Category Archives: literature

The Classics

So I am continuing my insanely long, lets-study-all-of-this-for-the-GRE list. I briefly contemplated just adding the following to the existing list, but thought it might be best if I kept them separate and added to each one as needed. In fact I probably should have split up the previous list into subtopics too. Oh well.

Here is a list of all the Classics that will most likely be on the test, and the works that are probably going to be mentioned.

Homer – Odyssey and Illiad (it has recently occurred to me that a lot of people think these two are the same thing. I don’t know why. They are not. Yes, Odysseus appears in both, but these are still two separate works!!).

Virgil – Aeneid and maybe Georgics

Sophocles – Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and maybe Oedipus at Colonus

Aeschylus – Seven Against Thebes (this one kind of goes with Sophocles’s tragedies, so if you don’t get to it before the test, as long as you know the Oedipus story, you should be fine), and maybe Oresteia.

Ovid – Metamorphoses

Herodotus – Histories

Maybe Euripides – He focused on telling a lot of myths that appear elsewhere and are intertwined with the other Greek stories (Medea, Iphegeneia, Electra, Helen, etc.), so it may be good to just look him over.

Aristotle – Ethics

Plato – Republic, Apology, and maybe Timaeus

I have not seen anything else mentioned, so even though this list is far shorter than my previous one, I think it covers most of what will appear.

Syllabus 2

The second syllabus was a lot easier to create. The first took some time as I had too many ideas. But then I realized I am teaching multiple classes, so I can spread this out. You can read the first syllabus here if you like. Thank you to those who emailed me with suggestions as to how best to teach those works. I hope you do so again (especially with the Coleridge!)

This is my reading list for the second class. This time I actually included links where to find the books. Even though I plan on ordering them through the bookstore on campus, there are currently some paperwork issues that hopefully get resolved in the next month. The links are really for my own reference, so feel free to ignore them.

Beyond Good and Evil by Fredrich Nietzsche
Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Faust  by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
Orpheus and Eurydice by Gregory Orr

I want to start with the Nietzsche since it pretty much sets the tone for the remaining works, and understanding his points will help to decipher the overarching theme I am building.

As I go into Rime of the Ancient Mariner I want to analyze the almost neurotic obsession the mariner has with repentance. Despite his seemingly pathological urge to retell his story doing so does not give him reprieve. Arguably he relives it each time he tells it, making matters worse. What are the forces driving his obsession?

After the Mariner learns his lesson on morality, I want to explore Faust, evincing that that the dichotomy between good and bad isn’t actually very clear at all. There is more to life than a pure delineation of what should be done, and even though we are told to believe there are consequences in transgression, and there may well be, even said consequences and outcomes aren’t immediately identifiable as will be gleaned from the ending of the work.

The supernatural aspect which mystifies all humans is apparent in all of these works, and the underlying theme is its tie to power. In Prometheus Unbound this power takes on yet another form, nature. Much like the Mariner seemingly conquers the albatross, and Faust yearns for supernatural knowledge, Prometheus attempts to harness nature.

While the Mariner’s act of killing the albatross is almost pathetic, Faust magnificently, albeit unnaturally, obtains a series of desires, and Prometheus perfects the process as he further strives to harness natural power, but simultaneously selfishly and altruistically, and thus lending him the most success. Being selfish in itself is not bad, which is a fixed way of interpreting everything. I want to explore the different shades of overreaching, of wanting more, and how they can be read differently than in basic polarized terms.

What all this boils down to is personal motivation as each character seeks that which he feels will render the most satisfaction, whether it be repentance, knowledge, or power. Camus, in the Myth of Sisyphus, grapples with the opposite question: what if life is meaningless? What if there is nothing else? Wanting what you can’t have simply leads to constant disappointment, so why want? Well, Sisyphus didn’t jump off the mountain, he just kept rolling his rock. Life is what you make of it.

I want to end the term with Orpheus and Eurydice, but looking at it from a different perspective than the work I have done with it thus far. I want to look at Eurydice in terms of personal growth. While this work keeps in line with the supernatural theme I seem to have inadvertently developed, that will not be the focus here. Despite her surroundings, I will focus on her quest for more in traditional sense. I also want to look at the difference between static and dynamic characters. How does Eurydice betray such an analysis? How is she dynamic in a circular sense, and how does the idea of repetition through time change her in increments?

I feel like I should add something else. Like there is a work missing.

As for the papers, I am a little more sure this time about what I want to do. A short 3-4 page paper on Nietzsche. A 5-6 page paper on either Faust and Nietzsche, or Faust and Prometheus. A 7-8 page research paper on any other work that they haven’t written on already.

Now I just need to work out the calendar piece of things. I am trying not to front load or back load too much, but I also don’t want to crush them during midterms week. Thankfully, unlike the previous course this is a Wednesday night class, so I don’t have to worry too much about holidays messing up my schedule. For the Monday night class I realized, after having devised the calendar, that I will be missing several weeks due to holidays.

I will get it right one of these times.

Nothing New Under the Sun (1)

First, let’s pretend all the numbers I have in parentheses are footnotes, including the one in the title, because my blog does not allow for actual footnotes.
With that said, I would like to talk about plagiarism (2). As Tanya M.  likes to say, plagiarism is not only rampant, but inexcusable (3). However, I would like to argue that it is not so since sometimes in plagiarism the original work can actually, through careful editing, become improved (4). Think about it – with a few punctuation marks, rhyme, and line break changes, you can turn Marlowe into Shakespeare (5). Then again, no one plagiarized like Shakespeare, if you are going to really get picky about it (6).
To simply say something was plagiarized, is to reduce it to its most basic form, and in my opinion an insult to both the plagiarizer, and plagiarized. Those most notorious offenders never had reason for it to begin with, as they were excellent writers on their own (7). In fact, not terribly long ago imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, and plagiarism, in this regard is the highest form of imitation, and therefore, by some implicit, perhaps even logical connection, also flattery (8). No?
Returning to the idea that those who plagiarize most have the least need to do so (and here I refer solely to those with great ideas, building upon previous genius, and not to petty plagiarism that is sloppy and reckless in form), it can also be argued that plagiarism on their part is inadvertent. If I am to argue that these writers do not need to because their own ability is enough to produce that which they plagiarize, then I must also state that this ability is not born of nothing (9). If plagiarism is theft, then it most closely resembles kleptomania. After reading and rereading others, the ideas become fused into the mind, and reiterated. It cannot be helped (10).
While there may be a psychology of plagiarism (11), il est plus aise de connoitre l’homme en general que de connoitre un homme en particulier (12), which makes it impossible to fully understand motive. Was the plagiarism inadvertent? Produced as a source of flattery? By some means malicious or insidious? Plagiarism cannot be generalized thus to account for every instance, as intention differs between men. Even if plagiarism becomes defined, packaged in some neat, coherent explanation, it escapes its own confines by virtue of motive, human nature (13), and even laws governing ownership (14). The last point refers to who owns the original words, as in, after they are plagiarized, do they not still belong to the original author (15)? Published words are not like physical items, permanently removed from the owner and in the possession of someone else (16). They float around, and in my opinion (although no one has thus far asked), they serve to point towards the original, drawing further attention to it, as opposed to detracting or obfuscating the primary author. Once you write something, and it is made public, I don’t think anyone can ever take that away from you (17). Of course I am mostly thinking of creative sources, and not more academic ones. I could totally see why someone would raise Hell for having their research or journal article plagiarized. But as for the creative territories, like stories, or drama, then there is where I see it as referencing rather than plagiarism. And I am pretty sure others view it the same. Otherwise we wouldn’t have many of our current sources of entertainment (18).
So what is plagiarism? Although definitions abound (19), it seems to center around recycling of various natures (20), and only recently became a horrifying practice (21). As for me? I personally have mixed feelings on the whole business, and shall leave it at that (see footnote number 15 below for a full definition of what this means).
  1. Ecclesiastes 1:9: “The thing that has been, it is that which shall be.. and there is no new thing under the sun.” Jean de La Buyere, Les Caracteres: “We come too late to say anything which has not been said already.” Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy: “We can say nothing but hath been said.” Terence, Eunuchus: “Nothing is said that has not been said before.”
  2. And in speaking about plagiarism, I am going to totally plagiarize Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris in this post. Although the idea originated in one of my classes, my actual idea for creating this post comes from her book, and her thoughts on it.
  3. Tanya never said any such thing. In fact, I don’t believe we even ever had this conversation. She may or may not believe it, but I have no idea. However, since plagiarism extends beyond simply copying ideas, to also falsifying information, then I am here plagiarizing by stating this as Tanya’s opinion. I also don’t think she cares.
  4. Only half of these sentiments are mine, the other half come from Neal Bowers’ “A Loss for Words.”
  5. Ibid. Except for the analogy, which was totally mine. However, you may feel free to plagiarize it. I guess if I give you permission, then it doesn’t count, so on second thought, don’t.
  6. Alexander Lindey, in Plagiarism and Originality actually spent a great deal of time analyzing the extent to which Shakespeare plagiarized, right down to line counts.
  7. Peter Shaw made this argument already, and by reiterating it, I am technically plagiarizing him.
  8. This idea is far from original. I have read it many times over the years, and frankly cannot remember where I first encountered it. I shall here attribute it to Charles Caleb Colton in Lacon. I can only hope to receive a posthumous thank you note.
  9. In a round-about-way I am here referring to Johannes Scotus Eriugena. Not only am I stealing his theory, but reworking it to fit my needs. Plagiarism at its finest. I would add a footnote to this footnote, except that would be entirely too complicated, so I will simply state that Eriugena obtained the majority of his ideas from several before him (as could only be expected), picking up the argument where Boethius left it while also translating other works.
  10. K. R. St. Onge, The Melancholy Anatomy of Plagiarism. Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (see a pattern here?).
  11. William Dean Howell, “the Psychology of Plagiarism.”
  12. Francois de la Rochefoucauld, Maximes.
  13. Wallace Stevens “The Motive for Metaphor.”
  1. Neal Bowers, again.
  2. Ibid. He says no, or at least not in the same way. I personally have mixed feelings. And by mixed I don’t necessarily mean oscillating both ways, but rather that I am confused. “Mixed” just sounds better, so I will stick with that.
  3. Anne Fadiman, again.
  4. Ira Gershwin, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” Shall We Dance.
  5. John Gardner, The Art of Fiction.
  6. Troy Voelker, “Plagiarism: What Don’t They Know?”
  7. Alexander Pope, “Couplets on Wit.”
  8. Harold Ogden, Plagiarism and Imitation During the English Renaissance.