Some Last Thoughts on the Exam

1] You should be able to discuss the texts written by the following authors:

  • Aeschylus [see posting]
  • Herodotus
  • Tyrtaeus
  • Plutarch
  • Isaiah/Micah
  • Homer

In particular this means knowing 1) what they wrote, 2) when they wrote, 3) the historical context of the writing (i.e. what was happening when the text was created), and 4) the purpose of the text.

For example, the following lines are taken from Homer:

 so did The Trojans and Achaeans fall upon one another; they were in no mood for yielding but fought like wolves, and neither side got the better of the other. The Goddess Discord was glad as she beheld them, for she was the only god that went among them; the others were not there, but stayed quietly each in his own home among the valleys of Olympus. All of them blamed the son of Cronus for wanting to give victory to the Trojans, but father Zeus heeded them not: he held aloof from all, and sat apart in his all-glorious majesty, looking down upon the city of the Trojans, the ships of the Achaeans, the gleam of bronze, and alike upon the slayers and on the slain.

A proper response might go something like this:

This is an excerpt from Homer’s Iliad. He wrote it down around 800 BC, but the story itself had been passed along through several hundred years of oral tradition. The story concerns the battle that rages around the city of Troy, or Ilium, attacked by a united Greek force to retrieve the stolen wife of Menelaus, Helen of Sparta. Homer wrote during a period which witnessed the rebuilding of Greek civilization following the Dark Ages (c.1200-800BC), a time when writing itself reappeared on the Greek mainland. This is time when and the polis also emerged, the governing structure of all Greek life. Homer wrote to preserve the stories surrounding the great collective action taken by all the Greeks, the ancestors of the emerging city-states. The Iliad served as part history, part religious text (one that speaks of the gods and presents models of correct and incorrect behavior among men), and part entertainment.

2] You will be asked to provide a thoughtful response to several ‘big-picture’ questions and support your viewpoint with historical facts. Here are big-picture issues you WILL see, probably as essay prompts:

  • How might it be said that Sparta was greatest among the Greek city-states because it created the most excellent citizens?
  • What was the impact of religion on the development of civilization? (recall our discussion concerning Samuel Huntington)
  • What role did Themistocles and Athens play in the Persian Wars?

3] Don’t forget our discussions concerning assumptions and inferences. For example:

  • What assumptions did Babylonians have about cosmology (think Eluma Elish) and how might this have affected attitude about hard labor in the fields?
  • What inferences do Donald Kagan [the Yale professor you watched] or Victor David Hansen [the last handout on Salamis] make about the Greeks? [Answer: that the Greeks differed from other ancient civilizations because of  1)  their insistence upon understanding the world — and man’s place in it (cosmology) — through observation and reason, and 2) their creation of a system (the polis) that allowed them to live as free men.]

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