Readings for Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War

January 30, 2015

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. We will be reading them for Tuesday. For those feeling ambitious, you should also read Pericles’ War Speech (This is a PDF; it is Thucydides’ account of the speech Pericles gave to the Athenians before the war started). You can also find the unabridged versions of Tuesday’s readings here and here. The unabridged versions contain interesting context, particularly for those interested in some of the events of the war.

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


Reading questions for “Antigone”

January 21, 2015

(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: Many characters–Angtigone, perhaps Ismene, Creon, and Eurydice–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?


Some questions to think about as you’re reading “Oedipus the King”

January 14, 2015

The purpose of these questions is to help guide your reading and thinking about the play. They are not an “assignment.”

  • 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?
  • What is Oedipus like? List out some characteristics he appears to have; use specific examples from the text to illustrate the characteristics you identify.
  • 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. Why do you think Sophocles wrote the story in this way?
  • What is Creon like? What are his characteristics?
  • 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?
  • Consider the metaphor of “sight” in this play, especially in the interaction between (seeing) Oedipus and (blind) Tiresius. 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?
  • 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?
  • The audience of this play would have been quite familiar with the Oedipus myth, much like (for instance) contemporary audiences would be familiar with the Moses story or the stories about Noah and the flood. Thus Sophocles, like contemporary film directors who make movies about Noah or Moses, was using this well-known story to explore other themes, both with regard to the human condition in general and with regard to Athenian culture and politics. Now speculate: What are some of the themes that you think Sophocles is exploring through this play?

Welcome to a new semester of Ancient Greeks blogging

January 12, 2015

We are about to begin a new semester on The Ancient Greeks, and so this message is just a welcome to the new students in the class. Take a look around. Read what your fellow students have written about over the last few years (there’s a post on Socrates and Jesus from a few years ago that has gotten tens of thousands of hits since it was published). Leave comments.

Our readings for Thursday will include Sophocles’ famous play, “Oedipus the King.” I’ll re-post the reading questions for that play in the next few days.