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Writing Classics Papers

The Classics Article: General Comments on the Genre
Contributed by David Carter

In what follows, we will look at some distinguishing features of a Classics article. This overview will enable you to identify a Classics paper as well as to understand what is expected of you when you are asked to write one. Classics is the field of study that focuses on the art, language, literature, and history of the ancient Mediterranean world, spanning from about 1000 BC to 500 AD. Classics articles focus primarily on major artists, writers, historians, thinkers, as well as other important figures, of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and the ancient Persian Empire.

Some important names in the field of Classics are Homer, Aesop, the Presocratics (Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Zeno, Leucippus, Democritus), Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Euclid, Hippocrates, Pindar, Sappho, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Isocrates, Sextus Empiricus, Plotinus, Porphyry, Ovid, Cicero, Augustine, Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius, Bonaventura, and Maimonides. A Classics article oftentimes deals with ancient schools of Greek, Roman, Islamic, early Christian, and Judaic thought. Such schools or trends can include Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Scepticism, Cynicism, and Manichaeism. To associate a writer with a school helps to identify who s/he is by indicating to the reader what body of ideas s/he subscribes to.

Finally, a Classics article can be recognized by a number of key themes, values and concepts, which are reflected in the vocabulary used in the article: virtue, justice, injustice, courage, temperance, wisdom, fortune, truth, falsity, happiness, and unhappiness (keep in mind that this list in not exhaustive). Such themes and concepts constitute a special vocabulary (called nomenclature), which allows the reader to identify the article as belonging to the field of Classics. As well, a Classics article oftentimes deals with oppositions and contradictions (whether they be real or merely apparent, subjective or objective, epistemological or ontological, or otherwise): ideas-matter, truth-falsity, good-evil, justice-injustice, appearance-being, image-reality, subjectivity-objectivity, family-state (again, this list is not exhaustive).

 

Example Paper

Annotations by David Carter

Our example is taken from Stephen Blackwood’s article “Philosophia’s Dress: Prayer in Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy”, which was published in 2001 in Dionysius, the journal published by the Dalhousie Department of Classics. It is used with permission. At the time it was written, Stephen Blackwood was a tutor (instructor) in the Foundations Year Program at the University of King’s College, Halifax.

The introduction in Blackwood’s article is a fine example of a single-paragraph introduction. It quickly and succinctly provides the reader with the author’s purpose statement, a brief but sufficient summary of the text in question, an outline of the body of the article, and an anticipation of the author’s conclusion. Blackwood’s introduction is brief because he assumes the reader is already familiar with Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.

After the introduction, the opening paragraphs in the body set the stage for an elaboration of a theory of happiness that depends on a specific understanding of fortune (a word whose meaning is specified by the Latin word fortuna) proposed in the Consolation of Philosophy. From there, Blackwood examines the psychological and theological principles of knowledge found in the text. This topic appeals to Blackwood because he feels his examination will clarify the main argument of Boethius’ text.

Blackwood’s article makes fine use of antithesis, the balancing of contrasting ideas, in the exposition of his argument.  In fact, the article’s conclusion depends entirely upon a successful establishment of a tension between opposing notions, concepts, and points of view, as his purpose is to show, in regards to the argument of the book Consolation of Philosophy, in what way these contradictions are merely apparent-- that is to say, not real contradictions at all. Remaining faithful to the content of Consolation of Philosophy, Blackwood’s article aims at resolution, without compromising his sensibility to the contradictions that the text establishes.

The following passage makes use of antithesis to engage the theoretical component of the text’s argument. The two terms of the antithesis are God’s foreknowledge and human freedom, and the author’s vocabulary anticipates the resolution of what he eventually calls an “apparent contradiction” (third paragraph).  This vocabulary is signalled in bold

 

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