Study guide for HUMA 4107: Analytical questions for seminar leadership and discussions

1. Ancient narratives and their literary features

What sort of writing (genre), story, or narrative is this? What is the purpose of the writing and why has the author written it? Who is the narrator and how does the narrator relate to the events narrated (e.g., is the narrator omniscient or not)? Who is the implied reader or audience, and how does the narrator relate to that audience? Who are the main characters in the narrative and what is the overall plot-line? What story-telling techniques does the author employ? What apparent digressions are there and what are their purpose? Does the writing refer or allude to other literature and what does this reveal about the author’s education and aims? What cultural or moral values are reflected in the narrative? What can we infer about the author’s (or: audience’s) background, education, and identity from the narrative and its content? How does this writing compare to others on these various issues?

2. Defining truth and lies / history and fiction in the ancient world

How did ancient authors and readers or hearers define or understand the nature of “truth” and “lies”, history and fiction? What indications are there that the author intends the story to be understood as fictional or historical or both, and in what ways? What ambiguities are there with respect to the line between reality and fictionality? How should we understand ancient fiction-writing and history-writing? Does the author openly or playfully engage the question of truth and deception? How do the answers to these questions impact our scholarly definition and understanding of the relationships between different genres of literature (e.g. novel, biography, history, ethnography)?

3. Literature as a window into social and cultural life in the ancient world

What glimpses into everyday social and cultural life does the narrative provide? How does the narrative portray the socio-economic structures and hierarchies of society? What cultural assumptions does the author or audience hold with respect to different people and how they should relate (e.g. freepersons, slaves, non-elites, elites, rulers or officials)? What does the author or implied audience assume about issues relating to gender? How are men and women portrayed and what roles are assumed for each? What assumptions are made about certain foreigners or ethnic groups within the narrative and what does this reveal about ethnic relations and ethnicity in the ancient world? What cultural customs are portrayed in the narrative (e.g. banquets, customs surrounding birth, marriage, death) and what do these reveal about life in the ancient world? What importance do gods and goddesses or other non-human forces play in the narrative and what does this reveal about the worldview of the author or audience? What rituals and other customs in honour of deities are portrayed in the narrative and how do these relate to real life?

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