Great Works of the Western Tradition

Great Works of the Western Tradition

Kevin L. Harter, Instructor


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AIDress one of the topics below in a well-developed essay of about 4 to 5 pages (double-spaced, 12 pt. font). Please follow the Modern Language Association (MLA) style for quotations, citations, and identification of sources. For all topics, define terms and support your points with frequent, brief quotations or citations of our works by standard reference number (for Plato), canto and line numbers (for Dante), or page numbers in parentheses in the body of the text. Page numbers should correspond to the specific editions of the works listed on the Works Cited page following the essay. For more specific format guidelines and examples, as well as links to very helpful information about plagiarism, what it is, and how to avoid it, please see <>, which is linked to the university Honor Council webpage.
Please submit your essay on Blackboard through SafeAssign AND submit a paper copy in class, which I will return to you with hand-written, barely legible comments, and a letter grade. All essays submitted on time may be revised and submitted again (within one week of its return) for a fresh evaluation and, possibly, an improved grade.
The purpose of these essays is to engage our various works in close comparisons focused on specific topics and themes, a process which should help us to get at the meanings of the works and to make better use of them as readers, thinkers, writers and speakers.
1. Then we’ll allow its defenders, who aren’t poets themselves but lovers of poetry, to speak in prose on its behalf and to show that it not only gives pleasure but is beneficial both to constitutions and to human life. (607d)
Answer the above challenge from Book 10 of Plato’s Republic on behalf of Dante Alighieri and his famous poem, the Comedy. Drawing on the discussion of imitation, myth, poetry and the arts in Books 2, 3, and 10, suggest how Plato might react upon reading Dante’s Inferno. Which aspects, topics, or passages might Plato find praiseworthy, and which might he criticize or recommend for excision, and why? Comment specifically on Dante’s incorporation of mythic material, his use of mimetic forms, and the moral intent of the poem. Include statements and explanations of your own opinions also, especially where your judgments differ from those of Plato or Dante. Is Inferno meant to be pleasant or entertaining? Is it meant to be beneficial?

2. What a potent obstacle to civilization aggressiveness must be, if the defense against it can cause as much unhappiness as aggressiveness itself! (109)
Consider Sigmund Freud’s treatment of aggression as a core aspect of the human psyche in Civilization and Its Discontents, and compare it with Plato’s discussion of spiritedness in Republic. Does spirit present the same dangers and problems that Freud attributes to aggression? How does Freud explain civilization’s method of defense against aggression, and to what extent does that defense agree with Plato’s mechanism for taming the spirit? Would Plato agree with Freud’s suggestion, above, that our defense against aggression can be a potent cause of unhappiness? Cite specific passages in the works to show agreement or incongruity in our authors’ views on the effect and management of aggression in society.

3. When he heard that, he gave a loud, sarcastic laugh. By Heracles, he said, that’s just Socrates’ usual irony. I knew . . . that you’d be unwilling to answer and that, if someone questioned you, you’d be ironical and do anything rather than give an answer. (337a)
Explain this statement from Thrasymachus in Book 1 of Plato’s Republic, from which the term Socratic irony is derived, and expand on the meaning of irony in a more general sense. What exactly is ironic in Socrates’ speech and behavior? Does Socrates agree with this characterization? Cite and explain at least two other examples of irony in Books 2-5 of Republic and compare Plato’s uses of irony with Dante’s incorporation of irony in the first part of his Comedy, the Inferno. Cite and explain several specific examples of irony in Dante’s text as well, and discuss how the ironic content of Inferno differs from that of Republic.

4. Compare Sigmund Freud’s remarks on justice and the moral conscience or super-ego in Civilization and Its Discontents with the attitude of Thrasymachus in Book One of Plato’s Republic. What are the most important points from Thrasymachus, and how does Socrates resist or refute them? Would Freud side with Socrates or his Sophist adversary in their debate over justice? Which points would Freud find reasonable, and which might he resist or criticize? Cite key passages from both works to show how the authors are grappling with the same core issues of human character.

5. Crake and Oryx are clearing away the chaos for you€“because they love you€”but they haven’t quite finished yet. (352)
Compare Socrates’ thoughts on the management of myth and poetry in Plato’s Republic (Books 2, 3, and 10) with Snowman’s use of myth-making and story-telling as guardian of the Children of Crake in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Identify as many significant parallels or pointed contrasts as you can support with precise text references from both works. Consider the settings in which these characters think and speak, as well as the attitudes, purposes and values reflected in their use of myth, poetry and story-telling. How well does Snowman’s myth-making conform to the recommendations of Republic, Books 2 and 3?

6. And in truth justice is, it seems, something of this sort. However, it isn’t concerned with someone’s doing his own externally, but with what is inside him, what is truly himself and his own. (443 c,d)
Compare the treatments of justice in Plato’s Republic and Dante’s Inferno. Refer to the above passage in Republic, and offer some further explanation of the parts and classes within the self. How do they correspond to the content of Inferno? Cite key passages from both works to show the clearest parallels and/or incongruities in these two famed expositions of justice.


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