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practical criticisms

nb: for Q800 students ONLY. Please submit two practical criticisms in lieu of an essay, either in term 1 or in term 2. Further guidance on practical criticisms has been distributed in class: if you do not have a copy of this, please contact Dr Rimell.

Term 1 (deadline 15 November 2016):

Write on TWO of the following FOUR passages, answering the question set with specific reference to the Latin text, while paying attention to the guidelines for literary gobbets (scroll down the page, below). You will need to consult commentaries and cite and discuss relevant bibliography, presenting each answer as a mini-essay with bibliography and detailed referencing to the text specified.The two practical criticisms should be submitted, both electronically and in hard copy, as one document of about 2,500 words in total.

1. Ovid Amores 2.7

Question: Is this the moment Roman love elegy's metaphor of servitium amoris is debunked forever?

2. Horace Epodes 12

Question: 'Horace in Epode 12 deliberately sets himself up as a target for mockery by laying bare his erotic entanglement with a woman who is not merely "overripe" but of a repulsiveness almost without parallel in the annals of Vetula-Skoptik.' Discuss the valdiity of this statement.

3. Horace Satires 1.4.39-62

Question: Analyse the metaphor and practice of dismemberment in this passage and explore its relevance in the wider context of Satire 1.4.

4. Horace Satires 1.4.103-143

Question: How pathetic/ingenious is Horace's self-defence in this passage?


Term 2 (deadline Monday 6 February 2017):

Write on TWO of the following FOUR passages, answering the question set with specific reference to the Latin text, while paying attention to the guidelines for literary gobbets (scroll down the page, below). You will need to consult commentaries and cite and discuss relevant bibliography, presenting each answer as a mini-essay with bibliography and detailed referencing to the text specified.The two practical criticisms should be submitted, both electronically and in hard copy, as one document of about 2,500 words in total.

1. Phaedrus, App.10.

Question: What point do you think Phaedrus is making in this poem about the relationship between the powerful and the disempowered?

2. Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 12.1-6.

Question: Discuss the drama of Seneca's bodily vulnerability in this passage. Pay close attention to literariness and form, and to their potential philosophical functions.

3. Seneca, Thyestes 976-1003.

Question: 'Atreus' revenge on Thyestes is a kind of rape'. Discuss the validity of this statement in your detailed analysis of these lines.

4. Statius, Achilleid 251-275

Analyse this speech closely, considering to what extent Thetis' plea to Achilles to 'put aside' his 'virility' is convincing, and to what effect.


Gobbets on literary texts: Some Guidelines

A literary commentary (‘gobbet’; aka ‘practical criticism’ or ‘prac crit’) should not be the same as writing a short essay. A commentary is largely concerned with the explication of a single passage of text; an essay is directed towards a different goal - making a more general argument or arguments on a set topic, using a wide range of primary and secondary evidence. Here is a short guide to what to focus on:

In your introduction, you should:

• identify the context (briefly but precisely), paying some attention to what follows as well as what precedes; if the passage is part of direct speech, identify the speaker;

• briefly outline your coverage of major themes.

Then, in the next two or three further paragraphs of detailed comment, you should:

  • say what you feel should be said about the passage as a whole, broken down into two or three main themes.

NB with any of what follows, it will be very useful to attempt to contextualize (or even politicize) more broadly one's observations. Try to work at least some broader cultural observations in to your close reading, as this will often distinguish excellent first-class work from good second-class material. Also, remember to analyse and evaluate, not simply describe.

Elements to mention in the introduction:

  • explain how the passage fits into the overall themes of the work from which it comes.
  • do make reference to other relevant passages, but do this fairly briefly (remember, commentary, not essay!).
  • think about values, characterization, genre and literary form, ideology. If the text is a play, you might comment on general elements of stagecraft and scene-setting; in narrative works you might make reference to the passage's place in the plot and narrative development (is this a crucial or a pivotal point? does it look forward or back to other points?); in speeches and rhetorical works, you might analyse logical and rhetorical structure (argument, coherence); in historiography, you might omment on historical / mythological events and persons, elements of historiographical style including sentence structure, diction, imagery, and relation to / development of previous historiographical tropes if relevant.
  • think about intertextuality / allusion - is there significant remodelling of earlier literature (e.g. Archilochus in Horace, Propertius in Ovid)?
  • consider any relevant literary conventions which determine the overall character of a passage - e.g. hymn-style, catalogue, invective, supplication-scene, messenger-speech, priamel, panegyric, ekphrasis, locus amoenus , paraklausithyron, propemptikon, stichomythia (if any of these terms or others are unknown to you, look them up in (e.g.) the indices of Nisbet and Hubbard's commentaries on Horace's Odes or of Russell and Winterbottom's Ancient Literary Criticism, the Oxford Latin Dictionary, or the Oxford Classical Dicitionary, and/or seek guidance from your module conveners).

Content for the thematic paragraphs:

  • say what you feel should be said about the details of the passage, going through it in order and indicating points of interest. You may find it useful to quote a few words of the original and then comment on them, or use line numbers to refer to the text.
  • draw out detailed examples of the elements you identified in the introduction outlined above, specifically keyed to the wording of the passage; plus (where relevant):
  • metaphor and related figures (simile, personification, etymological play, metonymy);
  • verbal style (general linguistic register, unusual/colourful vocabulary)
  • word order (e.g. artistic rearrangement of natural order, esp. in poetry);
  • metrical and phonic effects.

Once again, remember to analyse and evaluate, not simply describe. For further guidance, please feel free to approach the module convener.