Classical World on Film

October 17, 2014| Papers Haven

Classical World on Film –

Essay AssignmentHUMN – 407 – 01





  1. 6 pages minimum, 8 pages maximum, double-spaced. Maximum ca. 2000 words.
  2. 1 page at the end will cite the sources you used. This does not factor into the wordcount. See “Citations” below for how to make this list.
  3. Make sure the following information appears on each page of the assignment (in a header or footer if you want): Name, HUMN-407-01 Essay, Date, Page number
  4. Put a title on the top of the first page that reads: Classical World on Film – Research Essay: Topic “NUMBER” “INSERT YOUR TITLE HERE”
  5. Write in proper sentences and paragraphs. Spelling, grammar, and style will be graded.
  6. Use the textbooks, lecture .pdfs, and at least three extra sources of information. Sources are cited in the text when you cite non-common facts (e.g., size of film budgets, filmmaking techniques, specific dates, archaeological data etc.) about the topic you are studying. Your sources can include books from the WIT, Fenway, or Boston Public Libraries as well as encyclopedia entries or information from “approved” websites. Approved websites include those from art museums (e.g., MFA), institutions of higher learning, or government agencies. Wikipedia can be used as a starting place for basic facts (g., common dates like that of Caesar’s assassination, March 15, 44 B.C.E.; IMDB.com can be used for films, especially actors, directors etc.), but you should double-check the facts with an accredited encyclopedia or other source. If the facts are incorrect, they will be graded as incorrect. Never trust Wikipedia outright and never use it in published text.

plagiarism. Use your own words to describe facts. I will give you an F. See the “Student Accountability” and “Internet Research” sections of the HUMN-407 syllabus if you have any questions.







Exploring the Classical World Through Film

  • The goal of the analytical essay is to challenge you to explore in detail a topic related to the classical world on film. In particular, I would like you to draw on the knowledge and vocabulary you have learned throughout the first half of the course on the Greco-Roman world and film analysis in order to analyze how both filmmakers and we ourselves reimagine the ancient world through film and why this is meaningful.
  • You must choose to research and write about ONE of the following topics:
  • As our classes on film analysis have illustrated, each film in the classical world genre has many similar elements that all audiences expect to see. Yet, at the same time, we have also explored how different directors can shape a film’s meaning and form (i.e., a film’s visual and aural shape) based on their unique directing styles (the way they arrange a film’s elements) and the film’s historical, cultural, and industrial contexts.
  • For this topic, I would like you to compare two of the films we will have discussed in class that are created by different directors. I would especially like you to highlight classical world genre elements that are found in both films by examining the film’s formal elements and context. Moreover, I want you to analyze whether each director envisioned these features differently and how they did it. A film’s formal elements include the following features:
    1. Narrative and characters (How is the story being told? What kind of story is it? Are the characters common to most classical world films or unique? Why did the director cast certain actors with particular acting styles?)
    2. Mise-en-scène (How do the director and the designers bring together sets, costumes, actors, props, lighting, make-up and hair? Do they achieve an overall style? Do they effectively recreate the classical world?)
    3. Camera Work (How does the film’s cinematography—that is the way the film is photographed [e.g., camera angles, zooms etc.] and developed—affect the story?)
    4. Editing (How does the shot sequence editing affect the story or particular scenes?)
    5. Sound (How are the dialogue, music, and sound effects utilized by the director and sound mixers to enhance the story or the director’s vision of antiquity?)
  • A film’s context includes the following features:
    1. Historical Context (How did people view the classical world film genre when the film was made? Was it seen as epic, scandalous, entertaining, noble? Why?)
    2. Cultural Context (How did the culture [e.g., American, Japanese, European etc.] and the social norms of society affect the way the film was made?)
    3. Industrial Context (What were the economic, technological, or political, constraints that affected the director’s vision of the classical world?)
  • Please select ONE of the following pairs of films to compare:

TOPIC 1 – Competing Visions of Antiquity: Different Directors, Different Perspectives

o Spartacus and Gladiator o Hercules and Jason and the Argonauts o Cleopatra and Life of Brian

  • I would like your research paper to contain the following sections:
    1. Introduction (1 page). Introduce the two films you are going to analyze and their directors. Briefly introduce their plots and how they relate to classical history/myth. Introduce their main actors, and indicate the historical and cultural contexts in which the films were made. State whether you think the directors you are discussing approached the classical world in different ways or not and how you are going to prove your answer.
    2. Discuss Film #1 (ca. 3 pages). First, I would like you to spend about 2-2½ pages discussing how the director envisioned and arranged the film’s formal elements. You should try to touch on each one and use examples from the film’s scenes to support your answer. Then I would like you to spend ½-1 page discussing how you think the film’s contexts may have affected the way the director could craft his vision on the classical world. Sum up this section by stating your opinion as to whether the director’s choices effectively convey what we know about the ancient stories, artifacts, and monuments.
    3. Discuss Individual #2 (ca. 3 pages). Follow the same outline as with Film #1.
    4. Conclusion (1 page). Briefly compare how these two directors have envisioned the Greco-Roman world. Did they both include key genre elements? How did the two films differ in the way that formal elements were crafted? How did context affect the director’s vision of the classical world? Finally, tell me which director you think presented a more convincing image of the classical world and why.
    5. (1 page). Please cite the sources you used for your paper. See the “Citations” section below for how to cite using MLA style.
  • For the first few weeks of this course we focused on developing a basic background in the history and archaeology of the classical world. We discussed the major periods of Bronze Age, Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic Greece, and Monarchic, Republican, and Imperial Rome. For each era we examined the key historical developments in economics, politics, technology, and religion and touched on how these elements were translated into the art and architecture known through archaeology. As we discussed (and wrote about at the MFA), it is these histories, monuments, and artifacts that are manipulated by screenwriters, production designers, and directors to recreate the classical world. Sometimes these recreations are authentic; at other times, they are anachronistic or just wrong. The results depend on whether the goal is authenticity, entertainment, or both.
  • The purpose of this essay is to examine a film we have watched for this course and to provide a detailed analysis of whether the film was authentic, fantastic, or both and why. I would like you to pay particular attention to how well the screenwriters and directors followed ancient myths and histories to develop their stories and characters, and how they utilized archaeological evidence to develop their mise-en-scène. In the end, based on the way the ancient world was portrayed, I would like you to state what you think the director’s goal was; whether it was authenticity, entertainment, or a mixture of both elements.
  • Please select ONE of the following films to discuss:

TOPIC 2 – Authenticity or Entertainment? Recreating the Classical World on Film

o Jason and the Argonauts o Cleopatra o Gladiator

  • I would like your research paper to contain the following sections:
    1. Introduction (1 page). Introduce the movie you are going to discuss and identify whether it represents Greek or Roman civilization. To further introduce the film, briefly touch on who directed it, in what year, and name the main actors and actresses. Summarize, in a few sentences, the main plot idea. Make a statement as to whether you think the film portrays the story and the culture in an authentic manner or not and discuss how you are going to prove this opinion.
    2. Analysis/Critique (6 pages). Describe the plot/story of the movie identifying the main characters and events. As you are describing the plot in detail, I want you to employ two key analytical perspectives. First, you should discuss how the narrative and characters are similar or different from the way they are discussed in myth or history and how film techniques—such as camera work and sound—affect these representations. Second, you should examine how the director develops the film’s mise-en-scène by analyzing key scenes in the plot to see whether authentic or fantastic representations of the past are the goal. As you analyze these elements, also try to provide your opinions as to how well the filmmakers did in recreating the past and, if they did change elements, say why you think they made such decisions.
    3. (1 page). Sum up your essay by discussing whether the director effectively recreated the past and how he achieved this with particular reference to the original myth/history and actual archaeological evidence. State whether you think the director’s goal was to replicate authentic antiquity, provide entertainment, or both.
    4. (1 page). Please cite the sources you used for your paper in a works cited page. This paper will require the use of a variety of sources on Greco-Roman history, myth, art, and architecture. Make sure you utilize these sources for your paper and cite them in text when you use them.

TOPIC 3 – Classics on Screen: A Model for Analyzing the Classical World on Film

  • As you know, one of our main textbooks for this class is Classics on Screen, by Blanshard and Shahabudin. This book serves as an excellent guide to the films we analyze because it provides the basic contexts for analyzing specific films and emphasizes how formal filmmaking elements—including narrative, mise-en-scène, camera work and editing, and sound—affect how the classical world is represented. Thus the chapters in this book function as effective guides for the films we watch and bring out the different ways that the classical world is reproduced on screen.
  • The purpose of this topic is to get you to follow the analytical model devised by the writers of Classics on Screen, and to write your own mini-chapter on a classical world film not covered in the book or in the class. Your mini-chapter must include the following elements (see also pgs 12-13 in Classics on Screen for a discussion of their method):
    1. Introduction to Essay. (1/2-1 page) Introduce the movie you are going to discuss and identify whether it represents Greek or Roman civilization. To further introduce the film, briefly touch on who directed it, in what year, and name the main actors and actresses. Summarize, in a few sentences, the main plot idea. Lastly, discuss how you are going to provide a guide to the film by discussing its genre, contexts, plot and themes, and offer suggestions for further research and analysis.
    2. Introduction to Film and Genre. (1 page) Introduce the genre of film that you are analyzing (Greek myth or quest, Roman historical events, gladiator movie, etc.) and explain the common elements of these films and how they are typically filmed. You can discuss the history of the genre and audience expectations as well.
    3. Contexts. (1 page) This section provides an overview of the actual historical events, the modern socio-cultural period in which the film was made, and the industrial contexts that affected the film’s production (Chapters 7 and 9 of Essential Cinema might help you here as well). All of these aspects should be explored briefly.
    4. Plot and Themes. (4-5 pages) The next section gives a detailed overview of the plot (describes the story and characters in detail) and discusses the key themes of the story with examples of key scenes that express these themes. Themes can include issues like: the decadence of ancient Rome, the spectacle of ancient Rome (gladiators), the power of empire, the role of the hero, the purity/lure of women, the quest for freedom, achieving victory at all costs, the power of the gods, the rise of Christianity, or the folly of religion etc. Themes get at the heart of why we are watching the film and its importance to modern audiences. Themes are typically universal and mean as much to us as they did to the ancients, so you should also try to comment on why these themes might be meaningful to modern audiences.
    5. Suggestions for Further Watching, Reading, Listening, Playing. (1/2-1 page) In the final section, the authors provide suggestions of similar films that can be compared to the one they are discussing. They provide a discussion of how these films are related and how they can complement the exploration of themes explored in the film under analysis. You should do the same in your paper. You can also suggest similar books, video games, websites, plays or even operas that discuss the film’s themes or complement research on the specific story/time period.
    6. (1 page). Please cite the sources you used for your paper. See the “Citations” section below for how to cite using MLA style.
  • Recommended films to analyze:

o Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959) – *Highly Recommended. o Troy (Wolfgang Petersen, 2004) o Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004)

TOPIC 4 – Directing Antiquity: Create Your Own Classical World Film Scene*

*You can select this topic only following the submission and approval of a 1-pg project feasibility proposal with timeline. This proposal must be submitted to the professor by October 16th. Teams will be considered. THIS PROJECT IS MUCH HARDER THAN THE OTHERS AND WILL BE MORE TIME CONSUMING, so only serious proposals will be considered.

  • Analyzing movies is a skill that tells us a great deal about ourselves as viewers and what we find interesting, entertaining, and meaningful about the classical world. Another approach to exploring the classical world’s meaning—but one that is slightly beyond the curriculum in the course—is the creation of the films themselves. As we have discussed, filmmaking is an incredibly complex, expensive, and laborious process that involves learning filmmaking techniques as well as information about the classical world’s stories and archaeology. Thus, the production of a large-scale film within the context of this class is impossible. Nevertheless, given the current ubiquity of camera technology and user-friendly filmmaking programs, it would seem that the creation of a short scene based on a classical topic might be within the realm of some students’ skill sets.
  • As a result, upon consultation with me, a fourth topic for the CWOF paper is to write a short screenplay of 5 pages or so based on a scene from classical antiquity (e.g., the murder of Julius Caesar) or one from of our movies (e.g., the “I’m Spartacus” scene). I would then like you to film and edit it into a presentable cinematic form.
  • This project will involve the following criteria:
    1. You must submit a 1-pg feasibility proposal to the professor by October 16th with the following information:
    2. Team members and roles in the project (writing, filming, editing etc.) ii. Description of classical scene you wish to film and how you think you will do it (with some evidence for source information)

iii. Ability to procure actors (or acting yourself, different roles) iv. Evidence of previous experience with filmmaking (screenplays, camera work, computer editing etc.) and discussion of how you plan to make your film

  1. Evidence of Access to cameras and editing software (names of programs, iMovie, Avid, Final Cut Pro etc.)
  2. A feasible timeline of production for Nov. 13th deadline
  1. Once you pass the proposal process, you must write an original, ca. 5-pg screenplay that recreates the dialogue and action of a famous classical story or film scene. You can base your scene on an existing story (e.g., the death of Caesar, Hercules’ trials, Hannibal crossing the Alps etc.), or even a dramatization (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the 300 well scene) but the words and film direction need to be your own.
  2. You must write the screenplay in proper screenwriting format. For how to do this, you should consult with textbooks on screenwriting or explanatory websites such as http://www.screenwriting.info. Like writing an essay, screenplay writing has its own conventions and style that need to be used to develop a script. You will need to follow these conventions to write your short screenplay.
  3. You will need to provide a works cited page along with your script in MLA style showing sources you consulted in order to create your vision of antiquity. Like all essay projects, you will need to cite at least three original articles or books related to your topic.
  4. You must film your screenplay to the best of your ability and present the filmed result files with your printed out screenplay to the professor for evaluation. The filmed portion will be as important a part of your grade as the screenplay. The film must have a title at the beginning and credits at the end (with date of submission and names of team members, course number etc.).
  5. Your screenplay and short film must illustrate a clear understanding of the classical story and archaeology relating to your topic. If such relationships are unclear or the story seems fabricated and an inaccurate representation of the basic facts, then your grade will be affected.
  6. Finally, this topic will not be easier than the other topics and in fact will be more difficult; I will not accept sloppy or incoherent results and will grade such projects accordingly, so you will need to keep to your approved plan and timeline.


  • Because each essay topic deals with different types of questions and materials, the grading criteria will be slightly different for each essay/project in terms of how well one utilizes content and makes an effective argument.
  • It is also imperative that all the required sections listed above for the essay you have selected be included in your paper/project. So make sure to read the instructions.
  • It is imperative for one to do some actual research and to seek out at least three reputable sources of information (beyond the textbook and lecture notes) to support the arguments you are making in your essay. These sources must be cited in parentheses in the text when you use them and the books must be listed in a works cited list at the end of your essay. See below for how to design a works cited page, and how to use in-text references.
  • All papers will further be graded in accordance with how well one pays attention to the following issues:
    • Were your arguments convincing and critically presented? o Was your paper organized and well edited? Proofread?
    • Did you follow all of the provided instructions (e.g., have a title on the first page? Double-spaced? Page numbers? Include the requisite essay sections?)?
  • Overall, you must MAKE SURE TO PROOFREAD YOUR ESSAY. It is worth 15% of your final grade and I will not grade sloppy papers lightly. Simple proofreading mistakes are not acceptable. Have pride in your work and try to do a presentable job.


For your parenthetical references as well as your works cited page, I would like you to use the MLA (Modern Language Association) Style. The information on how to do this and how to cite different types of sources is available on the Purdue OWL website here: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/1/ . This YouTube video is also a great help for learning how to put together a works cited page:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaFcJ3f4fJk&feature=share&list=UUgVqKEU_v6W XOSlgP440MPA .This YouTube video provides a good reminder on how to do in-text citations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DzdUDgSwxg .


The following books may help you with your essay research:

  • Cornelius, M. ed. Of Muscles and Men: Essays on the Sword and Sandal Film. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
  • Corrigan, T. A Short Guide to Writing About Film. 8th New York: Pearson, 2012. • Cyrino, M. S. Big Screen Rome. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005. (Ebrary) • Katz, E. The Film Encyclopedia. New York: Collins, 2008.
  • Santas, C. et al. The Encyclopedia of Epic Films. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. (Ebrary)
  • Wyke, M. Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema, and History. New York: Routledge, 1997.

See also the following texts on reserve for HIST-406:

  • McKay, John P, et al. A History of World Societies. 9thVol. 1. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2012.
  • Fazio, M., M. Moffett and L. Wodehouse. Buildings Across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture. Boston: McGraw-Hill. 2004
  • Kondoleon, C. et al. Classical Art. Boston: MFA Publications. 2009
  • Pedley, J.G. Greek Art and Archaeology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson 2012.
  • Ramage, N. and A. Ramage. Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson 2009.


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