Write a properly formatted MLA-style paper no longer than 1,000 words that examines a theme, among those discussed below, pertaining to Homer’s Odyssey and/or Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Your paper should include appropriate quotes from the texts in order to illustrate your assertions. It should also contain a properly formatted Works Cited page, as well as appropriate in-text citations of the works under consideration; in quoting assigned readings, it should denote poetic line-breaks using a slash with a space on each side ( / ), and properly cite the book or play as well as line numbers of the text(s) it quotes (any quotation of poetry that would be longer than four lines of your paper when using slashes should be offset and indented instead, appearing in your paper as it appears on the page of your text). Your essay should feature a properly formatted header on the first page, along with your last name next to each page number on the upper right corner of your pages. It should have no title page. Beware: significant penalties will be applied to technical errors, including improper formatting (whether in body of paper or on Works Cited page), as well as sloppy editing or proofreading; take care with your work, and be meticulous with your speech, for as the Greeks understood, and as we appreciate to this day, it is the clearest indicator of your conscientiousness and character.
Homer’s Odyssey and Aeschylus’ Oresteia both portray figures familiar from mythologies around the world, the sort of character termed by Hyam Maccoby a sacred executioner: that mythic personage who founds, reestablishes, or maintains social or even cosmic order, as well as cultural tradition, by way of killing a member or members of his (or less commonly her) own ingroup, especially a near-relative and often a twin (prominent examples of sacred executioners include Cain, the biblical founder of civilization and murderer of his brother Abel—see Genesis 4; as well as Romulus, who founded Rome upon slaying his twin brother Remus—see Book I of Livy’s History of Rome). As the Bible does, sacred narratives (including The Odyssey and Oresteia) tend to present the sacred executioner as a divinely sanctioned outlaw, applying to the figure such descriptions as “stranger,” “wanderer,” “vagabond,” or “outcast,” indicating this figure’s estrangement from the culture he nevertheless founds or upholds.
In depictions of its eponymous sacred executioner, The Odyssey illustrates a stark contrast between the character of Odysseus and that of his enemies the Suitors, who vie to deprive the hero of his kingdom, wealth, and family. The epic suggests a similarly dramatic contrast between the two types of societies these characters represent: that of the courteous and (however wily) kind Odysseus on the one hand, and (on the other) the sort of society we are compelled to imagine being administered by the Suitors, variously portrayed in the epic as depleting the wealth of the kingdom, overworking and mistreating servants, losing battles and men, all while appearing consumed with hedonistic frivolity, irreligious irreverence and a general disregard of custom, as well as ruthless self-interest, however genial some among their number may have been. The critical role of the feminine in the epic (in the godly forms of Athena and Calypso, or the mortal forms of Penelope, Eurycleia, Nausicaa, and Arete, portrayed as the supreme monarch of Phaeacia) compel us to imagine the difference between a kingdom governed by the sort of protector and devotee of the feminine Odysseus is rendered as (especially in his naked encounter with the nubile virgin Nausicaa, whom he later credits with saving his life), and the sort of kingdom the Suitors would have governed, especially given their wooing of Penelope while sleeping with a dozen of her household maids and plotting to murder her son.
The Oresteia, meanwhile, illustrates what might be described as a battle for the office of sacred executioner, one taking place between members of the Achaean royal family—Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, and their son Orestes—in the wake of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his virgin daughter to the goddess Artemis at the outset of the Trojan War. Aeschylus’ trilogy portrays a bitter struggle between “male” and “female” over the sovereign office of sacrificer, one in which the gods themselves take sides. In their deceptive and deadly pursuits of power for ends they believe to be just or necessary, each of the central characters in the drama encounters a tragic dilemma, a set of circumstances in which, as characterized by Friedrich Nietzsche, “All that exists is just and unjust and equally justified in both.” The profound moral conundrums presented by the tragedy, and the reciprocal bloodshed or civil war to which they lead, are ultimately resolved only by way of Athena’s divine intervention, which entails her privileging the protector class over the protected class in terms of which holds the right to commit sacrifice.
Both texts portray power as a site of extreme contestation, an all-or-nothing game upon whose outcome depends the character, fate, or even survival of civilization. They also portray the sacred executioner as a paradoxical figure: in that his killings serve to uphold social order, he is that violator of law upon which law itself depends.
Your paper should examine the logic, “sociology,” or political theory suggested by these sacrificial narratives, among the founding legends of Greek culture and, by extension, of our own. It should avoid projecting 21st century mores upon our cultural forebears, and instead seek to understand their society based upon these signal texts, expressive as they are of stories the contemplation of which has uniquely informed and determined Western culture. Your essay should take up the challenge of meeting these texts on their own terms, rather than attempting to impose our own terms upon them. You might think of your paper as a deliberation upon the dilemmas posed by these stories—dilemmas which are archetypal, of the sort (that is) facing any social order, or individual seeking authority within it. Let it be borne in mind that your deliberation is conducted in the midst of a bitter contestation for power in our own culture, at a time when elements of our nation’s political factions are divided to the point of spilling one another’s blood in the streets.
A paper earning a mark of excellence will be properly formatted, clearly and neatly written, cogently argued, carefully edited and proofread (including Works Cited page), and will cite one or more academically credible sources relevant to the text(s) and theme(s) it considers.
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