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Dr J's Audio-Visual Resources for Classics

Courses Taught

INTELLECTUAL HERITAGE (at Temple University)

Course Info:
Sample Syllabus


Course Themes

Delphi- A Focal Point for IH 51 Texts

Writing Guides:
Writing Guidelines

style guide

Writing Analogies

Subject Study Aids:
Aeschylus' Agamemnon Study Guide

Aeschylus' Libation Bearers Study Guide

Aeschylus' Eumenides Passages

Sophocles' Oedipus and the Sphinx Lecture

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles' Funeral Oration

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles and America

Dr. J's Illustrated Pericles and Philadelphia

Dr. J's Illustrated Aeschylus' Oresteia

Dr. J's Curse of the House of Atreus Outline

Dr. J's Background Lecture on Greek Philosophy

Dr. J's Apology Study Questions

Dr. J's Illustrated Plato's Apology

Socrates and the Apology Lecture

Dr. J's Plutarch's Pericles

Judaism Study Guide

Sundiata Study Guide

Epic Qualities of the Sundiata Lecture

Othello Study Guide

Machiavelli Study Guide

Galileo and Humanism Lecture



Courses Proposed
(needs some pruning):

Topics in Classical Culture:
The Legend of the House of Atreus: Greek Tragedy in Greece

Religious Foundations of Greek Culture

The Intersection of Myth and History

The Ancient Greek Cultural Nexus- Art, Archaeology, Literature and Topography

From 1996-2001 I taught in the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This page is part of my teaching materials for Intellectual Heritage 51, a course covering literature and ideas from Sappho through Shakespeare...

Writing Analogies

Learning to write a critical essay is like:

Learning to drive

Remember learning to drive? Remember going down that checklist before you started the engine? Checking your mirrors, fastening your seatbelt, adjusting the seat and steering wheel, checking the gas and oil gauges, looking in your blind spot before pulling into traffic, putting your directional on... Inexperienced drivers are also often too timid to pull into the stream of traffic, even when it is safe to do so. And how is it now that you are an experienced driver? Do you actually go through that same checklist? Do you wait until there isn't a car in sight before you make that left? Yes, the rules are still important, but after a while they become second nature. If you *don't* check the gas, you could get stranded. And if you *don't* check your blind spot, you could get killed. But we are all more comfortable driving with an old-hand, someone we know will give us a safe and profitable ride without needing to resort to the rule book every five seconds. Young drivers lack the finesse, know-how and confidence they will gain as they gain experience. You don't jump on the expressway before you are comfortable driving at a high speed, do you? And you don't choose a curvy, hilly road until you are comfortable driving down streets without such challenges, do you?

Writing works the same way. You have your permit as a beginning writer. Follow the rules until you are comfortable.   As a beginner, your handbooks are essential references and provide necessary information. Checklists of what to do and what not to do keep you on task. Sticking to a format you are comfortable with is a better choice than trying to take on too much. The more you write, the better you will get. Confidence is a big part of this game, as well as technical skill. So take it slowly. If you don't know the most basic rules (how to avoid writing sentence fragments or run-on sentences), you are in big trouble, just as if you didn't know what a STOP sign meant. Even when you do master these basic mechanics, as a beginning writer, you may feel that your writing is too stiff, your essays technically correct yet otherwise boring. But if you are too sloppy, you crash. Just like in driving. Find the middle road. Have patience. Learn why the rules exist before you try to stretch them!

Before you leap into the stream of traffic (= that great discussion that you can’t wait to get to), alert your reader about the direction your paper is going to take!

Putting your blinker on (= writing good transitions between paragraphs) allows other drivers to see your intentions. Let your reader know your intentions too.

Following these simple rules will allow you to write essays that will transport your reader to the destination of your choosing. Have a safe trip.

Writing a critical essay is like…

Baking a cake

Any baker will tell you that creating a successful confectionery demands his paying attention to a great many details, all of which can be compared to writing a successful critical essay:

baker's recipe = writer's outline
This is the overall blueprint which represents not only the desired end result of your efforts, but the exact way in which you will achieve that end. It includes the names and amounts of ingredients, directions on how to prepare, combine, and cook ingredients, and any other details necessary to the project. A writer's outline should offer an overall view of the project, carefully setting forth not only the arguments of the essay, but how those arguments will be argued.

good ingredients = supporting details
The baker's ingredients might include eggs, flour, milk, and sugar. The writer's ingredients might be details of plot and supporting quotations from the text. In neither case is it acceptable to plop down the ingredients and call it a finished product! You wouldn't call a bag of groceries a cake; don't call a collection of details an essay!
Take your raw material and make something of it!

ingredient amounts

Both bakers and writers must determine exactly how much room to devote to particular ingredients. In both cases, an ingredient might be essential, but too much of that one thing could ruin the cake. You can easily err in the other direction, too. Careful!

order of presentation of ingredients

A good recipe will tell the baker to keep dry ingredients separate from liquid, or in what order to add certain ingredients in the cooking process. A good writer will understand that it is not just the argument itself that can persuade, but the overall presentation that can augment or diminish the persuasiveness of the presentation. All writers should consider in what order to present his arguments - which to save for last, which to start off with. It can make a world of difference in the end.

how to mix the ingredients

A lot depends on the right method of mixing the ingredients together: sometimes the recipe calls for a gentle folding-in of ingredients, and sometimes you really have to mash stuff together using a blender! The same goes for writing an essay - determine the best and most persuasive way to present every argument. Is this a good place to paraphrase the text, or does this observation need a direct textual citation as support? Don't belabor a minor point, and don't leave a major point in chunks. Everything should be blended into the body of the essay appropriately, according to its nature.

baking time

After a cake is prepared according to the recipe, it needs to go in the oven, where everything comes together. The "baking time" of an essay can correspond to the time the writer devotes to crystallizing the ideas he has set forth in the course of the essay. If you don't bake it long enough, then you risk ending up with mush. If you keep it in too long, your reader will get indigestion. Spend just enough time at the end of your essay pulling together the threads of your argument...and then let it cool!

secret ingredient

Every cook has his own secret ingredient that makes his concoction uniquely his own. Writers work that way, too, except with writers it is more a question of style than anything else.

an appetizing end result

A nice presentation caps a baker's effort. Make your essay look like it is worth reading (neat, proofed), just like any good cake looks like it is worth eating.

Reading a critical essay is like...

...taking a roller-coaster ride blindfolded

Make your ideas flow smoothly – you are taking your blindfolded reader on a roller coaster ride of your design – nothing too jarring, but not a straightaway stretch for the whole length of the ride, either. Good anticipatory progression toward your best argument, with all the excitement of that last climb and downward swoop. You are the architect - design a good coaster!

... or going on a long car ride

Remember the driving analogy? Well, now imagine you are the passenger in that car. As a passenger, wouldn't you get more out of a car ride to an unfamiliar place if you were prepped before hand on interesting landmarks you might pass along the way, and the route you were going to take on your way there? Otherwise, might it just be a boring, untutored waste of time during which your attention wandered away from the main point?

Your paper's introduction should act as such a map of the journey you are about to take your reader on. Your reader will then be able to enjoy the different legs of the trip, marvel at the landmarks you might pass, and otherwise get a good overview of the journey right from the beginning. Each paragraph should begin with a spot-check of interesting landmarks you are about to pass. When you get to the end of the trip you will feel fulfilled and confident that as a reader you have gotten everything out of the trip you could have – remember – it is not the destination (thesis proven) that reflects the writer's skill, style and spirit, but the journey the reader takes to get there.

copyright 2001 Janice Siegel, All Rights Reserved
send comments to: Janice Siegel (jfsiege@ilstu.edu)

date this page was edited last: 10/25/2005
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