Essay #3: Representations and Images
Write a 3 page essay based on ONE of the two following topics.
R&I Essay – Option 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 and discuss the artists’ intent regarding what he or she wanted to emphasize about his or
her culture and values.
Your question is this: 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?
- Make sure to look for items with the similar subjects, but that come from different times or
from different places. 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.
- Describe in detail how what you see leads you to concrete conclusions about these ancient
peoples. Be bold, be provocative, and be specific.
- 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 those
specific items on the museum’s web site or via a Google Images search.
Possible venues for the artifacts comparison option include:
You are, of course, not limited to these venues, and you are not limited to New York.
R&I Essay – Option 2
Watch any feature-length film that seriously depicts the ancient world and compare it with a
primary source—ancient written evidence about that society or those events.
Use at least two specific events or characters to compare the filmmakers’ intent and message
with the intent and message of the writers of the source material. What do they want you to
believe? What conclusions can you draw about how these stories were being used to shape the
audience’s perception of that culture and society?
- 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,
It’s absolutely crucial to remember that the ancient source material is not “fact” or “what
really happened”. Both the movie AND the written source are artistic interpretations of an
event. The writer of the source material wanted to shape the reader’s understanding, and had
opinions about the events and about the cutural values at play in those events that he or she
urgently wanted to impose on the readers or listeners to his tale.
In other words, both the film and the ancient source material are distortions of what really
happened. Both were designed to use those events to drive home a message about the
filmmakers’ or writer’s deeply held beliefs about the cultures and societies involved. Your job is
to expose the agendas of the filmmakers and of the ancient writers, and talk about what their
intent reveals to us about what these events meant to those that were affected by them.
Whichever option you choose, the purpose of this essay is NOT to describe the works in
question, but to interpret the creators’ agendas and discuss analytically what they tell us about how and why different kinds of artists and creators represent ancient peoples and their world.
For some suggested possibilities for both options, see below.
Some possibilities for the film and sources option include (this list is not exhaustive; I can give
you specifics on where to look in the primary sources on request):
||POSSIBLE PRIMARY SOURCES TO COMPARE
|300 (2007) or The 300 Spartans (1962)
||Herodotus, The Histories book 7
|Abraham (1993 Mini-Series)
||Old Testament, Genesis books 11–25
||Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History, 7.15; John of Nikiû, Chronicle 84.87-103; The Suda, Life of Hypatia
|Alexander (2004, 1956)
||Plutarch, Alexander; or Arrian, Anabasis
|Barefoot in Athens (1966)
||Plato, Phaedo, Apology
||Tacitus, Annals 14.29–39, Agricola; Cassius Dio, Roman History 62
|Caligula (1980) [warning: explicit sex]
||Suetonius, Caligula; Cassius Dio, Roman History 59
|The Centurion (1961)
||Polybius, The Histories book 38
|Clash of the Titans (1981, 2010)
||Plutarch, Theseus; Ps.-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca; Ovid, Metamorphoses
||Plutarch, Caesar and Antony
||Plutarch, Coriolanus; Livy 2.33–2.40
|The Eagle (2011)
||Euripides, Elektra; Sophocles, Elektra
|Empire (2005 Mini-Series)
||Suetonius, Augustus; Nicolas of Damascus, Life of Augustus; Cassius Dio, 45–56
|| Cassius Dio 73; Herodian 1.15; Historia Augusta, “Commodus”
|Helen of Troy (1956)
||Homer, Iliad 3, Odyssey 4, 23; Euripides, Helen; Ovid, Heroides 16; Isocrates, Helen
|I, Claudius (1976) [1-2 episodes]
||Tacitus, Annals 11–12; Suetonius, Claudius
|Intolerance (1916) [Part 1 only]
||Herodotus, Histories 1.70–144; Josephus, Antiquities 10–11
||Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis
|Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
||Ovid, Metamorphoses; Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica
|Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1999)
||Old Testament, Genesis 37–50
|Julius Caesar (1953 or 1979)
||Plutarch, Caesar; Suetonius, The Divine Julius (Julius Caesar)
|Masada (1981 Mini-Series)
||Josephus, The Jewish War book 1
|The Odyssey (1997) or Ulysses (1955)
|One Night with the King (2006)
||Old Testament, Esther
|The Passion of the Christ (2004)
||New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
|Pompeii: The Last Day (2003) [or other Pompeii films]
||Pliny the Younger’s letters to Tacitus, #65 and #66
|The Prince of Egypt (1998)
||Old Testament, Exodus
|Quo Vadis? (1951)
||Tacitus, Annals 13–16; Suetonius, Nero; Cassius Dio 61–63
|Rome (2005–2007) [use 1-2 episodes]
||Various (see me)
|Fellini Satyricon (1969)
|Solomon and Sheba (1959)
||Old Testament, Kings or Chronicles; Josephus, Antiquities book 8
|Spartacus (1960) or Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010)
||Appian, Roman History 116–120; Plutarch, Crassus 8–11
|The Ten Commandments (1956)
||Old Testament, Exodus
|The Trojan Women (1971)
||Euripides, The Trojan Women
Links to many of these primary sources are available here on the ancient texts page.