HONR 218C Western Intellectual Heritage: The Hero and Society

Final Exam Prompts

The final exam for our class is scheduled to take place on Thursday, December 19, during the regular class period. Here's how it will work. I will provide the exam books. You will write answers to TWO of the following questions. You must choose one from #1 and one from #2; beyond that the choice is yours. You may use copies of your books, but not notes. Be sure to write legibly. As indicated in the syllabus, the exam will be worth 25% of your final grade for the course.

  1. The subtitle of our course emphasizes the hero in society. The course has introduced several kinds of hero -- from epic heroes to tragic heroes to more complicated types of heroes such as Socrates, Henry V, and maybe Machiavelli's Prince. Some heroes we've looked at were defined largely by their actions, and others were defined more by their knowledge. This question allows you to choose from among the various types of hero in order to compare and contrast their essential heroic qualities or aspects. (NB: Choose either 1a or 1b, but not both.)

    1. Compare and contrast at least three of the tragic heroes (including heroines) we have studied, being careful to distinguish differences as well as noting similarities. Be sure to limit yourself to tragic heroes -- not every hero you encountered this semester can plausibly be construed as a tragic hero.

    2. Discuss the importance of knowledge as a defining heroic quality. Several of the heroes we've studied were seeking, or were in possession of, some kind of knowledge. Often this was some kind of self-knowledge, essentially personal in its nature. This would clearly be the case for the more intellectual characters such as Socrates or Machiavelli's Prince, but Oedipus also was driven by his desire to know the truth about his own life and actions. How does knowledge figure in our understanding of heroes and heroism, even of the more active heroes such as David and Samson, or even of Achilles and Aeneas?

  2. One of the themes we've touched on in this course is that of the contrast between the classical worldview and the modern one. This question allows you to come at this contrast from either of two angles; one highlights the discontinuity between these worldviews, the other the continuity. (Again, choose either 2a or 2b.)

    1. In the last class period we discussed Machiavelli's Prince. Machiavelli is often characterized as a modern figure reacting to an older classical outlook on human beings and the world. How exactly is Machiavelli's outlook different from that represented by (e.g.) Milton or Shakespeare? (Be specific -- cite particular passages in these authors while making your case.)

    2. Machiavelli makes extensive use of classical authors -- quoting liberally from Greek and Roman orators, statesmen, literary figures, and philosophers. Yet he explictly proposes a new way of looking at and thinking about human beings and the world. How does he use the classical world in articulating his modern outlook? What does he keep? What does he reject? (Be as specific as you can -- point to particular passages in Machiavelli in constructing your answer.)

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