You are to choose one of the following essay questions. Be sure to write specifically and coherently. All generalizations should be supported by examples. I do not expect you to be able to quote from the works we have read, but if you are able to give a reasonable paraphrase, do not hesitate to do so.
1. Discuss the character of Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. What is the nature of the existential crisis in which he finds himself, and why is his relationship to both the gods and the other Greek warriors so unusual? What realizations does he arrive at during his period of withdrawal from the battlefield? What does it mean to say that he is probably the first true individual, as well as the first “problem character,” in Western literature? Finally, discuss the reader’s response to his behavior. In what ways does Achilles repel our human sympathies? In what ways does he maintain or regain them? In this context you will certainly want to discuss his behavior toward Hector as well as his final meeting with Priam.
2. Discuss Odysseus as an ideal of manly conduct and resourcefulness in ancient Greek society. Naturally you should concentrate on The Odyssey, but The Iliad may also be relevant. What traits does Odysseus embody, and why were these especially valued by the Greeks? Towards what individuals or groups does he show the greatest affinity? What individuals or groups stand at the farthest remove from Odysseus and his system of values? What temptations does he overcome in his journeying, and what kinds of knowledge and understanding does he derive from it. It is possible for an Odysseus to exist today, except as a limited, he-man parody? In this context you may want to compare him to contemporary cinematic action heroes, such as James Bond, or the characters portrayed by Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Tom Cruse. Can the adjective polumetis, which Homer applies to Odysseus, be applied to these characters as well?
3. Define the leading cultural ideals and values of the Homeric Greeks in the spheres of religious, social, political, and intellectual life. The question will entail some discussion of the Greek gods as well as often heroes of the Homeric epic. You answer should take into account the material conditions of the Greeks, their social institutions and geographical location, the forms of their amusements and recreation, their level of economic and technological development, and the position of women (and slaves) in Greek society.
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