essay on ancient literature


Write an essay that makes a coherent and interesting argument answering one of the following questions and using your own close readings of a primary text and relevant secondary sources. Choose one of these primary texts to focus on: Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection, Ramayana, The Analects, Dao De Jing, Zhuangzhi, The Aeneid, Metamorphoses.

  1. What kind of influence do the gods have on human lives and events?
  2. What responsibilities do people have to each other, how do they vary, and how are they expressed?
  3. How does an author reflect on change or impermanence? In what ways can change be both beneficial and harmful? Are there changes that open up new opportunities, of what kind, and with what effects? You may choose to focus on change in human lives or human society or the world.
  4. How does an author establish a sense of authority for his writing and certain cultural ideas or values?


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  • introduction and conclusion
  • thesis taking a specific position
  • logical organization explaining the thesis
  • multilayered discussion of specific details (using both brief direct quotations and textual references)
  • at least 1 primary text from the list above
  • at least 1 scholarly secondary source (ask me if you’re not sure what this means)
  • identifying tags and correct MLA citations
  • Works Cited list
  • double-spaced, paginated, stapled; 11- or 12-point font, Times or Calibri; standard Word margins
  • title indicating the central focus of your discussion.


Process Guidelines: Choose one of the discussion questions above and choose the primary text you want to write about. Think about how you want to customize or focus the general question for your text. Then start looking for clues in our readings and any relevant secondary material (anthology commentary, an article in the encyclopedia you looked at for Exercise 3, etc.) Make sure that at least one secondary source is scholarly (for a research audience) and recent (in the last 30 years). Read them again, underlining key points and noting questions. Ask me or a librarian if you need help. Avoid the temptation to use lots of sources; you have to leave room for your explanation of your deductions.


General Outline

Introduction: Brief context for your question and a brief introduction of your sources (by brief, I mean no more than two sentences for each part); a focusing statement; and your thesis (basically, the answer to your question). Body paragraphs: A point-by-point consideration of your question, adding up clues from your sources. Conclusion: Bring your insights from the close reading together with your overall thesis. How does your analysis add to or complement the main point in the library source?


Revising: Make sure that you have your own question and thesis. What kind of connections do you make between different points? Is there a clear reason for them to flow in a particular order? Does each paragraph begin with a topic sentence and end in your own words?

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