LLT 121 Essay 1-- The Tragic Character

For this first “essay” you have (at least) two options: either a conventional essay, or a “creative” study (of some sort).

The latter would include, for instance, a short story or play translating the ancient tale into a modern or historical setting; or making your own adaptation of the ancient story (departing from the version we read).

For the conventional essay:

Write a well-considered comparison of key characters in two plays: Euripides' Hippolytus and Bacchae, or Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound.

1) Contrast/compare corresponding characters, at least one from each play. What do their stories tell us about the predicament of those who defy the gods, or about those who embrace them (too closely)?

Focus on the self-destructive and redeeming traits of the all-too-human figures.

For example, compare Hippolytus and Prometheus (and possibly Theseus), or Pentheus.

Or similarly compare Phaedra and Prometheus (or Io?) or Agave

2) Consider some of the following questions (for illustration: focus on one or a few, not all):

What is the moral flaw (if any) of Hippolytus? of Phaedra?... What is the undoing of Prometheus?

How (or how well) do they come to recognize their failing?

How do these wrongs compare and what do they tell us about Man's Nature in the ancient understanding?

How do the tragic characters describe the god's justice? What sense do the human actors have of divine intervention? (What do they mean when they say, 'some god brings ruin,' etc.?)

Remember that this is a study in understanding the ancient culture that made these stories and found them revealing.


The structure of your essay should be purposeful and self-evident.

(1) Begin with a 'thesis-statement,' essentially defining your theme and indicating how it will be developed through a discussion of key passages (for instance, comparing characters of Pentheus and Hippolytus as revealed in their own words and in the reactions of others, to reveal the Greeks' conception of human arrogance and tragic ignorance).

(2) In systematic fashion proceed to interpret the scenes and speeches most relevant to your theme. Each paragraph should be clearly focused upon the way the passage relates to the theme. Quote key words or phrases, but do not use block quotes (more than 2-3 lines). Interpret, don't just summarize--your reference to sequence of events or content of a speech should clearly give us some insight on the central problem of man's defiance.

(3) And of course give me a conclusion: tie together the implications of these passages into an overview of the plays' meaning(s), the poet's method, etc. Your essay should be, roughly, 4 pages, typed or computer print-out (separate pages) with pages numbered, stapled or paper-clipped (no folders). No need for footnotes or bibliography (cite Hipp. or PB. with line numbers). Most important, read and reread the text. Tell me what it says, without preconceptions.