HONR 218C Western Intellectual Heritage: The Hero and Society

Third Paper: Due Tuesday, November 26

Choose one of the following essay prompts and write a brief paper (4-5 pages), following the guidelines in the course outline. As before, feel free to ask questions about these topics if anything's not clear to you. If you want to turn in a physical paper, it's due at the beginning of class on November 21; but if you want to take a few extra days and turn in the paper by e-mail, you have until noon on Tuesday, November 26.

  1. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight has sometimes been read as a manual of chivalry. Taking it this way, describe the characteristics of the perfect medieval knight and compare these qualities to those exhibited by Aeneas in the Aeneid. Note the similarities and differences and discuss how those similarities and differences reveal shifts in underlying cultural values regarding the hero and his place in society.

  2. As different as they are, 1-2 Samuel and Sophocles' Oedipus have one thing in common. At a crucial point in each story the central figure is confronted by a prophet or seer who suggests that all is not right with the central figure -- that he is guilty of something he does not recognize. Look closely at the David/Nathan exchange in 2 Samuel, and at David's reaction as recorded in Psalm 51. What does this exchange tell you about David's character? Does it enable you to draw any conclusions about "Hebrew values"? What are they? Is David -- transgressions and all -- a hero? Why or why not?

  3. In his preface to Samson Agonistes Milton discusses his own conception of classical tragedy as "the gravest, moralest, and most profitable" of all poetry, and he goes on to endorse Aristotle's claim that tragedy should effect a catharsis of the emotions of "pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions." Milton ends his tragedy by having the chorus exclaim:

    His servants he with new aquist
    Of true experience from this great event
    With peace and consolation hath dismissed
    And calm of mind, all passion spent.

    How has Milton altered or adapted classical tragedy to his own purposes? Discuss the similarities and differences you see between Milton's conception and the classical tragedies we have read. Cite specific passages in the tragedies and in Milton's poem.

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