You may be able to further develop the writing you have already done in discussions towards these goals. If you choose a different topic than the ones on which you have already written, the discussion posts and responses may still be useful and inspiring to you. However, be careful you don’t plagiarize your classmates’ work. We encourage you to use the background material in the course to further develop your own original interpretations and arguments; researching other secondary sources is not required for this assignment, and plagiarism of other sources will not be tolerated.
First, choose one of the following two topics:
Topic #1: One of the Five Great Themes of World Literature is “Sacred & Secular.” As stated in Unit 1B of this course, “We will find in our study of literary masterpieces from the past many intricate negotiations between the divine and the earthly realms.” Discuss what we learn about how divine powers and earthly beings interact in Sundiata (in an area with a syncretic religion) and Popol Vuh (which is not a sacred text but presents the Mayan cosmology). Which values embodied by these interactions are considered significant by their societies?
One of the passages you should quote (all or in part) and analyze is the following:
At the time when Sundiata was preparing to assert his claim over the kingdom of his fathers, Soumaoro was the king of kings, the most powerful king in all the lands of the setting sun. The fortified town of Sosso was the bulwark of fetishism against the word of Allah. For a long time Soumaoro defied the whole world. Since his accession to the throne of Sosso he had defeated nine kings whose heads served him as fetishes in his macabre chamber. . . . So his countless sofas were very brave since they believed their king to be invincible. But Soumaoro was an evil demon and his reign had produced nothing but bloodshed. Nothing was taboo for him. His greatest pleasure was publicly to flog venerable old men (41).
Topic #2: Both Sundiata and Popol Vuh deal centrally with a heroic quest. Unit 1B’s introduction to the Five Great Themes of World Literature states with regard to the hero: “The surest way to understand what a culture of the past most values is to focus on what it considers heroic, in that a culture recognizes its heroes as embodying its most important ideas, the values that are essential.” Discuss what forces Sundiata and the Hero Twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque have to overcome and how they go about doing it.
For Sundiata your essay will probably focus on Sundiata’s historical destiny; in Popol Vuh, the Twins’ quest will have a more mythic quality, but you probably will focus on the meaning for the Mayan culture of the mythic events. One of the passages you should quote (all or in part) and analyze is the following:
Hunahp? was sacrificed by Xbalanqu?; one by one his arms and his legs were sliced off, his head was cut from his body and carried away; his heart was torn from his breast and thrown onto the grass. All the Lords of Xibalba were fascinated. They looked on in wonder, but really it was only the dance of one man; it was Xbalanqu?. “Get up!” he said, and instantly [Hunahp?] returned to life . . . “Do the same with us! Sacrifice us!” they said. “Cut us into pieces, one by one!” Hun-Cam? and Vucub-Cam? said to Hunahp? and Xbalanqu?. . . . And so it happened that they first sacrificed the one, who was the chief and [Lord of Xibalba], the one called Hun-Cam?, king of Xibalba. And when Hun-Cam? was dead, they overpowered Vucub-Cam?, and they did not bring either of them back to life (Part II, Ch. 13).
Second, write an essay presenting your argument. Include quotations from the texts as well as additional details that illustrate and enhance the points you are making. Use the following as an outline of what to include:
Explain the general topic and relevant themes (e.g. sacred and secular, heroes’ journeys) and any relevant terms for that topic (suggested 1-2 paragraphs). State your thesis – a general statement about your conclusions.