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What does Aristophanes’ myth of the sliced hermaphrodite (from Plato’s Symposium) share in common with the comic situations in Lysistrata?

END OF TERM ESSAY ASSIGNMENT:

SOPHOCLES, ARISTOPHANES, THEOCRITUS

Part One (1000 words on tragedy). Write a 1000-word essay on one of the following questions.

1. In the first half of the quarter, we spent most of the time studying the Odyssey, stressing how the themes of xenia, kleos and nostos serve to unite the episodes of this heroic love story around a core of meaning. To what extent are these three themes relevant to Sophoclean tragedy, which, rooted in the ancient goat-sacrifice ritual, addresses heroic destiny from the perspective of the inevitable? For the main part of your final exam, write a 1000-word essay in which you show how at least two of these themes are relevant to Oedipus the King.

2. This is one of the main interpretations of the Sophocles play: “Oedipus the King shows the humbling of a great and prosperous man by the gods. This humbling is not deserved; it is not a punishment for insolence, nor in the last resort is it due to any fault of judgment or character in the man. The gods display their power because they will. But since they display it, man may draw a salutary lesson: men must be modest in prosperity and remember that at any moment the gods may destroy it. It is a warning not so much against pride as against any confidence or sense of security. To drive this warning home the gods have made an example of Oedipus. From the very beginning he has been chosen to show, by his misfortunes, the need for modesty in times of success” (C. M. Bowra, Sophoclean Tragedy [Oxford, 1944], 175-176).

For the main part of your final exam, write a 1000-word essay in which you defend or attack this reading of the play, using evidence from the text in your answer.

Your essays need not mention the goat-ritual specifically, but I hope you’ll remember that all tragedy stems from it, and that Sophocles is clearly aware of it.

Part Two (500 words on comedy & pastoral). Write a 500-word essay on one of the following options.

1. Aristophanes’ comedy criticizes a rigid, hectic, money-driven, polupragmosunic society that stifles individuals with artificial laws (nomos) and prevents people from obeying the laws of nature (physis). The realm of nomos requires significant repression of physical impulses, especially erotic ones. It would follow that the triumph of physis, and of the apragmosunic sensibility which values physis over nomos, would be also a triumph of sexual freedom. But is that what actually happens in Aristophanes, or is sexuality always under constraint in his plays? Choose one scene fromLysistrata to show how the comic playwright depicts human sexual life in terms of desire and restraint.

2. What does Aristophanes’ myth of the sliced hermaphrodite (from Plato’s Symposium) share in common with the comic situations in Lysistrata? Can a comparison of these texts offer a more comprehensive view of how Aristophanes understands the human experience?

3. Pastoral poetry, as invented by Theocritus, takes place in “the world which epic forgot” in the words of Richard Hunter – that is, among humble, uneducated farmers who live a simple, rural life in which singing songs and making love are the most significant things. However, that setting does not mean that pastoral characters are necessarily simple-minded or stupid. Take one of these Theocritus poems and offer an analysis of the pastoral mind-set it represents: “The Serenade, “The Two Herdsmen,” “Goatherd and Shepherd.”

4. “The Bacchantes” is Theocritus’ hymn to the ancient Dionysus festival out of which tragedy developed. What impression does the poem give of the way that centuries-old festival appeared to this pastoral poet, writing long after?

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