Eng 107 — Study Questions for Common Texts (Roman)

Plautus, The Brothers Menaechmus

1.  What stereotypes are used in presenting characters?

2.  Although the setting is not Roman, the play still reflects Roman life and values; discuss what issues Plautus might be aiming at (commenting upon indirectly).

3.  How does dramatic irony play a role in the plot?

4.  Roman comedy eliminates the chorus; what strategies are used to replace the functions of the chorus?

5.  What events in the play work against “realism” — how is the play hard to believe if you assume normal human intelligence is at work in the characters?

Plautus, The Pot of Gold

1. How is this comedy different from The Clouds?

2. What comic techniques are most used in this play?

3. What role do the gods play here?

4. If you had to choose, which character would you say represents the voice of moderation? Explain your choice.

5. What are the attitudes toward loyalty and toward friendship portrayed here?

6. Pick two social messages you think Plautus is trying to send and collect evidence for them from the events and dialogue.

Plautus, Pseudolus

1. Point out several examples of verbal humor used in the dialogue and explain how they add to the comic effect.

2. Explain how dramatic irony enhances the comic effect of one or two scenes.

3.  Describe how Plautus develops the character of Ballio in Act I, Scenes 2-3.   What dialogue and actions are most revealing/enlightening?

4.  Point out three places where Pseudolus uses extended metaphor to discuss a situation.  Why do you think Plautus uses this technique?  Describe one of the examples in detail as you assess Plautus’ motives.

5.  Discuss the open inclusion of the audience.  What does it add to and take from the comic effect?  Refer to several specific passages as you discuss.

6.  Is Simo’s character consistent?  Argue yea or nay, explaining with examples.

Virgil, The Aeneid (selections)

1. Pick out some characteristics of epic style that Virgil imitates from Homer; cite specific examples from Virgil and explain each example.

2.  Discuss how the Dido story can be seen as a tragic play.

3.  Aeneas’ trip to Hades comes after leaving Carthage and before arriving at the future Rome.  Why does Virgil place the visit “in between”?  What purpose does Aeneas’ trip to Hades serve, both for Aeneas and for the plot development?

4.  The story of Dido formed the basis for some later love stories—what aspects of it could function as a model or archetype?

5.  Pick out several passages which demonstrate how Virgil approves or condemns certain behaviors.  What virtues does Virgil value most?  What “sins” does he come down on hard?

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Books 1-2

1.  Consider the difference between Ovid’s gods and Homer’s; explain how Ovid has revised the nature of the gods.

2.  What is Lycaon’s “sin” and what are the consequences, both for him and for others?  Are the consequences justified, do you think?

3.  As Book 1 goes on, we get a series of “love stories” — using these as your only source, how would you characterize Ovid’s attitude towards love?

4.  How does Ovid elicit our compassion for Io?  Find specific lines, phrases, descriptions that contribute to this emotional connection.

5.  Given most of the stories in Book 2, discuss how its theme might be “Loose Lips Sink Ships” (or, “Big Mouth Strikes Again”).

Books 4-5-6

1.  Perseus is presented as an epic hero; make a case for his story being a mockery of epic, making fun of epic style and attitudes.

2.  Using Book 5, trace the plot line, focusing on the transitions Ovid uses to connect the different episodes:  how does he move from one story into the next?

3.  What attitudes and actions (or lack of) are punished in Books 5-6?  Discuss any three episodes.

4.  Describe how the motif of weaving is used in the stories of Arachne and of Philomela; what function does it serve in each?

5.  Tereus deserves what he gets — agree or disagree.

Books 7 & 9

1.  Medea has always been presented as a “barbarian”, one who plays by her own, not society’s, sense of right and wrong.   How is this image upheld here?

2.  Book 7 has several examples of the evil consequences of mistrust or jealousy; discuss two in some detail.

3.  Both Medea and Byblis present a monologue on love.  What do the two speeches have in common?   (think structure as well as ideas)

4.  We’ve seen lots of transformations happen.  Discuss what is different about Hercules’ “death” in contrast to some other stories.

5.  Most of Ovid’s love stories end UNhappily.  What makes Iphis’ story different? Why is s/he rewarded?

Books 10-11

1.  Find and discuss several examples of how “the power of art” [art=music, sculpture, any creative production] is demonstrated in Orpheus’ story and the tales he tells.

2.  Compare Pygmalion’s story with Iphis’.  What is “done right” in these two stories?  Why does Ovid repeat this theme alongside the Byblis/Myrrha theme?

3.  Trace the structure of the Orpheus section (Book 10 into Book 11).  Draw an illustration of the structure.

4.  Look carefully at the description of Morpheus; how do the details “fit” this personification of sleep?

5.  In another work, Ovid wrote, “Live without doing harm and divine power will be with you.”  Pick any three stories from Books 10 & 11 and discuss how they do or don’t fit this statement.

Books 13-14 (Aeneas sections)

1.  In the Iliad, Homer foretells that Aeneas will survive the Trojan War and carry on the Trojan royal line; we see that happening here.  Why do you think the Romans eagerly “adopted” Aeneas as their ancestor?  What qualities of character does his story celebrate?

2.  Note the portrait of witchcraft Ovid offers, both with Medea and with Circe; compare these two women with our traditional ideas on magic and witches.   How do they fit the mold and how not?

3.  Ovid moves slowly out of the mythic/divine world in these two books (and will more in Book 15); in what ways can the events in 13/14 be seen as more historical than in most of the previous books?

4.  How could one use Books 13/14 to argue that Ovid believed in and promoted the value of order and stability in society?  (if you want to use earlier examples, as in Book 1, you may)

5.  Ovid presents a picture of continual change in this text.   Speculate on how society can balance the demands of inevitable change with the desirability of stability.  How do we handle this dilemma today?

Book 15

1.  Think of all the stories we’ve seen where someone who challenges the gods (questions their power) is punished.  Pythagoras is not punished; what message is Ovid sending here?

2.  In view of the ambiguous barrier Ovid has shown between man and animal, do you think he’d agree with Pythagoras’ ideas on the transmigration of souls and vegetarianism?  Explain.

3.  If Ovid questions whether the gods exist, what is the purpose of Books 1-14?

4.  Julius Caesar’s apotheosis is the final one in the text, though Ovid suggests that Augustus will join the gods, too.  Do you think Ovid is seriously complimentary or ironic/sarcastic?  Do Caesar and Augustus join an august assembly or a bunch of gangsters?

5.  Read the epilogue carefully and explain what Ovid could mean/imply in those lines.

Horace, Satires  

1.  One critic described Horace as cultivating a “cult of common sense.”  How do these two satires support such a claim?

2.  What do we learn of Roman life (directly and indirectly) and attitudes from these two selections?

3.  Agree or disagree:  Horace’s two satires promote the idea of “all things in moderation.”

4.  How does Horace go beyond the fable in developing the town/country story?

5.  As satire goes, Horace’s are fairly mild.  Pick out two places in each satire where he could have been more mean and speculate why he chose not to be.

Juvenal, Satires

1. Given the fact that satire is meant, at some level, to correct misbehavior, determine a category of misbehavior that each book is directed against.

2. Where would you draw the line in Juvenal between fact and fiction? Give some examples.

3. Which of the satires is directed at a social problem, and which at the more personal level? Which type do you prefer? Which type seems to retain its relevance best for today?

4.  Compare Juvenal with Horace; how are their satiric jabs alike and not alike?

5. Do you think Juvenal believes these follies are just ridiculous? are they, for him, dangerous as well (explain)?

Petronius, Satyricon selection

1) Look for references to funerals, death, wills, etc.  Describe the underlying attitudes of the characters that are implied in these discussions.

2.  Echion the rag merchant has a long monologue.  What position in society would you expect a “rag merchant” to hold?  How does/does not Echion meet your expectations?  What is Petronius satirizing through this character?

3.  The narrator doesn’t intrude himself much into the dinner scene he’s describing; what of his attitudes DO across, and how?