LLT 325 Greek Civilization

Essay 2: 'Invention of Athens'

First Option: Write a brief but well-considered essay on the development or decline of Athenian national identity in the later fifth century--How did the Athenians see themselves as a people? How did that vision change?

You should draw upon key passages in two or more of the recent readings-- Electra (ca 413?) Wasps (422) [or Acharnians (425)] and Birds (414) Lysistrata (411), Philoctetes (409), and excerpts from Thucydides. For perspective you may also compare earlier material (Herodotus, Ajax etc.).

Consider some of the following questions: (these are just to give the idea--none specifically required)

What are the various threads of kinship that bind the society together, that make Athens connected within itself and distinct from other nations? Follow such themes as autochthony, democracy, 'the empire as a tyranny,' Athens as 'the education of Hellas.' Pericles' Funeral Oration, of course, is the classic text for the vision of national character and destiny that many Athenians embraced in the 430s. This vision is advanced or altered by such formulations as the speeches at Lacedaemon, the debate on Mitylene, the Melian dialogue and the Sicilian debate. Is there perhaps a change to be discerned in the progression of these statements of national purpose?

How does the vision of Athenian society in Aristophanes respond to the view of Athens advanced by politicians such as Pericles, Cleon, and Alcibiades?

How does Philoctetes perhaps reflect a yearning for 'healing' or joining together, to mend the divisions that have threatened the 'imagined community'?

The 'self-image' that Athenians had of their community was shaped by such events as the overthrow of the tyrants and the triumph at Salamis, and by such institutions as the democratic assembly, council and court, the national observance of Athena's festival and, perhaps most important, the dramatic performances in the theater of Dionysus, at the foot of the Acropolis, where all who could attend would gather in an unparalleled focusing of national attention, and where the playwrites could address themselves to the people of Athens as a whole and as a composite of disparate parts. Thus the 'escapist heroes',  Dicaeopolis (Ach.) and Peisetairos (Birds), deal with a divided audience, some zealously militaristic and others resentful of the war effort; and Lysistrata 'weaves together' the various segments of society in her "fleece" and fabric of Athens.

With the oligarchic revolt of 411 the fabric of this community is unraveling. Lysistrata, earlier in the same year, obviously senses and foreshadows this break. Philoctetes, two years later perhaps reveals a persistent anxiety over divisions within the community.

The growing division within is often represented by the conflict of the old and new ethics, the traditional and sophistic modes of reasoning. Thus in Philoctetes we find the clash of aristocratic values represented by Philoctetes and the true Neoptolemus, versus the logic of self-interest and expediencey which Odysseus articulates (and Neoptolemus for a time adopts). We could compare this division with the quarrel between old and young that Alcibiades and Nicias personify (in the Sicilian debate); or with the clash of characters in Acharnians.


Second Option: Focus on particular character or condition of life, such as The Predicament of Woman; the Young Man's Duty to father and fatherland; or perhaps the Plight of the Aging or elderly.

How are the problems of this character reflected in two or more of the target works.Try to connect this study with the changing identity of the Athenian audience.

 Again, submit your essay as an e-mail attachment (if at all possible) in .doc format (not .docx).

I will acknowledge receipt within 24 hours (if not acknowledged, it was not received).

Reminder on method: Begin with a fairly specific 'thesis-statement' (as for the first option).

The body of the paper should then follow a reasoned argument: don't just list what the authors or the characters say but in each section draw out the implications; and in the conclusion draw these implications together for a broader understanding of the theme.

4-5 pages should be adequate. Focus on the text: identify the key passages and reread them thoroughly. Use paraphrase or brief quotation when this is helpful. Do not pad the paper with block quotes: instead cite the passage by page or line numbers; then in your discussion emphasize key words and phrases, etc.