The Epic Gilgamesh vs. the Myth(s) of Hesiod

The Epic of Gilgamesh is widely recognized as being, perhaps, the earliest masterpiece of world literature.  Hesiod, who wrote his Theogony hundreds if not thousands of years later, is widely credited with helping to establish the immensely influential tradition of Greek mythical writing.  One of these is an anonymous text carved onto clay tablets using cuneiform script, while the other is often seen as amongst the earliest examples of alphabetic literary writing.  One of these works was mostly hidden from view for over a millennium and is from the ancient, mysterious, and often undervalued society of Mesopotamia; the other comes from the later, well-documented, and widely praised culture of Greece.  Yet despite tremendous differences of time, place, subject matter, and textual form, there are some remarkable similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and Theogony, not to mention some telling differences.  Thus, I’m interested in seeing what might happen if we bring these ostensibly distant and divergent works together in very precise ways.  In particular, what might get revealed about the differences between early “epic” and “myth” by comparing, for example, the trials and tribulations faced by Gilgamesh with Hesiod’s tales of his favorite god Zeus?  To see what might come out of a focused exploration of these two monumentally important work, please pick two characters (one from each text) and compare/contrast them.  What does this interaction suggest about the characters themselves, and more importantly, about key elements of each masterpiece (if not their respective societies)?  What does your comparison reveal about the two works, and the two different types of work in question (i.e. epic vs. myth) ??

Tragedy, the Monomyth, and Stories of Creation/Destruction

This week, we are working to lay important intellectual foundations for our class by introducing the classical theories of Aristotle (on the subject of tragedy) and the recent scholarship of Joseph Campbell (on the “monomyth” and the mythical hero).  To more fully comprehend the theories in question and the first mythical stories on the syllabus – myths of creation and flood/apocalypse stories from the ancient world – I want see how you can tie them together in a very specific way.  You have two options for this exploration.  1)  In the first case, you may apply specific ideas from Aristotle’s theories of tragedy to a specific myth (assigned for Wednesday) of your choosing.  I was particularly thinking that it would be interesting to see how the plot of your chosen tale fits certain “tragic” modes (such as leading toward a “catharsis”), or to consider how the characters fit Aristotle’s ideals – especially of the “tragic hero.”  2)  On the other hand, you might work with and through key ideas from Campbell’s influential scholarship.  If, for example, you would like to explore the notion of a “monomyth,” you might compare/contrast the similarities between several of the creation tales.  Alternately, it might be interesting to think about how a given story depicts the stages of the hero’s journey according to Campbell’s terms (i.e. separation, initiation, return).   For this first Blog post of the semester, it’s all about applied critical thinking – and it will be interesting to see what kinds of intellectual connections you can make by utilizing the ideas of Aristotle or Campbell.

Online “Tour” of Premodern Europe for S17 Games of Thrones Classes

For class on Thursday, 2 February, I have put together an online “tour” of premodern Europe for those of you in my ‘Games of Thrones’ classes (through a series of links which I have e-mailed to all of you).  In all likelihood, few of you have been to Europe or had substantial personal encounters with arts and artifacts from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Therefore, the basic aim of this activity is that I want you to “experience” the premodern world, at least insofar as that is possible through fragments offered on and through the internet.  Unfortunately, there is a significant difference between experiencing such objects and places first hand as opposed to a mediated forum, but all the same, this activity will (I hope) help attune you to our period of discussion and get you immersed in the period in a different and insightful way.  In simple terms, in this Blog post I want to hear your (carefully focused) thoughts about the experience.  I’m hoping that your posting offers us some sense of both your intellectual and emotional responses to the places, spaces, and artifacts under consideration.  By exploring the places, spaces and artifacts of this era and then writing about it, this activity will, hopefully, help you form some meaningful realizations about how specific places or works suggest certain ideals and fit in a larger cultural context — the kind of perspective that you will be exploring in your first papers of the semester.

In even more specific terms, I want you to respond to two particular “objects” of your choosing in particular ways.  Your response should broadly be broken down into two sections, with each section at least an in-depth and detailed paragraph in length — but the more the better.  These sections are: 1) a section on a place, and 2) a section on an object or artifact.  You should select a place and artwork that really piqued your interest, or that you found especially powerful in some way, shape, or form.  Then, your response should offer some thoughts about just what these places/things seem to “mean” in your estimation.  On the subject of your place/space, which location have you chosen, and why?  What really stands out to you about it, and why is it so important and interesting?  More to the point, what does your chosen place/space suggest to us about the premodern world and the people who lived there?  Regarding your piece of art, you might track similar ideas and questions, as well as think about the minutiae of your chosen artifact.  For instance, who created it, and when?  What are central characteristics of that individual artists’ style, or how does this object suggest the stylistics of the day?  How do you think it would have been used and understood by individuals in premodern society, and how might we reflect upon it from a twenty-first century perspective?

Overall, then, what have you LEARNED by exploring your selected places/objects, and what do they seemingly TEACH us about the premodern culture(s) of Western Europe??

On the Dangers of “Single Stories”

For this Blog post, I want to build on our work from last class by “reading between the lines” and working to analyze and examine crucial, controversial material that is NOT found in a particular story of your choosing.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis on the dangers of “single stories” (to borrow deliberately from Chimamanda Adichie’s well-known TED talk).  In general, the goals here are for you to:  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon Adichie’s ideas from her popular lecture; and practice your skills in critically reading a notable historical or political story – skills of the very kind you will be using for your final writing assignment of the semester.

With these goals in mind, here’s what I would like for you to do in your Blog post:

-For your topic, I want you to pick out a significant narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative that deals with important historical or political ideas (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  OR, as an alternative here, if you would like to address a problematic “story” that has emerged in the wake of the controversial 2016 presidential election, that would be acceptable as well.

-Because the goal is to use and build on Adichie’s ideas as a way “in” to some other “single story”, you should quote her talk and use her specific words and ideas in your discussion.

-As Adichie says, the truth is that “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, you might ask/answer the following questions (in some way):  What other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society or political idea in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??  To answer these questions will likely require a bit of research, and the key is to bring some intellectual nuance to an overly-simplified “story” that will, in the process, allow your reader to more fully see the “big picture” in regards to the situation in question.

Marxism and the Modern World

In her essay “Reflections on the Communist Manifesto”, political activist Lindsey German asserts that “The Communist Manifesto was invaluable in providing a unique introduction to Marxist politics and to the theory of revolution. It remains one of the great political texts which still inspires new generations of socialists and it can still serve as a guide to action.” In these words, German recognizes that, because of its connections with the development of communism, Marxist thought has long been seen with considerable suspicion in the modern world. Yet no matter what one thinks about communism or socialism as political doctrines, the undeniable fact is that Marxist ideas have had a MAJOR impact on the development of the modern world. Therefore, it is important to take a careful look at the subtleties and realities of central Marxist thought in order to fully appreciate its doctrines (for good or ill). In that spirit, for this Blog I want you to pick a major power-related theme or social concept that Marx and his fellows bring to the page in their wide-ranging analysis, whether it be an issue related to education, politics, banking, agriculture, militarism, labor, and so on. Your post should be two in-depth paragraphs long, and your task is to try and explain what, exactly, the forefathers of Marxism have to say about your chosen issue.  To do so, you must directly engage with the actual words and ideas of Marx, Engels, and/or Weber. What is their view of your chosen issue, and what is their rationale for that view? Finally, I’d like you to connect today’s assignment with the politics of the modern world by offering a contemporary example or application of this premise. In other words, how might this “Marxist” notion bring rise to understanding and exploring a modern-day problem or challenge? And what do YOU think about the matter? I will be very curious to hear your thoughts in this Blog response!

On Alexie’s “Absolutely True” Account of Power in Today’s Society

Early in ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’, by Sherman Alexie, the narrator Junior comments that “I know my mother and father had their dreams when they were kids. They dreamed about being something other than poor, but they never got the chance to be anything because nobody paid attention to their dreams.” Shortly thereafter, he adds that “we reservation Indians don’t get to realize our dreams. We don’t get those chances. Or choices. We’re just poor. That’s all we are.”  Junior has an interesting story to tell, and his life has been deeply impacted by the difficult realities of life on the reservation. For those of you in my ‘Power and Society’ class Junior’s experiences speak in interesting ways to issues of power, such as the authority of the state, class and hierarchy, poverty, the politics of parenting, and the role of schools in adolescent lives.  Bearing in mind such issues, in this Blog post I want you to carefully respond to the common reading for Stockton freshman.  Your response may do one of two things (or both!), and should be at least two paragraphs long:  1)  Offer some commentary in the wake of the illustrator’s lecture at the Freshman Convocation (on Thursday the 29th ).  Tell us, what did Ellen Forney say that really touched a nerve with you?  What did you find interesting about her lecture, and what was invigorating about the entire Freshman Convocation event?  Why?  I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about this talk!  2)  If you aren’t able to attend the lecture or would simply rather discuss the book, then I’d like you to do just that.  So, choose a particular moment in (or idea from) the novel and make some insightful connections between Alexie’s story and our course themes, or assigned readings.  To make these connections, you might quote from the book itself, and then discuss what Alexie seems to be saying and doing in your selected moment (relative to power and inequality), and why?  Also, what thoughts do YOU have about the subject – how do YOU respond to the power issue(s) raised in the novel based on your own knowledge or experience?

Plato on Power & Justice

At the start of our ‘Power & Society’ class, we have spent a considerable amount of time examining Plato’s Republic – a monument of Greek philosophy and world literature.  In this extensive dialogue, Plato (through the voice of his teacher Socrates) addresses the topic of Justice.  So, what IS justice, in Plato’s vision?  The answer is multifaceted and complicated, a fact that highlights that justice itself is also varied and complex.  To explore the theme of justice in the Republic, I would like you to do two things (in two separate paragraphs).  First, I’d like you to select a single passage from the Republic that you find to be interesting, provocative, or somehow problematic as it relates to the topic of justice.  Then, you should analyze the passage itself and try to place it within its historical context.  How does this statement fit within Plato’s broader discussion of justice and power, and how does it fit within the political and intellectual climate of ancient Athens?  Secondly, what do you think about the viewpoint at hand, and why?  To answer this question, you might consider Plato’s reasoning, and then provide a modern-day example as a test-case.  What does your example show us about justice (or lack thereof) in the face of social controversy, and how does it illustrate your own view of justice?  What might Plato have to say about your example?

The Rhetoric of Rebellion

In recent days, we have been perusing the argumentative writing of rebellion.  To borrow the famous phrase used by one of our authors, you have been exploring influential writers who used words as a powerful form of “civil disobedience.”  For this blog post, I want you to think carefully about one of these assigned readings (by Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X).  For your post, I would like you to consider one of these works in two different ways.  First, I want you to really think long and hard about the words and written approach of your chosen author.  Why, exactly, is their writing so powerful, so engaging, so convincing?  Be as specific as you can be in considering how your writer makes their point, and makes it well.  Then, I want you to talk about your personal view of their argument.  Do you agree with their “rebellious” perspectives, and why?  How, exactly, do you feel about their “disobedient” contentions and social challenges?  In total, your Blog post should be (at least) two in-depth paragraphs long.

Online “Tour” of Premodern Europe

For class on Thursday, 4 February, I have put together an online “tour” of the premodern world for those of you in my ‘Games of Thrones’ class (through a series of links which I have e-mailed to all of you).  In all likelihood, few of you in class have been to Europe or had substantial, visceral encounters with arts and artifacts from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Hence, the basic gist of this activity is that I want you to “experience” the premodern world, at least insofar as that is possible through fragments offered on and through the internet.  Unfortunately, there is a significant difference between experiencing such objects and places first hand as opposed to a mediated forum, but all the same, this activity will (I hope) help attune you to our period of discussion and get you immersed in the period in a different and insightful way.  In simple terms, in this Blog post I want to hear your (carefully focused) thoughts about the experience.  I’m hoping that your posting offers us some sense of both your intellectual and emotional response to the places, spaces, and artifacts under consideration.  By exploring the sites and “stuff” of this era and then writing about it, this activity will, hopefully, help you to recognize the relationships between time and place that are part and parcel of the very idea of the “premodern”, and in turn my wish is that you form some meaningful realizations about how specific places or works suggest certain ideals and fit in a larger cultural context.

In even more specific terms, I want you to respond to two particular “objects” of your choosing in particular ways.  Your response should broadly be broken down into two sections, with each section at least a robust paragraph in length (but the more the better).  These sections are: 1) a section on a place, and 2) a section on an object or artifact.  You should select a place and artwork that really piqued your interest, or that you found especially powerful in some way, shape, or form.  Then, your response should offer some thoughts about just what these places/things seem to “mean” in your estimation.  On the subject of your place/space, which location have you chosen, and why?  What really stands out to you about it, and why is it so important and interesting?  More to the point, what does your chosen place/space suggest to us about the premodern world and the people who lived there?  Regarding your piece of art, you might track similar ideas and questions, as well as think about the minutiae of your chosen artifact.  For instance, who created it, and when?  What are central characteristics of that individual artists’ style, or how does this object suggest the stylistics of the day?  How do you think it would have been used and understood by individuals in premodern society, and how might we reflect upon it from a twenty-first century perspective?

Overall, then, what have you LEARNED by exploring your selected places/objects, and what do they seemingly TEACH us about the premodern culture(s) of Western Europe??

On “Truth”, Christopher Columbus, and MLK, Jr.

I will not be able to meet with you all on February 4th, but we can still do some vital work with regards our unit theme of “truth” – and that is precisely what I want to do through your first Blogpost of the semester.  For “class”, you are to choose one of two well-known articles to read, written by Howard Zinn and Derrick Aldridge, respectively.  Then, for your Blog post, I want you to respond and share what you found to be most striking about the “truths” illuminated in your chosen article.  Please note:  your response should be no less than two robust paragraphs in length.  If you choose to respond to the Zinn article, you might consider, for example, the question of what, exactly, the “truth” is concerning Christopher Columbus’s journey?  What are some of the main obstacles to really knowing the “truth” on this contentious subject?  Also, does Zinn’s account demonstrate that it is “inevitable” that the writing of history takes sides?  Alternately, if you choose to respond to the Aldridge article, you might explore the ways in which Martin Luther King, Jr. is characteristically (and narrowly) portrayed in the mass media, working to identify which of his ideas are most commonly communicated to the public – and to think about why he is portrayed in this way.  Furthermore, what gets lost for those who aren’t able to see beyond the “master narratives” that Aldridge describes concerning King?  For both of these articles, what are the broader implications for our perceptions of the “truth”?

“Reading” Art

Artist Francis Bacon noted directly that “Everybody has his own interpretation of a painting” and he is also quoted as saying that “I don’t believe art is available; it’s rare and curious and should be completely isolated; one is more aware of its magic the more it is isolated.” Bacon has had a famously contentious career, and his work would be a fine choice for a critical reading exercise.  A week ago in ‘Readings’ class, we spent a day analyzing and interpreting photographic images.   For this final Blog post of the semester I want to do a similar activity, or at least to practice similar skills – a focused type of reading that is especially important for some of you doing your final projects on the topic of art.   In this case, I want you to choose a favorite piece of art and “read” it, examining its various parts and details in order to “deconstruct” the artwork and make meaning out of it.  To do so, you might refer to the photography handout given to you in class, which provides a series of cues and questions you might ask when “reading” an artistic image of this kind.  For your Blog post, I want you to think critically about your chosen piece of art and “interpret” its cues as you deem fit, providing us with two detailed paragraphs of analysis and discussion.

Reading Between the Lines (or, the Dangers of Single Stories)

For this Blog post, I want you to “read between the lines” and work to analyze and examine the material that is NOT found in a story.  Specifically, you are to write 2-3 paragraphs of careful, in-depth analysis, and the aim here is for you to:  1)  Use your critical thinking skills to build upon the ideas of Chimamanda Adichie in her well-known TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”  2)  Practice your skills in critically reading a story of your choosing – skills of the very kind you will be using for your next formal writing assignment.  With these goals in mind, here’s what I want you to do for your Blog post:  First up, I want you to pick out a narrative “text” that is either written BY someone from another culture, or written ABOUT some person or occurrence from another place.  You might, therefore, select a literary story or some other form of media narrative (a feature news story or even photograph would qualify here).  To borrow from Adichie’s words, in reality “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”  So, in looking at your chosen story, what other stories are there but do not get told?  What are some of the most important gaps or omissions in your chosen story, and how can you tell?  Perhaps more importantly, what are the ramifications of these gaps for what the reader perceives to be the “reality” of the situation, the “truth” of the society in question?  Putting things even more simply, if you “read between the lines” and deconstruct the narrative (in terms of what is seen but also NOT seen), what do you find – and why is this so important??

Interrogating Social Identity

In recent ‘Readings’ classes, we have been considering the challenges of “stereotype threat” through the ideas found in Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi. In hand with that exploration, we have been introducing the Critical Thinking concepts of ‘paradigms’ and ‘assumptions’. This Blog post is an extension of that work, and in many ways the hope is that you tie these various threads together in some way by offering up your response to your Interview and, in that response, negotiating the assumptions and paradigms at hand as well as exploring the stereotypes or “threats” felt by your interviewee.  As mentioned on the assignment sheet, your task is to explore the experience of someone with a different set of social contingencies than your own, and to report what you’ve found in an insightful way.  So, taking into consideration the additional details found on your assignment sheet, please present your interview and share your thoughts about just how we ARE all living “under a cloud” (to use Steele’s terms) as a result of our identity contingencies.

Myth Making in the Movies (version 2.0)

Since the earliest years of the cinema, fantasy has been one of the most common filmic modes — and it is no coincidence that many (or indeed most) fantasy films feature significant elements of myth and/or tragedy.  For your final Blogpost of the semester, you have three options: 1) Returning your attentions to the ‘Wizard of Oz’, just how does the film fit with some of the key archetypes or heroic adventures we have seen so far this semester? Be specific and detailed in explaining your answer.  As an alternative here, if you’d like to address some characters or themes in another early American movie with “mythological” elements, that would be just fine.  2)  In the wake of our fun-filled screening on Monday of ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’, it would be interesting to hear some more words on the mythological (or tragic) elements, characters, or themes of George Lucas’s influential film. Again, if you want to address some of the ideas, heroes, or symbols in one of the other ‘Star Wars’ films that we did NOT watch (or maybe even ‘Star Trek’), that would be useful as well. 3) Finally, what do you make of the myth-making in J.R.R. Tolkein’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and/or the Harry Potter franchise?  Since it is your final Blog of the semester, I have deliberately left this prompt a little bit open-ended, but I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on some of the most famous (cinematic) “myths” created in the (post)modern world!

Literary Adaptation and Filmic Fairy Tales

In our third and final unit of ‘Games of Thrones’, we are going to be thoroughly exploring the ways in which the seeming realities of the Premodern world have been re-imagined and appropriated by the creators of fantasy stories and fairy tales.  Throughout this process we will be considering cinematic “texts” that were, in fact, based on literary originals.  Hence, for this Blog post I want us to consider the subtleties and challenges of literary adaptation in a very specific context.  Namely, for your response, I want you to trace a particular line of descent by comparing and contrasting two versions of fairy tales.  As we have seen in class, the most famous and influential fairy tales ever written are likely the versions found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which was published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 (originally under the German title of Kinder und Hausmärchen, or ‘Children’s and Household Tales’).  For most of us in this class, however, your sense of fairy tales is NOT driven by the Brothers Grimm but, instead, by the wildly popular movies produced by the Walt Disney Company.  Fairy tales are SO incredibly popular, however, that they have also increasingly been (re)modernized in versions marketed for a more adult audience (as in Snow White and the Huntsman, Maleficent, or Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters).  For this response, I want you to bring into conversation two selected fairy tales of your choosing, and preferably two different versions of the same story.  To do so, you must choose a particular “text” from two of the three categories above (that is to say, a Grimm’s Tale, a Disney “Princess” movie, and/or a recent live-action “re-boot”).  The Brothers Grimm were especially interested in religion, class, family, childhood, and power, but there are a number of themes (if not morals) that can be identified in their textual originals, and the same is true of the later movies (whether Disney or otherwise).  In your response, then, you should offer a thematically-oriented comparison, in which you discuss the modes and meanings of cinematic adaptation(s).  Hence, you might consider such questions as:  What are these stories and versions about, and in what ways are they notably similar and different?  What are some of the key tropes in your selected films/texts, and how do they differ from one another in terms of theme and technique?  How do your chosen works project the Premodern world (both in “imaginary” and “realistic” ways)?  Do these “texts” ultimately suggest different ideas and definitions of “fairy tales”?  How/why so?  Finally, what social and political ideas do your “texts” seem to project, and more to the point, what is the “moral” of each story (both for their own original time and audience and our own purposes in 2015)?

Folktales of the American Frontier (Version 2.0)

Having examined fairy tales from the European tradition, we are now moving on to the folklore of America.  There are countless “tall tales” from far and wide in the fledgling United States, and the folktales of this country are simultaneously exceptional and unusual while also being discernibly connected to prior tales and traditions.  To examine these fascinating stories, you have two options:  1)  In response to the stories assigned for Wednesday (4/8), you should identify and choose a significant theme or image from a specific tale that you find to be particularly intriguing.  Then, I’d like you to do a little (research) reading into the historical time period in question and the issue in question as it relates to that age.  Next, move on to examine the issue as it appears in the story and offer a brief interpretive analysis of  just what the author seems to be doing by way of rendering that issue for the reader in this tale.  2)  The second option for this response is offered in the spirit of light-hearted fun that infuses these American “tall tales.”  For those of you with a creative spirit (and/or those who simply to try out something a little different), I’d like you to write a short “story” of a kind.  Specifically, put together a brief excerpt that presents another “story” featuring one of our three characters for Monday — Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyan, or Daniel Boone.  In your story, try to adopt the tone, diction, and narrative style of your chosen source, and then offer a tale that may somehow seem “authentic” in its representation of this character and type of story.  If you would additionally like to give us any overview of your thoughts and approach in writing your story, of course you may feel free to outline that for us as well.  Have some fun with this!!

Fairy Tales: The Brothers Grimm vs. “Uncle Walt”

Probably the most famous collection of premodern fairy tales was Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which was published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in 1812 (originally under the German title of Kinder und Hausmärchen, or ‘Children’s and Household Tales’).  Grimm’s tales offer fascinating resources for various historical subjects, but especially topics revolving around childhood and family.  It may come as no surprise, therefore, that these themes are writ large in the other most famous series of fairy tales ever produced: namely, the various films by Walt Disney and his company that are based upon fairy tales.  For this response, then, I want you to have a little fun with these tales, which ARE simultaneously meant for entertainment while also engaged with educating readers/viewers about certain moral ideas.  I thought it would be interesting to see what might happen if you precisely and directly bring the tales of the Brothers Grimm and the films of “Uncle Walt” into conversation.  Thus, I want you to somehow compare a single, specific story (or character) from Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a particular movie (or character) from the Disney universe.  What are these stories and versions about, and in what ways are they notably similar and different?  What did you find shocking or surprising in these stories, and why?  Do these “texts” ultimately suggest different ideas and definitions of “fairy tales”?  How/why so?  Finally, what is the “moral” of the story for your chosen “texts”, and more importantly, what social or political ideas relative to the early nineteenth century (vs. more recent times) do your selected stories seem to subtly highlight and comment upon?

Tragic Shakespearean Characters vs. Medieval Mythical Heroes

By now, you are all aware that your next paper is going to be a compare and contrast paper on a ‘premodern’ mythological hero (or idea, theme, etc.).  Hence, to practice the skills involved in comparison, I thought it would make some sense for your final Blog post of Unit Two to be comparative in nature.  Accordingly, for this response I want you to compare Othello (or another character from Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name) with some other figure we have encountered of late.  Among the possibilities, then, would be some kind of comparison featuring Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, Sigurd, Roland, Thor, Odin, King Arthur, Lancelot, or maybe Guinevere.  Whichever figure(s) you choose to use as the basis of your comparison, the key is not just to note that there are similarities and differences at play but to illustrate them, and investigate them.  In so doing, you must demonstrate how bringing your two characters together reveals something about them (their beliefs, their world, etc.) that would not have been clear otherwise.  Thus, much like your second major paper, this response is asking you consider how bringing the two characters helps to illuminate their (respective) meaning and significance; it highlights why it is important to read them together and explains what gets learned through this comparative and analytical negotiation.

Celtic Connections

In a classic study of the Origins of English History, Charles Isaac Elton offered high praise for the wonders of Celtic mythology.  In a notable passage, he proclaimed that the writing and “religion of the British tribes has exercised an important influence upon literature.  The medieval romances and the legends which stood for history are full of the ‘fair humanities’ and figures of its bright mythology.  The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the woods and streams appear again and again as kings in the Irish Annals, or as saints and hermits in Wales.”  Having just begun our second unit with the powerful Anglo-Saxon legend of Beowulf we have made a transition in our course, not only moving forward in terms of our chronological timeline but also addressing texts written in Britain – a place, as Elton suggested, with a rich literary legacy and a place from which we trace our own “mother tongue.”  In this Blog post, then, I want you to do the following as a way to forge some meaningful connections between various legends written in Great Britain.  Specifically, I want you to present a single quotation from one of your assigned Celtic myths, and use it to draw thematic connections with Beowulf.  How does your chosen quote offer us a window into understanding not only the Celtic myth itself that you are drawing from, but looking back, how might it provide an interesting way into making sense out of the complex text of Beowulf?  Drawing on your chosen quotation, what connections can you make between the great Anglo-Saxon legend and the much shorter Celtic tale in question?  In what ways are these two works similar, and in what ways are they noticeably different, and what might we learn about the myths and legends of Britain from these similarities and differences?

Observations on Ovid

In the Art of Love, Ovid writes that “He who has enjoyed kisses, if he does not also enjoy other things, deserves to lose even those that were given to him.”  This whimsical line perfectly embodies much of Ovid’s verse:  playful and provocative to the very core.  Ovid was willfully suggestive in his writing, and he found himself in “hot water” in his own lifetime, as he was exiled from Rome in part (it seems) because of the controversial nature of his (often satirical and sexually-oriented) verse.  No one can be sure what happened to him after his death, but the great medieval poet Dante places Ovid in Limbo in his Divine Comedy, found in the first circle of hell in a “splendid school” of writers who lived before Christianity and thus cannot ascend to heaven.  But one might well wonder whether Ovid would have been divinely blessed had he been born at a later date, given the controversy and tumult he seemed to create/invite during his own day and age.  Bearing in mind the mixed reactions that have greeted Ovid for thousands of years, in this post I want you to offer your own two cents’ worth about this important and influential poet, a writer far more controversial than any others we have considered in Unit One.  What is YOUR impression of Ovid as a writer?  More to the point, how does he fit the overall arc of our study thus far in class?  In what ways do his works serve to continue and further cultivate key ideas and approaches to mythological writing that we have seen over the first few weeks?  On the other hand (and perhaps more importantly), what marks him as an author who is doing something different, something that pushes the very bounds of mythical writing and takes this generic type in new and fresh directions?  When answering such questions, it would be useful if you cited lines from his writing in order to illustrate and support your over-arching perspectives on the writer whose full name was Publius Ovidius Naso.