Arch 0810A, Spring 2011: Suggestions for term paper topics Instructions

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ARCH 0810A, Spring 2011: Suggestions for term paper topics


• Your term paper is due on Wednesday 6 May. Since it counts for 30% of your final grade, I urge you to take this paper very seriously: it will require some independent research and plenty of reading, so should not be a rushed job in the last several days before the deadline. Your paper may be on a subject of your choosing, but must relate to some aspect of the “afterlife” and tradition of Alexander (not just any topic that has to do with Alexander as a historical figure).

• I will accept NO late papers.
• You should aim to write at least 10-12 pages (or approximately 3000-3500 words). I will penalize incorrect spelling, poor grammar, and sloppy presentation. Sources (whether published or on-line) must be clearly identified via footnotes or bibliographic citations. I have a zero-tolerance policy concerning plagiarism, as follows: All forms of plagiarism are in contravention of the University’s regulations, and this applies to Web resources as much as it does to traditional printed material. Do not suppose that, simply because you found something on the Web, you are free to cite or paraphrase it, without appropriate citation of the source. Your term paper should contain no unacknowledged or disguised quotations, passages, or opinions taken from secondary sources, electronic or otherwise.
• Most importantly, the suggestions below are intended only as that — suggestions, not a list from which you must choose. If you have a good subject or idea of your own concerning the Alexander tradition, by all means go ahead. But you should consult me first to discuss your idea, and I can steer you towards possible sources.

Some possible topics:

1 Read some accounts by modern travelers following in Alexander's footsteps. Why do this? What insights, if any, have come from travel (albeit under different conditions) through the same landscapes that Alexander had to deal with? Has there been a similar impetus to follow in the steps of any other historical figures?

Starting points: You have already read Michael Wood’s In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great for this class. The classic works in this genre are Sir Aurel Stein, On Alexander's Track to the Indus, and Freya Stark, Alexander's Path (1958); but there are others in the same vein which you should seek out. You could also check out a more "pop" account by H. & F. Schreider, "In the footsteps of Alexander the Great," National Geographic Magazine 133 (1968) 1-65; comparing it to an earlier paper such as Sir Aurel Stein's, "On Alexander's route into Gedrosia: an archaeological tour in Las Bela," Geographical Journal 102 (1943) 193-227 could be interesting.

  • 2 Literally hundreds of different versions exist of the Alexander Romance, in dozens of languages, and with many variants of the story. Read another one in translation (Medieval English? French? Armenian? Persian?) and compare it with the Greek version you have read as a required text for this class.

Starting points: Get on the library catalog and hlook up the Library of Congress subject-heading "s=Alexander the Great, 356-323 B.C. --Romances". It's a long list to choose from. Also, re-read the "Introduction" in R. Stoneman, The Greek Alexander Romance, one of your required texts for the course.

  • 3 Mary Renault's Alexander-novel The Persian Boy is written from the perspective of the Persian eunuch Bagoas, who is an historically attested figure. If you have not done so, read this novel. Then research what we really know about him from the ancient sources. Did Renault do a good job?

Starting points: Start with "Author's Note" at the end of The Persian Boy; also check with the index in M.Renault, The Nature of Alexander; read the relevant passages in the Alexander-historians; finally, look at a scholarly study by E. Badian, "The eunuch Bagoas," Classical Quarterly n.s.8 (1958) 144-157. (See also readings noted at the end of my separate handout on novels about Alexander.)

  • 4 One of Alexander's more significant acts with far-reaching consequences was the founding of the city of Alexandria, which developed as the major center of book-learning in the Hellenistic world; its famed library burned down in antiquity, and has been the subject of curiosity ever since. What do we know of the Alexandria Alexander founded? What do we know about the library? To what extent does the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina, which opened recently in the city, mirror the objectives of the original?

Starting points: There is a wonderfully imaginative book about the library: L.Canfora, The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World (1987); P. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Hellenistic Age (1990), chapters 6, 10; E. Badian, "Ancient Alexandria," History Today (1960) (reprinted in E. Badian, Studies in Greek and Roman History (1964). For the history and atmosphere of the city (and for fun!), try reading Laurence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. E.M. Forster also wrote a book on Alexandria’s history.

  • 5 The poet Dryden wrote an ode Alexander's Feast, or The Power of Music: An Ode, in Honour of St. Cecilia's Day for performance at the 1697 festival for the patron saint of music in the city of London; the composer Handel later set Dryden's words to music for performance at Covent Garden Theatre in London in 1736. What is the point of Dryden's poem and how successful is Handel's setting of it? To what historical event(s) in Alexander's life is Dryden referring, and what sources did he use? Why would such a seemingly arcane subject have been popular in the early 18th century? (See refs. for topic #27(b), below.)

Starting points: You can locate Dryden's text in any complete edition of the works of John Dryden. Handel's Alexander’s Feast has been recorded on CD by The Sixteen, under Harry Christophers, on the Collins Classics label. For general background, see G.C. Brauer Jr., "Alexander in England: the conqueror's reputation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," Classical Journal 76.1 (Oct.-Nov. 1980) 34-47.

  • 6 Coins were the postage stamps of the ancient world - handled and seen by virtually everyone, and therefore an important medium of communication and propaganda. How was Alexander's image used and manipulated on the coinage of his immediate successors and/or later Hellenistic monarchs? More generally, what reminders of Alexander would the common man receive from visual imagery?

Starting points: Excellent pictures in N.Davis and C.Kraay, The Hellenistic Kingdoms: Portrait Coins and History (1973), and M. Price, Coins of the Macedonians (1974); thoughtful text in J.J.Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age (1986); for the more scholarly, A.R.Bellinger, Essays on the Coinage of Alexander the Great (1963); also, check index for coin portraiture in P. Green, Alexander to Actium: The Hellenistic Age (1990).

  • 7 What do we know from archaeology, art, inscriptions, coinage, city-foundations, traditions, legends ... etc. about the long-term impact and consequences of Alexander's presence in Afghanistan or Bactria or India?

    • Starting points: The classic work is W.W.Tarn's The Greeks in Bactria and India (2nd edn., 1951); F.L.Holt's Alexander the Great and Bactria (2nd edn., 1989) brings the picture up to date, and offers a good bibliography to work from; also interesting, and quite hostile, is A.B. Bosworth, Alexander and the East (1996). How about looking at Holt's article "Discovering the lost history of ancient Afghanistan - Hellenistic Bactria in light of recent archaeological and historical research" Ancient World 9 (1984) 3-28? Most recently published are two books, again by Holt, Thundering Zeus: The Making of Hellenistic Bactria (1999) and Into the Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan (2006). For a weird instance of Alexander' alleged influence on modern headgear: B.M.Kingsley, "The cap that survived Alexander," American Journal of Archaeology 85 (1981) 39-46.

  • 8 Handel wrote a full-scale opera about Alexander entitled Poro, Rè dell'Indie (Porus, King of the Indies), first performed in 1731. The libretto, by Pietro Metastasio, was in fact set to music by nearly 80 composers between 1729 and 1824. Listen to the opera, and read the libretto. How historically accurate is the treatment of Alexander and Porus? What were the themes that made this a suitable subject for an operatic treatment that would appeal to 18th century sentiments (hint: other settings of this libretto appeared under the title The Triumph of Clemency and Fidelity, or, Cleophis, Queen of the Indies)?

Starting points: If you can, locate and listen to the 1994 CD recording of Poro by Europa Galante (Opus 30-113-115), with the exceptionally informative analytical accompanying booklet. Look up this opera in any study of Handel and his operas (for which, use the resources of Brown’s library system). You should, of course, re-read what Arrian and the other ancient sources on Alexander have to tell us about Alexander's Indian campaigns against King Porus, and then read relevant parts of A.B. Bosworth, Alexander and the East (1996). And perhaps also bring into play the various post-Renaissance paintings treating the theme of Porus’s encounter with Alexander.

  • 9 One of the best-known images of Alexander is the floor mosaic found in the House of the Faun at Pompeii. How did an (expensive) representation of a battle between Alexander and Darius fought centuries earlier come to decorate a Roman house, and what would it have "meant" in a Roman (rather than Greek or Macedonian) cultural context? Why is it usually supposed that this mosaic is based on a much earlier painting?

Starting points: There's a recent definitive study by Ada Cohen, The Alexander Mosaic: Stories of Victory and Defeat (1997). For the best pictures, see B.Andreae, Das Alexandermosaik aus Pompeji (1977); but you will find it illustrated and discussed in almost any book about Greek and Roman art, such as J.J.Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age.

  • 10 Alexander died in Babylon, but his body, en route back to Macedonia, was hijacked by Ptolemy to Alexandria, where Augustus (among many others) made a point of viewing it centuries later — remember the scene with Rex Harrison and Elizabeth Taylor in front of the dead Alexander in the movie Cleopatra? Write about some aspect(s) of the circumstances of Alexander's death. Did he die of natural causes? What do we know about his elaborate funeral cortège (a favorite theme of Renaissance and later painters -- see your text P. Briant, Alexander the Great, p. 127 for an example)? What exactly were the political and ideological implications of possessing Alexander's mortal remains? Why has is proved so difficult to locate Alexander’s tomb?

Starting points: Any historical study of Alexander, such as Peter Green's Alexander of Macedon or A.B.Bosworth's Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great, will have a section towards its end on his death. Have a look at A.B.Bosworth, "The death of Alexander the Great: rumour and propaganda," Classical Quarterly 21 (1971) 112-136. Or S.G.Miller, "Alexander's funeral cart," Archaia Makedonia 4 (1986) 401-412. Or F.L.Holt, "The missing mummy of Alexander the Great," Archaeology 39 (1986) 80. Among the spate of new (but not always very good) books prompted by Stone’s movie Alexander are several on his death and tomb: A. Chugg, The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great (2004), N. Saunders, Alexander’s Tomb: The Two-thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror (2006); G. Philips, Alexander the Great: Murder in Babylon (2005); P.C. Doherty, The Death of Alexander the Great: What – or Who – Really Killed the Young Conqueror of the Known World (2004).

  • 11 Alexander had a very long life in western art (painting and sculpture), being especially popular in the 16-18th centuries. Locate and discuss in detail one or two representations of Alexander in later (post-medieval) art. Why do you think he was such a popular figure to depict?

Starting points: For this topic, you will need to do some browsing and index-searching in the History of Art library. Some very well known examples of the sorts of paintings I have in mind are: Albrecht Altdorfer, 'Alexander's Victory over Darius'; Jan Brueghel, 'Battle of Issus'; Paolo Veronese, 'Darius's Family before Alexander'; Charles Le Brun, 'Alexander's First Entry into Babylon'. Your text P. Briant, Alexander the Great reproduces a sample of these paintings, the sources for which you can look up on pp. 171-74.

  • 12 Discuss any historical figure who, in your opinion, explicitly or implicitly emulated Alexander the Great. In what respects? From what motives?

Starting points: There are some obvious candidates here: the Roman general Pompey; Julius Caesar; Augustus; Nero; the Severan emperors Caracalla and Severus Alexander; Pope Alexander III; Louis XIV. But think broadly, since there are doubtless others for whom a case could be made. Readings for this topic will obviously need to be tailored for the individual in question.

  • 13 Alexander's (frustrated) wish to travel beyond the Indus into India and on towards Ocean, or the very edge of the world, became transformed in later tradition into the story that he actually went. Read and write about some of these legends and traditions. Where did they first arise, and how were they transmitted into the Middle Ages? How do they relate to Greek and Roman ideas about geography, ethnography, the edges of the earth...?

Starting points: Two recent books on this very subject: R. Stoneman (translator and editor), Legends of Alexander the Great (Dent, Everyman edition paperback, 1994); J.S. Romm, The Edges of the Earth in Ancient Thought: Geography, Exploration and Fiction (1992); also R. Stoneman, "Romantic ethnography: Central Asia and India in the Alexander Romance," Ancient World, 25.1 (1994) 93-107. Most useful and recent of all: R. Stoneman, Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend (2008).

  • 14 Explore representations of Alexander in a non-western artistic tradition, such as in Coptic textiles, Mughal miniature paintings, or Persian illustrated manuscripts.

Starting points: You will need to use initiative in making use of the resources of the library system. Several of the standard historical studies of Alexander published in recent years have included numerous illustrations of these sorts, especially the illustrated versions of P. Green, Alexander the Great (1970), and Robin Lane Fox, Alexander the Great (1980). Your textbook P. Briant, Alexander the Great includes a number of relevant color illustrations. The images of Alexander section of the Alexanderama website (see Web links on the wiki) can also point you in useful directions. Also useful, both for images and discussion: R. Stoneman, Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend (2008).

  • 15 Handel also wrote another opera on Alexander, Alessandro (1726). On what sources is this based? How successful is it dramatically? And what were the themes that made this a suitable subject for an operatic treatment that would appeal to 18th-century European sentiments?

Consult books about Handel and/or opera. Also: R.G. King, "Classical history and Handel's Alessandro," Music and Letters 77 (Feb. 1996) 34-63. For general background, G.C. Brauer Jr., "Alexander in England: the conqueror's reputation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," Classical Journal 76.1 (Oct.-Nov. 1980) 34-47.
16 During his lifetime, Alexander seems to have done very little to quash rumors that he might in fact be ‘divine’ — the son of Zeus. Under the Romans, divine ancestry became an important element in both the explanation of, and the justification for, the power and success of emperors, and this developed as a ‘religion’ in its own right — the imperial cult. Examine how these ideas developed from and after Alexander.

Starting points: A single recent source will get you started in your exploration of this topic: Diana Spencer’s book The Roman Alexander: Reading a Cultural Myth (2002), which has a detailed bibliography and rich footnotes, from which you can find many pointers to relevant literature.
17 Even in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, there are mentions of omens concerning Alexander’s conception and a snake in the bedchamber. By the time of the Alexander Romance, this has grown into a full-blown set of legends that discounted Philip II as Alexander’s biological father, in favor of stories about the magician-pharoah Nectanebo, the god Ammon, and a lot more besides. Explore and evaluate these later traditions, of Egyptian origin, about Alexander’s conception and birth.

Starting points: Ch. 1 (“Nativity”) in Richard Stoneman’s recent book Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend (2008) provides an interesting discussion as a starting point, with abundant footnotes to steer you towards additional reading. You should also re-read the relevant chapters in the Alexander Romance. You might also find it interesting to explore this myth-tradition in the illustrations that accompanied medieval manuscripts of Alexander-books of various kinds.
18 What relevance, if any, do the many stories surrounding the life of Alexander the Great have for understanding early Christianity? Alexander felt a relationship to his ancestor and rival Herakles, and also did not combat, and perhaps fostered, the idea of his divinity as the son of a god. Two of the most powerful (mythical) ideas about Alexander — divine sonship and fostering reconciliation among all people — have obvious parallels to stories about Jesus and the theology of the early Christian church.

Starting points: A very new short book by Ory Amitay, From Alexander to Jesus (2010) explores this theme most interestingly and in depth.

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