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Writing Assignments

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

Remember that, as always, I am looking for your opinion and how well you support it with evidence; these essays are less about “right answers” than they are about well-supported ideas.

For each essay your conclusion should address the following: How, specifically, does the source material, as you have interpreted it, reflect what the creators are trying to say about their society?

You may, but are not required to, use (and cite) secondary sources to add perspective to your analysis.


Due Monday, October 7  Write a 3–4 page essay taking a position on ONE of the following topics:

  1. Choose any of the mortal characters from Gilgamesh and discuss his or her relationship with the gods. Give three examples and discuss what these episodes reveal about the character and about his or her society’s attitudes toward religion and mortality. Consider physical, emotional, economic, religious, or other relevant factors.
  2. Choose any of the female characters from Gilgamesh and discuss her relationship with the other characters and their society. Give three examples and examine what these episodes reveal about the character and her femininity as conceived by the creators of the epic. Consider physical, emotional, economic, religious, or other relevant factors.


Due Monday, November 18  Write a 3–4 page essay taking a position on ONE of the following topics:

  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 by comparing it with a tragedy from the Greek classical period in which morality is a key issue (examples include Medea, Elektra, and Antigone). Build your case using three key incidents from The Clouds, comparing each one in turn with a relevant incident in the tragedy. Where do both plays stand with regard to the Athenian debate on relative morality (nomos vs. physis)?
  2. The surviving plays of Aristophanes range over a long and turbulent period of Athenian history. Compare The Clouds to another play by Aristophanes. What themes and ideas are present in both plays? Is his approach or methodology different in the other play? What conclusions can you draw about Aristophanes’s approach to writing, and the consistency of his overall philosophy?
  3. Compare the “Socrates” found in The Clouds with the one depicted in works by 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 why exactly some Athenians feared Socrates so greatly.


Due Wednesday, December 11  Write a 2–3 page essay based on ONE of the following:

  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 Greek statue of a young man and a Roman statue of a young man, or a decorated vase from the Greek Archaic period and one from the Classical or 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:
    • 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 a Google Images search.
  2. Watch any feature-length film that seriously depicts the ancient 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 (this list is not exhaustive; I can give you specifics on where to look in the primary sources on request):
      Film Possible Primary Sources to Compare
      300 (2007) Herodotus, Book 7
      Alexander (2004) Plutarch, Alexander (or Arrian)
      Caligula (1980) [warning: explicit sex] Suetonius, Caligula; or Cassius Dio, Book 59
      Cleopatra (1963) Plutarch, Caesar and Antony.
      Gladiator (2000) Cassius Dio, Book 73; Herodian 1.15; Historia Augusta, Commodus
      Helen of Troy (1956) Homer, Iliad Book 3, Odyssey 4, 23; Euripides, Helen; Ovid, Heroides 16; Isocrates, Helen
      I, Claudius (1976) [1-2 episodes] Tacitus, Annals 11–12; or Suetonius, Claudius
      Intolerance (1916) [Part 1] Herodotus, Book 1.70–144; or
      Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Books 10–11
      One Night with the King (2006) Old Testament, Book of Esther
      Rome (2005–2007) [use 1-2 episodes] Various (see me)
      Solomon and Sheba (1959) Old Testament, Kings or Chronicles; or Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book 8
      Spartacus (1960) Appian 116–120; Plutarch, Crassus 8–11
      The Eagle (2011) Tacitus, Agricola
      The Odyssey (1997) Homer, Odyssey
      The Prince of Egypt (1998) Old Testament, Exodus
      The Ten Commandments (1956) Old Testament, Exodus
      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.