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Write a short (3-5 paragraphs) but well-organized essay on ONE of the following topics, giving a
comparative discussion of two works (from different authors/sources) of your choice, following
the suggestions as follows. Your essay should display your familiarity with the two works of
your choice by providing specific examples from them, and focus on the artistic aspects of these
works of your choice.
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CPLT 017A: Possible Comparative Topics for the Essay in Final Exam
Write a short (3-5 paragraphs) but well-organized essay on ONE of the following topics, giving a
comparative discussion of two works (from different authors/sources) of your choice, following
the suggestions as follows. Your essay should display your familiarity with the two works of
your choice by providing specific examples from them, and focus on the artistic aspects of these
works of your choice.
1. (“Love Songs”) The Egyptian Love Songs, the Hebrew Song of Solomon, some of the poems
from the Chinese Classic of Poetry, the Greek poet Sappho of Lesbos, the Roman poet Catullus,
the Chinese poet Li Qingzhao, and some of the classical Indian poets all take love as their main
theme. What do they share in common? How are they different in terms of their presentation of
such a theme? What different “moves” do they make? What different “weapons” do they deploy?
2. (“Human Body”) Some of the above, and also Ovid’s Metamorphosis, display a strong sense
of the human body. What do they share in common? What are the different artistic measures they
adopt to make such a sense felt by the reader?
3. (“Variety of Death and/or Violence”) Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s
Metamorphoses, the British epic Beowulf, the French epic Song of Roland, Dante’s Inferno,
Boccaccio’s Decameron (e.g., Day 4, Story 9), Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and Euripides’
Medea all contain description of death, slaughter and violence. What do they share in common,
and how are they different in terms of their syuzhet?
4. (“Prose Narratives”) Boccaccio’s Decameron and Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji are
fiction in prose, though one of them is a collection of stories and the other one a novel. What do
they share in common? How do they vary in narrative skills?
5. (“Image of Female Characters”) In the works we have studied, quite a number of female
characters stand out: Penelope in the Odyssey, Dido in the Aeneid, Euripides’ Medea, Myrrha in
Ovid’s Pygmalion, Boccaccio’s Griselda, and some of the women in The Tale of Genji. Choose
two or three among these and write an essay comparing the ways how they are depicted by their
respective authors. What do they share in common? How are they different?
6. (“Concept of God(s)”) Psalms from the Hebrew Bible, the Greek epics (Iliad and Odyssey),
Virgil’s Aeneid, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, European works from Ovid to Dante, and The
Bhagava-Gītā all contain varied attitude toward God or gods. What do they share in common?
How do they differ in terms of their “moves” and “weapons” as found in their representation?
7. (“Life, Nature & Philosophy”) The Bhagava-Gītā, the poems of the Indian poet Bhartṛhari
and some others, the Chinese poets Tao Qian, Li Bo and Du Fu, and Sei Shōnagon’s The Pillow
Book all involve discussions of life, nature and philosophy. What do they share in common?
How are they different in their varied representation (syuzhet)?
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8. (“Dramatic Art”) Compare Sophocles’ Oedipus the King with Euripides’ Medea. In terms of
their dramatic art, what do they share in common, and how do they differ in their representation?
The above are some of my suggestions. You may use them, but are not necessarily restricted by
them as long as you discuss a minimum of two works (not from the same author or source, and
better from different cultural context) and as long as you find something comparable (similarities
and differences) in terms of their artistic aspects. Just for one example, you may want to write an
essay discussing The Pillow Book and Anne Frank’s Diary, if you have read the latter previously
even though it is not included in our reading. However, if you want to write on a topic of your
own, the other text has to be an acknowledged masterwork of literature, and you need to discuss
it either with myself or with Ms. Cetin during our office hours, or via email exchanges. Avoid
paraphrasing and lengthy discussion on the ideological, philosophical or religious aspects of the
works of your choice.
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CPLT 17A: Essays from the Mid-Term Exam
On Homer’s Iliad: I
Among the ancient Greek and Roman epics, the Iliad stands out as one of the best. Written in
the eighth century B.C.E. by the Greek minstrel Homer, the Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War. In
the Iliad, the Archaeans are fighting the Trojans, because Paris, a prince of Troy, has stolen the wife
of their commander’s brother (Menelaus) with the help of Aphrodite. Though the fabula of the Iliad
consists of the Archaeans fighting the Trojans, Homer takes the material and sculpts it into a
beautiful literary work through his use of in medias res, Homeric epithets, and dialogue.
First, Homer uses in medias res at the beginning of the epic to foster its development. For
example, Homer does not start his story off from the war’s beginning, but nine years into it. Despite
that Homer begins to narrate his story nine years into the Trojan War, the use of in medias res allows
him to use flashbacks to discuss events that have taken place earlier in the war. Through his use of in
medias res, Homer is not only able to draw attention to the present circumstances of the Trojan War,
but also to their relationship to past occurrences.
Next, Homer relies on Homeric epithets to give his characters a distinct identity. For
instance, Homer uses the epithets “godlike” and “shining sprinter” to describe Achilles’ skills as a
warrior and an athlete. Also in describing the steely gaze and wisdom of Athena, Homer uses the
epithets “grey-eyed goddess” and “the Grey-eyed One.” With his use of these and other epithets,
Homer not only creates characters that have an individualized identity, but he makes them easily
identifiable throughout the epic.
Lastly, Homer makes use of dialogue in his epic to enliven his narration. For example,
instead of describing the conflict that takes place between Achilles and Agamemnon, at the
beginning of book one, Homer has both of them verbally state their respective positions. Through his
preference of dialogue over description, Homer indicates what motivates his characters into action.
Furthermore, not only does Homer’s inclusion of dialogue make his epic more human, but it also
makes it much more entertaining to the audience.
Evidently, by using in medias res, Homeric epithets, and dialogue, Homer makes his
contribution to making the Iliad into a literary masterpiece. Through these literary devices, Homer
creates continuity between the past and the present, he breathes life into memorable characters, and
makes his epic engaging.
On Homer’s Iliad: II
Dramatic and realistic descriptions of gruesome scenes, as well as the structure of Homer’s
epic and the telling epithets that individualize each character, are all aspects of syuzhet, whereby
Homer “sheds his heart’s blood” in making the Iliad a vivid literary creation (and my favorite work
among those we have studied so far).
Instead of glazing over the violence of war with flowery language, Homer uses concrete
description that seizes the readers and leads them to dive straight into the heart of the action. In his
portrayal of Hector’s death at the hands of Achilles, for example, Homer provides graphic details for
the readers to visualize in their imagination. It paints a realistic image, or even a reel of scenes in the
reader’s mind, evoking emotion and tantalizing the senses. Concrete images of Priam rolling in the
dung, lamenting his son’s death, twist the reader’s heart while details of exhausted soldiers
quenching their thirst and Olympians meddling in human affairs add depth to the plot. Had Homer
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not elaborated, had he not written of Hector’s windpipe left unmarred, the dramatic nature of the
scenes, the emotion, the senses, the color, would all be zapped from the work. Without Homer’s
genius in artfully depicting concrete visuals, the Iliad would be rendered almost boring.
Whether it is fleet-footed Achilles bearing down like the foreboding star Sirius, grey-eyed
Athena prodding men to war, or sweet-worded Nestor resolving a dispute, Homer’s use of epithets
characterizes a vast cast of characters and brings each of them alive for the reader. By highlighting a
few singular traits of each individual, Homer makes each character distinct from the next instead of
confusing the reader with a large number of nebulous characters. Homer’s use of compound
adjectives and an amalgamation of nouns and adjectives has become a text-book term for a reason.
His descriptive Homeric epithets are therefore a key ingredient in the artful manipulation of the
Iliad’s fabula.
The structure of Homer’s epic begins in media res—straight into the heart of the action.
Without focusing on the cause of the war or giving lengthy descriptions of previous events, Homer
focuses on the issue at hand and begins when Achaeans and Trojans are already committed to war for
years. This elicits greater emotions from the audience. When flashbacks are deemed necessary,
Homer employs the use of precedent scenario to give the readers key clues to motives, without being
lengthy or overly convoluted. An example of this occurs at the beginning of Book 1 when the readers
learn of Agamemnon’s capture of Chryses. However, straight into the action, instead of “ab ovo,” the
readers delve into the consequences of such previous events.
Homer weaves realistic descriptions of gore and violence, a structure that begins in the
denseness of action, and epithets to make his work come alive, and he mold the fabula into what
makes it epic, what makes it artful—his syuzhet—making it my favorite work.
On Homer’s Odyssey: I
I have chosen Homer’s the Odyssey, from the 8th century B.C. The piece is my favorite
primary epic, meaning that the story grew through oral traditions. The syuzhet of the poem is made
up of many aspects, or more specifically epithets, similes, and metaphors. These features are
beautifully manipulated to provide the artfulness of the piece.
Epithets are common in epic poetry and mythology. It provides the character with an
immediate defining quality. This helps the speaker to memorize and preform the piece more
effectively. For example, Hermes is addressed as “quicksilver Hermes” or Circe addressed as “ the
nymph with lovely braids”. It gives the characters new depth that wouldn’t be easily described and
understood otherwise.
Similes make the piece flow beautifully by comparing events and objects to analogies. For
example, “as a blacksmith plunges a glowing ax in an ice-cold bath and the metal screeches stem…
the eye of the Cyclops sizzled around the stake.” Homer did not simply say the Cyclops was stabbed
in the eye, he made a powerful image in the mind of the audience.
The final impressive aspect of Homer’s epic is his use of metaphors. This gives the poem
imagery and artistic value. A beautiful example is “nine years we wove a web of disaster”. This
expresses the intensity of Odysseus’ sorrow and homesickness. Instead of simply telling the events of
Odysseus’s journey, as well as the length, Homer wants us to feel the longing to return home that
Odysseus must have had in his mid.
This poem had been orally passed down and I feel that that is important to know when
analyzing the piece. It was an art produced during a time when it was meant to be performed and
memorized. That is why Homer has picked these artistic features because, without them we would
never appreciate the epic as a great work of art.
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On Homer’s Odyssey: II
Homer, in his groundbreaking epic the Odyssey, creates for his listener/reader an attentiongrabbing tale by developing Odysseus as a complex, multi-faceted and “like-able” protagonist. He
goes about this through the use of juxtaposition between scenes of grotesque violence and romantic
passion, as well as the use of extended similes and Homeric epithets.
Violence and gore are integral characteristics of Homer’s epics and while they are brutal and
descriptive, they also serve to portray Odysseus as strong and unforgiving. An example of this type
of violence is evident in the description of how Odysseus and his men drive the stake into the
Cyclops’ eye. The narrator describes the “whirlpool of blood” that has formed and the “sizzling and
popping” that become audible upon the puncturing. The scene serves as a kind of expedition of
Odysseus’ ruthlessness and cold cunning that is to be expected of a war hero, and the use of such
diction can attest to this claim. Odysseus, throughout the epic, is illustrated as a heroic champion
completely devoid of weakness; however, Homer skillfully incorporates moments of emotional
weakness within his protagonist, resulting in a more “three-dimensional”, more believable, character.
This emotional weakness is brought to light when Penelope’s questioning of him is described as “all
he could bear”. Until now the story’s hero, with unshaken resolve, has bested Poseidon’s waves,
Circe’s advances, and the Cyclops’ onslaught, among many other trials, and this same hero is brought
to tears at the sight of his skeptical wife. The juxtaposing of this and many other pairs of scenes all
serve to illustrate the complex protagonist Odysseus.
Homer also incorporates long drawn extended similes in describing characters of his epic.
While exterminating the group of lustful suitors, Odysseus and his loyal servants are likened to
“vultures with crooked talons and hooked beaks” preying on “smaller birds”. The beautifully evoked
simile depicts for the audience the futility of the suitors’ attempts at escaping while simultaneously
illustrating Odysseus and his men as vengeful birds of death. So vastly skilled is Odysseus that the
perishing of his enemies can be so confirmed and guaranteed.
Lastly, the Homeric epithet is utilized by Homer to allocate importance and significance to
central characters of his tale. Many of these are used through the course of the epic such as, “SwiftFooted”, “Gray-Eyed” and “Thunderhead”. Odysseus, of course, is attributed with one of these
glorifying titles, the title of Godlike. Homer intentionally uses this title in an attempt to elevate his
complex and interesting character to the status of a mortal directly beneath the gods and in doing so,
once more, illustrates the skills and qualities of the epic’s hero that are to be admired and glorified. In
the incorporation of these moves, Homer effectively constructs a skilled and respectful champion
with human flaws that is effective in drawing the attention of his audience.
On Homer’s Odyssey: III
Homer’s Odyssey employs many literary devices to keep the reader entertained as well as
informed about the story. Homer introduces the Odyssey in media res, which means in the middle of
the story. This allows him to use flashback to times before the story begins to give us a better
understanding of the background. In the passage, Odysseus flashes back to when the Cyclops
Polyphemus cursed him, while talking to the Phoenicians. This helps the reader understand why the
trip has become so perilous.
Homer does a great job of helping us understand the nature of a character by using epithets.
These form nicknames that we can remember about a character. For example, Odysseus is known as
“the strategist, Laertes’ son, and the wise and experienced”. This allows us to remember what kind of
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a man Odysseus is. Penelope is known as “pale Penelope” due to the worry for her husband to return,
and Hermes is “the wayward one” because he is the messenger of God.
Foreshadowing plays a major role in the Odyssey. Homer hints that the wine that Odysseus
and his men unload on the Cyclops’ island would be important. It becomes essential to the story
because they need to get Polyphemus drunk in order to trick him. After tricking Polyphemus, when
Odysseus takes credit, Polyphemus curses him which foreshadows the dangerous journey Odysseus
is to face ahead.
Lastly, Homer uses irony to create situational humor. When Odysseus gets Polyphemus
drunk he tells him that his name is “Nobody”, so when he blinds him Polyphemus tells the other
Cyclopes that “Nobody is killing me”. The other Cyclops think nothing is wrong with Polyphemus so
they don’t come to his rescue. Irony provides comic relief as well as shows off Odysseus’ intellect.
On Sappho’s Lyric Poetry
From our readings so far, Sappho’s work is the most striking to me. Sappho is an ancient
Greek female writer, and while much of her work has been lost throughout history, the fragments we
do have are quite profound. In her work she makes use of vivid descriptions and details that convey
powerful emotions and feelings.
She does this by making use of sensual imagery. In fact, throughout her pieces she appeals to
all of the senses. In Poem 31, she uses imagery as the persona describes how she feels about the man
she loves. The sense of sound is brought about as she describes his “sweet speaking”, “lovely
laughter”, and how he makes her ears drum. She also speaks of how fire races down her fingertips
and there is no sight in her eyes. Through the use of this appeal to the senses, vision, hearing and
touch, Sappho is able to paint a vivid picture of powerful emotions. She also appeals to the sense of
smell in Poem 94, wherein the lovers discuss how they used to adorn each other with flowers and
sweet oil. The sweet scents compliment the sweet love they once had for one another.
Sappho also fortifies her vivid sensual imagery with the use of powerful allusions. In Poem 1,
the persona addresses Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and desire who is regarded highly in that
poem, as she is described as coming from the godly realm on a powerful chariot led by beautiful
birds. Then the persona asks Aphrodite to be her ally in love, and not to break her heart. Another
allusion is made in Poem 16, where a reference is made to Helen of Troy. In this poem, it highlights
the fact that Helen has left her home and everything she once had, just to be with the one she loves.
Both Helen and the goddess Aphrodite are powerful allusions to make because of how prominent
they were in ancient Greek times especially. Their backgrounds make them both powerful symbols of
love for Sappho to use.
Another way Sappho makes her message profound is through the use of similes. In Fragment
105B, she compares something to a hyacinth flower being trampled on the mountainside. This is a
very brutal and powerful scene because of how a sweet and peaceful thing like a flower is being
utterly destroyed. The flower is like a defenseless victim, which causes this scene to evoke strong
emotions. Sappho makes another simile in Fragment 112 that is directly related to love. In it, she
compares the eyes of a man who has just got married to honey, being filled with desire. This also
appeals to the sense of taste, with honey being sweet and people desiring it. Through the use of this
Sappho has a different way of conveying human emotions that tend to be powerful and difficult to
describe, which is what she is able to do in all her poems using her various literary techniques. That
is what makes her stand out to me among all those great authors of the ancient times.
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On “Fishhawk” from the Chinese Classic of Poetry
I have chosen the lyric poem “Fishhawk” from the ancient Chinese Classic of Poetry, not
necessarily because it is my favorite, but because of its ‘syuzhet’, the techniques that give the work
the defining traits of a poem, such as its use of imagery, deictic devices, and repetition; such a study
allows novice poets to comprehend the ‘moves’ that give poetry its aesthetic value as a literary genre.
Most noticeably, the first ‘move’ used in the poem is its imagery. Throughout the poem, the
author uses vivid, sen …
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