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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...

by Professors Janice Siegel and Timothy Peters

1. Don't sweat your introduction. Some writers (me included) like to write it up formally after the paper is written. That does not mean that you can write the paper without having a guiding idea. You must have a thesis statement and an approach in mind (which your outline exercises can provide you with) before you begin writing. However, the actual writing of the introduction can be a daunting task in the very beginning. Do not try to make the galaxy safe for humanity in either your introduction or conclusion. Even when generalizing, stay focused on your task.

2. A thesis is an argument, an arguable interpretative or analytical statement that you develop and support with frequent evidence from the text(s). A good thesis is immediately plausible, but never obvious (after all, you want to have a point that will make the reader wish to read further). In a way, a thesis statement is really a conclusion – it presents the argument you will have proven by the end of the paper. It is often helpful to present in your introductory paragraph not only your thesis but also an explanation of the route you will take to get there – if your reader can follow a road map of your ideas, he will enjoy the trip more.

3. No paragraph should ever be less than three sentences long. Your introductory paragraph is especially important. Look at a print-out of your essay when you think you are done. If a whole page goes by without a paragraph break or if there are more than two or three paragraphs per page, there is probably a problem with the way you have organized your thoughts. If the flow of your essay is choppy, then so is the flow of your ideas. If everything is mashed together in one big chunk, then you have not organized your thoughts enough for your reader to follow the different phases of your presentation.

4. FOCUS! FOCUS! FOCUS! Every discussion in your paper must relate to your thesis topic (which must be clearly indicated before you launch into the arguments supporting it).


Facts are inarguable pieces of data gathered from a study of the text (including information on plot, setting, characterization, speech, etc.). A good example of a fact is that Antigone dies in the play Antigone. Arguments are interpretations and are by definition arguable: the fact that Antigone dies may be indisputable, but why she chooses to break Creon’s law is certainly arguable: I can just as easily use details from the text to argue that Antigone was utterly altruistic in her desire to bury her brother as I can to argue that she was motivated by desire for glory from the gods or a host of other selfish reasons. How well I use facts from the text to support my view determines the success of my argument and ultimately…my paper.)

Following these rules will help you to avoid falling into the "plot summary trap." Remember that when you attempt to validate or denounce an action of a character (a son murdering his mother, for example), you are offering an argument, a way to interpret the facts. You argument comes from your head and your heart; your proof comes from the text. This is what makes your essay unique: you.

6. Never off-handedly make reference to a crucial point of argument in your conclusion if you have not already presented it thoroughly in the body of your paper.

The secret to including quotations is that you should never use a direct quotation for the sole purpose of providing details of plot. This is plot summary, not analysis. Remember that you are writing for people (me) who are familiar with the plot. Your job is to use the words of the poet/playwright to support your reading or interpretation of the plot. A discussion that begins with "Pericles says…" is generally doomed to be plot summary and therefore unacceptable in a critical essay. Your essay should be more about why something happens, for instance, rather than what happens. Following are by far the most common mistakes made by students when it comes to introducing quotations and suggestions on how to do it right:

(BAD) According to the author of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself says, "I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world."

(GOOD) According to the author of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself announces the metaphorical nature of his teaching: "I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world."

Here's another example:

(BAD) Clytemnestra cries out as she kills Agamemnon, "Act for act, wound for wound!"

This is plot summary without argument. My response: "So? Why are you telling me this?"

(GOOD) As she strikes Agamemnon, Clytemnestra demonstrates that her act of murdering her husband is in fact an act of justice, a punishment for his past crimes: "Act for act, wound for wound!" (Ag. 1555). (GOOD) This example uses the citation to help make an argument.

Do not try to merge long quotations of the text into your own sentences.

8. HOW TO INCORPORATE A BLOCK OF QUOTED LINES INTO YOUR PAPER: If you are quoting more than two lines, you must "juxtapose" the quotation ("indent the single-spaced quotation on the page"). Introduce the block quotation with a full sentence. After the citation, continue your essay in regular format:

        Clytemnestra’s enmity for Agamemnon, so apparent to the

 audience, escapes the notice of the welcoming Chorus:

(Ag. xxx-xxx)

Clytemnestra's reference to XXX proves that she knew the answer to

her question before she asked it and that Agamemnon was doomed 

the moment he arrived home...

(The above is just a silly example, but the point is this: always introduce a longish quotation with a full sentence and then a full colon, never a comma. Also, always manipulate your reader so that by the time he reads the quotation, which he has read many times before no doubt, he reads it through your eyes. This is the key. After you give the quotation, hammer home your point, with a nod to the text. This is tricky and takes lots of practice to do well. Just avoid letting the quotation speak for itself, and you will be on the right track.)

9. HOW TO CHECK YOUR WORK: A good way to find out if you have used quotations correctly in your paper is to read the paper through without reading any of the block quotations. If sentences you thought were introducing a quotation don’t include a complete thought, then you didn’t do it right. The entire essay should make perfect sense without the sentences incorporating textual citations (they are the ultimate gravy, or icing, depending on the food metaphor you prefer).


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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