so, how are we supposed to identify with the "I" that Dante offers us?

20 December: Chaucer, Wife Of Bath's Prologue and Tale

You could say that Alison, the Wife, is the finest female character, or, frankly, finest character, period, until the rise of the novel.  Yet, as you may notice, she is the creation of a man.  What, if anything, seems obvious evidence that she is the product of a masculine, rather than a feminine consciousness?

Analytical Writing

Short, analytical papers can be a demanding form for the novice. We're often trained to summarize or describe (show) rather than explain why something is there or what it might be doing (explain).  Please click the button below for some advice.