LLT 121 (Honors) ††††††††††††††††††††††††† Essay 2 :††††† Gift of God
Euripides' Alcestis; Medea; Sophocles' Oedipus; Antigone; or Homerís Achilles

For this second essay follow much the same method as the first, building on close comparison of main characters in two plays (at minimum, 2 primary sources). The suggested focus is the characterization of tragic figures as somehow favored or endowed by a special gift from God. The central question is:

How does this special gift reveal human character and the nature of the tragic hero?

Notice the emphasis on human character and nature. This should not be a study in peculiarities of the gods or pieties about 'fate'. What do these fateful conditions reveal about the human actors, perhaps about the very nature of us all?

Admetus is the obvious example: he is a good man and therefore favored by the god; but the strange gift allows him to make a ruin of his life--were it not for the semi-comic intervention of Heracles. What does this tell us about human beings?

Oedipus is strangely altered from Oedipus the King to the last play, Oed. at Colonus. Yet in both plays he is marked as a character with some special endowment from god: in OK he has the masterful intelligence which, with god's help, rid Thebes of the Sphinx and now promises to rid the city of the plague for Laius' bloodguilt. In OC he is promised a strange deliverance from the travail of this life, and indeed he becomes a spirit honored by men's worship; perhaps we are to understand that this was the redemption that lay in store for him all along. But this turn of circumstance is not ennobling: what kind of character do we see in Oedipus, the saint?

Antigone does not fit this mold so well, perhaps, but it is still a useful approach to her character. She clearly regards her role as a special duty given to her by the gods and thus makes of her tragedy a sort of moral triumph (if you read the play that way) or pathological self-destruction. If you choose a character study of Antigone as willing 'Bride of Hades' you might want to compare Alcestis.

And Achillesí Ö?

Chose two or three characters for comparison; find key passages that illustrate important aspects of this turn: how the characters regard their relationship to god and what that leads them to do and suffer.

A reminder on method: Remember, first and foremost, substantiate your judgment of what the characters mean from the language and action of the play itself. You may, of course, deal with what the play suggests to the 'universal audience' (of which we are important members) But focus on the original audience--what does it mean to them?

You should follow the same general instructions as for Essay 1:

(1) Begin with a 'thesis-statement,' essentially defining your theme and indicating how it will be developed through a discussion of key passages.

(2) Interpret the scenes and speeches most relevant to your theme. Each paragraph should be clearly focused on 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.

(3) And of course give me a conclusion. Your essay should be, again, roughly 3-4 pages, typed or computer print-out (separate pages) with pages numbered. No need forfootnotes or bibliography (cite by abbreviated title and line number: OK 745).


Sigla: The papers will be critiqued with this shorthand:

thesis = you need to define your topic and approach more clearly or specifically

kp = key passage needed (give ref. to specific evidence in the text)

ps = plot summary (with no apparent relevance to theme)

gram = grammatical error (or syntax, if sentence is poorly constructed).

sis = say it simply

ww = wrong word

C/c = connect the concept: show how the point relates to your thesis.