Reading questions for Thucydides, part 1

January 30, 2011

I am having technical difficulties, so I will not be able to do full reading questions right now. I will do an update as soon as I can . For now, you can work on these.

**Update: the remaining questions are now up

(1)  We’ll start with the “Funeral Oration.”  What are some of the ritual practices Thucydides mentions in the opening paragraph?  What do you suppose they mean?  How do they differ from contemporary practices of mourning the war dead?

(2)  What do you suppose is the general function of a funeral oration of this sort?  Try to think of a few different ones.

(3)  What are some of the characteristics that Pericles cites as essential to Athenian culture?

(4)  What does Pericles suggest the Athenian soldiers died for?  Did they die for their fellow citizens’ freedom?

(5)  How does Pericles suggest that his audience mourn?  What does his advice tell us about what he thinks makes life worth living?  How does his position differ from contemporary understandings?

(6) What are some of the main consequences Thucydides describes about the plague in Athens?

(7) Are there any parallels between the the consequences Thucydides describes and the virtues Pericles ascribes to the Athenians?

(8) Both the “Funeral Oration” and the “Account of the Plague in Athens” were written as part of Thucydides famous book, The History of the Peloponnesian War. In the original book, these two portions of the text occur side by side (the Funeral Oration is first, then the account of the plague). Why do you think Thucydides put them side by side?


Readings for Feb. 2 and Feb. 3

January 28, 2011

Next week we are reading excerpts from Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. You can find the “Funeral Oration” here, and the “Account of the Plague in Athens” here. Just for fun, here’s another translation of it.

The “Melian Dialogue” (to be discussed on Thursday) is here.


1st Short Blog Post: Antigone comparison with Pop Culture

January 28, 2011

In class this past week we discussed the position of Antigone as far as representing the household, representing the state, or representing neither. We came to the conclusion that while she may show signs of representing the household, Antigone is really an anarchist who is causing disruption in the whole system that Thebes is operating in. Not only is she a woman standing up against the state but she is also defying the commands of the head of her household by burying the body of Polynices. This feeling of anarchy explains her apparent obsession with death.  I think that is case is very similar to that of the Joker in the recent movie, Batman: The Dark Knight. While it sometimes appears that the Joker is working with the members of the mob scene in Gotham and while he sometimes is striking deals with members of the local law enforcement community, he is really just looking out for himself and he is trying to make his sick visions of people turning against one another and suffering into a reality. He is seen with another character at one point telling him how everyone is calm when things go according to “plan”. When something happens that suddenly changes “the plan”, people go crazy and are thrown into “anarchy.” That is why, under the given circumstances, that Antigone and the Joker can be seen as having similar traits.


Prophecies in Greek Tragedy

January 23, 2011

When I was nearing the end of my first reading of Antigone, a question popped in my head from one of our past discussions:  What is the purpose of prophecy to the modern reader?  In our discussion, most agreed prophecy is a meaningless, predetermined fate which no one, mortal or immortal, can understand or change.  The idea of prophecy would be strange to Christians and Jews, who believe that God controls fate.  To quote Psalm 139: “And in Your book were all written/The days that were ordained for me/When as yet there was not one of them.”  Let’s say, in line with common belief, that this kind of fate doesn’t exist.  One would naturally say why care about greek tragedy all together?  What could we learn from some imaginary universal law greater than any divine power?  The truth is we can learn a great deal, and this is the genius of Sophocles.  Whether we interpret prophecy ethically, religiously, or both, it is meaningful as a tool to help us develop the capacity for self-reflection and an overall insight of the human condition.  Referring back to my original claim, I believe it is best supported by the chorus (whom at certain times gives very profound judgments on the actions in the play)  at the end of Antigone, in this fable-like moral:  “The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate, and at long last those blows will teach us wisdom.”  This quote is a perfect example.  Paraphrased, the quote says that the hero/heroine of a tragedy is defeated by their unavoidable fate, which teaches us how to “see” ourselves like Oedipus and Creon after the fulfillment of their fates.  Even though our lives may not be ruled my a predetermined fate, the decisions we make now will affect our future.  Therefore, if we do control our own fate, frequently reflecting on our present course increases our chances of seeing our life in retrospect as happy and fulfilling.


Reading Questions for “Antigone”

January 19, 2011

(1)  Once again, here is the general question you should be grappling with throughout your reading of the play.  If a tragic narrative depicts a kind of inevitable disaster, then what is the source of the “inevitability” in this play?  Or another way of coming at this same question is this: Angtigone, perhaps Ismene, and Creon are all finally undone by forces that are much greater than they are.  What are these forces?  What do they represent?  A quick set of issues about this question: there is no “right” answer, but some are better than others; second, it is useful to try to start with specifics.  What is the precise nature of the problem that these characters face?

(2)  List out the main characters, particularly Antigone, Ismene, and Creon.  What characteristics do they have?  Use specific examples from the play to illustrate the ones you identify.  Oh, and here’s another interesting question: who is the “tragic hero” in this play?  Why?

(3)  How many times is Polynices buried?  What are the differences between the various burials?  What is the significance of each?

(4)   How does Creon view Antigone’s actions?  What are some of his main concerns about them?

(5)  What are some of the ways Antigone explains her own actions?

(6)  Following up on question (5), focus in particular on Antigone’s last major speech (lines 960-1020, pp. 104-106), a speech that effectively functions as a “dirge” for herself.  There she claims that she would not have defied Creon for a husband or a child, but only for her brother.  This speech is perhaps the most controversial in the whole play: Goethe detested it and suggested that it was not actually part of the original, that it was “added in”; others have suggested that it is an expression of an illicit and incestuous desire.  What do you think Antigone is trying to say in this speech?

(7)  Is Antigone’s defiance of Creon’s order correct?  Is she an admirable or likable character?  And what of Creon?  Was he wrong to refuse to honor a traitorous enemy?  Why or why not?

 

 


Reading Questions for “Oedipus the King”

January 11, 2011

(1)  Here’s the general question you should be grappling with throughout your reading of the play.  If a tragic narrative depicts a kind of inevitable disaster, then what is the source of the “inevitability” in this play?  Or another way of coming at this same question is this: Oedipus is a tragic hero who is finally undone by forces that are much greater than he is.  What are these forces?  What do they represent?  A quick set of issues about this question: there is no “right” answer, but some are better than others; second, it is useful to try to start with specifics.  What is the precise nature of the problem Oedipus faces?

(2)  What is Oedipus like?  List out some characteristics he appears to have; use specific examples from the text to illustrate the characteristics you identify.

(3)  One of the peculiarities of Sophocles’ play is that he depicts the “tragic” decisions Oedipus makes as having already happened; the fateful events of Oedipus’ life have already occurred at the time the action of the play takes place.  What are the effects of this way of telling Oedipus’ story?

(4)  What is Creon like?  What are his characteristics?

(5)  What are some of the ironies of Oedipus’ life?  Explain in detail.

(6)  What are some of the ironies in Oedipus’ search for the truth?  Please note that Oedipus searches for truth on several different occasions; he searches for Laius’ murderer; he searches for his own origins, and so on.  What is the result of these searches?

(7)  Consider the metaphor of “sight” in this play, especially in the interaction between (seeing) Oedipus and (blind) Tieresius.  What does “seeing” mean in their interaction?  What ironies are there in this meaning?  And what is the significance of Oedipus’ decision to stab out his own eyes once he learns (“sees”) the truth?

(8)  One common interpretation of tragedy is that the tragic hero has a “flaw” that brings about his demise.  Does Oedipus have a tragic flaw?  If so, what is it?  If not, what is “responsible” for bringing about his demise?  What effects do we produce when we think that Oedipus’ tragic flaw is the reason he is destroyed?