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Writing Assignments

Important: See the Requirements for All Papers handout in addition to the specific assignment parameters below.


Due Wednesday, December 11  Write a 6–8 page position paper in which you express an opinion about a topic, and use evidence to back up that opinion. In other words, you’re taking a side on some question or controversy, and you use reasoning and research to support your side of the argument.

  • For your topic, choose one of the 13 meeting topics for the course and decide on a controversy or debate that pertains to that topic.
  • You can choose something that the people at the time might have debated — e.g., “Should we ask Philip of Macedon for leadership?” as a question arising in the mid-fourth century BCE, or a question arising among modern historians — e.g., “Was the Athenian Empire really an empire?” In each case you need to outline both sides of the question in your paper and then provide evidence why you think one side was right.
  • Choose a topic you’re interested in and have fun with it. Make it wacky, make it provocative — anything is fine as long as you make an argument regarding your chosen topic and support it with facts.
  • You must use at least three sources. Ideally you should have a mix of primary and secondary sources.
  • You must submit a proposal by October 16 with a provisional topic and thesis. (See below for more.)
  • You may submit an optional draft by November 27. It should include most of your paper (at least two thirds of the final content, with sections to be written described in square brackets). I will give feedback, but not a grade, to help you refine your final paper. Note: We don’t meet on Nov. 27, so the draft is due by email.
  • Because I accept optional drafts, I do not accept revisions of content after the final paper has been submitted and graded—though some formatting and citations errors can be corrected and resubmitted. (See “Requirements for All Papers” handout for more.)

Position Paper Proposal

Due Wednesday, October 16  The proposal is just a brief one-pager that includes the following:

  • The topic you think you’ll want to write about and the problem you’re interested in addressing. You should be able to delineate the problem by describing the opposing views people might take. To make sure you have two clear opposing opinions, you might want to express them in the form “Some say… . Others say… .”
  • Your preliminary thesis statement—in other words, what you think you might be arguing in your paper. Your thesis statement, both here and in the final paper, should be a statement of opinion that someone could disagree with. It can take the form of following up the description of the opposing opinions with your own: “I believe… .” Remember that your thesis is provisional. You can change anything about your approach and interpretation after the proposal; in fact, uncovering information as you do your research makes refining or changing your initial assessments very likely.
  • These first two items are essentially the model for your introduction, as you can see from this sample intro:
  • Hannibal Barca, the great Carthaginian general, brought 37 war elephants with him over the Alps into Italy, and at the climactic Battle of Zama he had a front line that included 80 elephants. Did Hannibal’s elephants really make a difference? Some say that Hannibal’s elephants were crucial in establishing the morale of his troops against the legendary Roman legions and in intimidating other armies along the way into alliances; but others say that Hannibal’s elephants did the Carthaginian side more harm than good in their fight with Rome. I believe that Hannibal’s use of elephants was a mistake, not because war elephants were a dumb idea in general, but because Roman adaptability meant that the Romans would inevitably find a way around them.
  • In addition, you should outline any thoughts you have so far on what kinds of evidence you think will help you make your case in the final paper.
  • I’ll respond to the proposal with feedback and suggestions to help you map out your research and writing.


Due at the class meeting after your presentation  Write a 2–3 page essay that does the following:

  • Briefly summarizes what the document says and, more importantly, discusses what the author is trying to say about the subject at hand. In other words, you need to identify and discuss what you believe is the author’s interpretation, bias, and point of view and how it affected the author’s treatment of the topic. Give examples from the document that illustrate your assessment of the author’s spin.
  • Provides perspective by relating the material in the document, and the author’s bias on it, to the bigger picture—the material being discussed in class.
  • Incorporates any responses that came up in class after your presentation, and your own reactions to them.

(C) ESSAY #1 — ON The Clouds

Due Wednesday, October 30  Write a 3 page essay that takes a position on ONE of the following questions:

  1. Some say that The Clouds, by ending with violent incidents, offers an inconsistent message on morality. Make an argument for the consistency of the moral argument of The Clouds using three key incidents from The Clouds, comparing each one in turn for moral content as intended by the playwright and as potentially received by the audience. Where does the play stand with regard to the Athenian debate on relative morality (nomos vs. physis)?
  2. What does The Clouds actually say about religion? Choose three incidents in which the characters discuss either the traditional Greek gods, the new gods of the Sophists, or both, and interpret the meaning and social role of religion as depicted in this play. How do the presence and viewpoint of the chorus of Clouds relate to this discussion?
  3. Compare the “Socrates” found in The Clouds with the supposed real-life Socrates depicted in the works of his student, Plato. (Possibilities might include Phaedo, which has Socrates discussing life and afterlife on the brink of his execution, and Apology, a version of Socrates’s self-defense against charges of irreligion, among others.) What characteristics of Socrates and his philosophy were most exaggerated by the two authors (either in ridicule or praise), and why? On the basis of these depictions, using incidents from both sources, make an argument for exactly why some Athenians feared Socrates so greatly.


Due Wednesday, November 13  Write a 2–3 page essay that takes a position on ONE of the following questions:

  1. Visit any museum exhibition or collection of art, architecture, or other artifacts of the ancient world. Choose two or three comparable artworks from different eras, from different places, or both.
    • The question: If art is an expression of cultural values, what do the differences between these works tell you about the respective cultures they come from? What do their similarities tell you about what these ancient societies have in common?
    • For example: a statue of a young man from Athens and another from Syracuse, or a decorated vase from the Archaic period and one from the Hellenistic period.
    • You must describe in detail how what you see leads you to concrete conclusions about these ancient peoples. Be bold, be provocative, and be specific.
    • Possible venues include the Metropolitan Museum: Greek and Roman Art. You are, of course, not limited to this venue, or to New York.
    • Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of each work, the artist, the approximate date it was created, and the name of the museum gallery where the work can be found.
    • Also on the “Works Discussed” page, paste in photographs of the items. If it’s permitted at the museum, take a picture of the items while you’re there. If it’s not, find pictures of them on the museum’s web site or via Google Images search.
  2. Watch any feature-length film that seriously depicts the ancient Greek world and compare it with a primary source—written evidence about that society or those events.
    • The question: Both the movie and the written evidence are artistic interpretations of reality. Use at least two specific events or characters to compare the filmmakers’ intent and message with that of the writers of the source material. What do they want you to believe?
    • Some possibilities (not exhaustive; I will give you specifics on where to look in the primary sources on request):
      Film Possible Primary Sources to Compare
      300 (2007) Herodotus, Book 7
      Agora (2010) Suda Lexicon; Socrates Scholasticus; Letters of Synesius
      Alexander (2004) Plutarch, Alexander (or Arrian)
      Antigone (1961) Sophocles, Antigone
      Helen of Troy (1956, 2003) Homer, Iliad Book 3, Odyssey 4, 23; Euripides, Helen; Ovid, Heroides 16; Isocrates, Helen
      Immortals (2011) Plutarch, Theseus; Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 12
      Jason and the Argonauts (1963, 2000) Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica; Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica
      The Odyssey (1997) Homer, Odyssey
      Troy (2004) Homer, Iliad
    • Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of film, year, director, stars and studio. Then list the book or books you drew your written evidence from, using standard citation style.
    • You may also employ secondary sources to help you interpret the film, the primary source, or both.

Whichever option you choose, the purpose of this essay is NOT to describe the works in question, but the interpret their meaning and discuss what they tell us about how different kinds of artists/creators represent the ancient Greeks and their world.