A Sample Response to the Following Question:

The convention of the epic battle has undergone drastic changes since Homer's day. Discuss the development of this convention across three texts we've examined and explain the significance of any changes in the implementation of this convention.


Things to note:

1) The response has strong, well-articulated, and logical transitions between sentences and paragraphs. The argument seems to proceed inexorably from point to point.

2) The student is referring to highly specific details from both the texts s/he explores and the time periods she discusses.

3) The student is making powerful connections among the three texts s/he examines, interpreting any differences s/he identifies.

4) The student is providing interpretation of the text rather than mere paraphrase. The student has even made points that were not made in class. S/he is interpreting the text on her own and providing evidence to support his/her claims.

Note: I have included my marginal comments in red.

Just as we have seen a shift from a shame culture to a guilt culture in the evolution of the epic form, we have equally witnessed transformations in the convention of epic battle since Homer's day. This evolution can most clearly be explained in relation to the approaches of epic form in Homer's Odyssey, Milton's Paradise Lost, and Pope's "The Rape of the Lock." [Note: your intro. should establish your argument—what you're going to be saying about the significance of these changes.]

Beginning with Homer's Odyssey in an ancient Greek and oral society, the reader senses that epic battle as a physical duel for shame or pride. This convention serves as the critical point in which a slave may challenge a king for his place in society, and the switch in hierarchy was often made possible both with methods of strength and arms in addition to the guileful power of rhetoric. [Note: not exactly. A king can become a slave through defeat but a slave can't directly challenge a king in this society, which is why so much time is spent discussing Eumaios's dedication to Odysseus.] Indeed, the epic battle can be thought of in terms of a level playing field in which challenges are made to show one's brilliance in outsmarting a competitor and pushing him towards humiliation in a society of spectacle. Homer's Odyssey is a prime example of this sort of epic battle as Odysseus challenges nearly every character he encounters in both physical and psychological ways from the horrible suitors to his own wife, Penelope, in the sense that he wishes to challenge her loyalty and faithfulness after his 20-year voyage.

As we move farther away from an oral society to a written society, the reader notices vast changes in the handling of narrative. John Milton provides the bridge between a shame culture to a guilt culture in his profound work known as Paradise Lost. While Milton does not cross the bridge fullyl to a guilt culture, his work paves the way for such thought.

So, in considering the new handling of epic battle in Paradise Lost, we see a renewed vision of this convention in a different light. The external concept of this convention in Homer's day becomes more internalized within oneself in Milton's time during Cromwell's Commonwealth. As a reaction to his own persecution after the Commonwealth, Milton seems to describe his own inner turmoil or epic battles in comparison to the Puritan rebellions that stirred his imprisonment. In Paradise Lost, the reader witnesses a comparison of Satan to himself as the subject of an unfair punishment due to his rebellious nature. The epic battle occurs now in a vertical fashion in place of Homer's level playing field, in which both physical and psychological torment are inflicted. Here is where we can see the bridge being built towards a guilt culture but not fully crossing it. Satan's rebellion against Milton's god is seen as an epic battle of a large scale where Satan and his followers are banished to the external and horrid place of hell. In addition to witnessing the psycicalities of such an awful place, Satan feels the "hell within him" wherever he goes, suggesting that he has also internalized his punishment as we will see in a guilt culture. The epic battle in itself is still a rising of arms and strength against Milton's god and his people, but the following punishment provokes new thought of a following guilt culture.

As Milton paves the way in the Renaissance for the future acceptance of a guilt culture, we see Alexander Pope reflecting back on a shame culture yet pushing forward to something new not yet explored in a guilt culture. The convention of epic battle provides his case for his methods.

Placing Pope's "Rape of the Lock" into its 18th-century context, we see trivialities of aristocracy, balace, order, and conformity explored. Taking this at face value, one might think Pope is attempting to revert back to the original nature of epic battle in a shame culture in homer's day. Instead, Pope uses the mock epic form to disdain the pompous ideologies of the 18th century and promote instead one's own moral virtue explored within a guilt culture. By poking fun at the fops of the aristocracy, Pope uses bathos and zeugma to put everyon back into their heirarchical place in the "Great Chain of Being.' The title "The Rape of the Lock" as an epic battle is a zeugma in itself, where the seriousness of a sex crime such as rape is juxtaposed mockingly with the actual crime of cutting off a lock of hair. Pope's use of satire can be viewed as a way to ease the tension in society after the disastrous nature of the Cromwellian rebellion, but his suggestion of moral virtue as falling above the trivialities of the aristocracy claims a new hold on a guilt culture not explored by either Homer or Pope. In fact, we can think of Pope as providing the means for Wordsworth to explore the importance of the individual in a revolutionary way, in which there is less reliance on the gods to direct one's life and greater reliance on oneself to combat one's inner tensions and supposed epic battles.

Clearly, we can see a great evolution in the treatment of epic battle as a literary narrative convention by exploring the changing needs of society in relation to the texts we have discussed at length. By pushing past the traditional epic battle as developed by Homer to that of a more internal experience explored slightly by milton and more forcefully by Pope and Wordsworth, the literary analyst can predict a revolution in narrative to come to fit the desires and needs of the masses. This, at last, we can predict with the future arrival of the novel produced for the access of the common man.

Grade: 30

See the Response to the Exam's Other Essay Question on Femininity

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