Dr. Siegel

Paper Topics for IH 51 Paper #1

Refer to these pages for help getting started, but come and see me with an outline or a draft! I welcome those visits:

writing guidelines
writing analogies

style guide

(same day as your midterm - which I have decided will be a take-home)

For your essay, choose one topic to answer. Remember: your job is to persuade me that your way of seeing this topic is defensible and worthy of being agreed with. This paper should be typed, double-spaced, and ABOUT THREE-FIVE pages in length. Show me not only that you have read these texts, but that you have thought about them.

Do your best on this paper. But you should know that after I read it, you will meet with me for a conference, and then you will re-write it. So don't agonize unnecessarily, but *do* write the best essay you can.  I used to grade these papers (I still put a grade on them, but I don't count it), but they were almost universally dreadful, so now I give you a break. The better the original paper, the better the rewrite, so don't hand in an unpolished and not well thought-out effort.

Choose to write on ONE of the following topics:


1. Bernard Knox has said, "One trait after another in the character of Sophocles' Oedipus corresponds to the Athenian qualities praised by Pericles in his Funeral Speech." Find these qualities mentioned by Pericles in his speech and decide if you agree with Knox. Does Oedipus fail because he lacks these qualities? Or does he fail because he takes these "good" qualities to extremes and therefore causes them to become negative? Or, do you see Oedipus as successfully fulfilling the Periclean ideal but becoming the tragic victim of circumstances beyond his control? In conclusion, determine why you think Sophocles might have drawn Oedipus in Periclean terms. What point do you think Sophocles was trying to make to his Athenian audience in 428 BC?

Topic #2 is a slight rewriting of topic #1, but it gives you more leeway: Consider whether the characters created by Sophocles either do or do not share qualities discussed by Pericles in his Funeral Oration. What might you conclude about Sophocles’ message? You may focus on Oedipus if you like, but you don't have to. On the other hand, don't talk about too many characters and lose your focus. I would suggest that you design your paper to focus around certain qualities integral to the works we read, and then present each author's view as you discuss the quality. More on this later in class this week.

Topic #3: Consider whether Sophocles and Pericles concur on what the relationship between the individual and the state should be. Discuss the nature and necessity of laws in society, as well as the ideals of justice and  loyalty. Consider the source of conflict in Antigone and Oedipus Rex and draw your conclusions in an argument which depends on the texts of both Pericles and Sophocles.

NEW!!! Topic #4: Write an essay in which you somehow address the following topic (remember: a topic is a broad description of what the paper is about; a thesis is a pointed, directed argument - taking a side and arguing it out). In several of the texts we have read thus far, characters struggle to remain principled in the face of what they see as injustice. Choose two different texts in which you see this phenomenon occurring and define the nature of the conflict, the relative terms bandied about by the characters ("justice", or "traitor", for example) and the eventual outcome of the struggle engaged in by the character. Does s/he remain true to his "principles"? What is important to the character, what not? How do they compare in this way? How do their actions compare? How do their fates compare? Was it worth it? Are the distinctions to be made between the two characters you have chosen significant in terms of all of the above?

Find a way to present the material you gather...that's the hard part! Make it all work for your argument.


Clearly present the position set forth by each author, but do not simply provide plot summary: as always in a critical essay, use the details of the text to support the conclusions you are drawing about the text. My advice can be boiled down to this:

1. Make sure you have worked out the whole argument before you begin writing the actual paper. Your introduction should offer an overview of your approach and destination – right up front in the beginning.

2. Sketch out your ideas before you write the paper. Make sure your informal outline doesn’t skip any steps in the logic of your argument.

3. Choose your supporting details carefully. Avoid the temptation to stick in every detail you remember.

4. Proofread your final copy before handing it in and fix any errors you find.


Good luck and have fun.

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Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University
Daniel P. Tompkins, Director

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