HONR 218C Western Intellectual Heritage: The Hero and Society

Second Paper: Due October 31

Choose one of the following essay prompts and write a brief paper (4-5 pages), following the guidelines in the course syllabus. As before, feel free to ask questions about these topics if anything's not clear to you. Papers are due at the beginning of class.

  1. Virgil obviously modeled the end of the Aeneid on the death of Hector in Homer's Iliad, but the contrast is worth examining for the light it casts on the differences between Homeric heroes and Aeneas. Discuss the closing lines of the Aeneid (Book 12, lines 1075-1157), and compare the passage in the Iliad describing the death of Hector (Book 22, lines 350-476). Pay particular attention to the significance of Aeneas's lack of mercy toward Turnus and the implications it has for our understanding of Aeneas's character, especially his famous pietas.

  2. Virgil concludes the Odyssey-like portion of the Aeneid with the descent into the underworld. There Aeneas encounters shades from his past as well as prophecies of Rome's future. While Homer hinted prophetically at the future in the Iliad, Virgil is much more explicit about it. One of his objectives in writing a national epic was to create a mythic past upon which the Roman empire under Augustus could be seen to have been built -- this is laid out in Aeneas's meeting with his father Anchises. But there are many other interesting things going on in Aeneas's descent. Discuss one of his encounters with other characters (e.g. with Palinurus, or Dido, or Deiphobus) and what it shows about Aeneas's heroic character and Roman (or Trojan) values. If the character appears earlier in the Aeneid, you may find it useful to draw on those earlier passages as well.

  3. Tiresias plays a similar but distinctive role in each of the two Sophoclean tragedies we read. Take a close look at lines 1090-1213 in Antigone and lines 340-526 in Oedipus the King, keeping the following questions in mind: What dramatic function(s) does Tiresias perform in each play? How are the reactions of Creon and Oedipus similar or different? What evidence can you adduce of growth in Sophocles's skill as a dramatist? (NB: These line numbers are keyed to the Fagles Penguin Classics edition; they may be different in your edition. The Antigone passage begins with Tiresias' first appearance, and ends with him leaving the stage. The Oedipus passage begins with Tiresias' first appearance, and ends with him leaving the stage.)

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