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The Argonautica and Academic Writing

21 October 201210:32AMlife

I just wrote this as a tutorial reflection for the Classics unit I'm doing, and it sums up a lot of how I'm feeling right now about the way uni makes you think and write. So I'm posting it up here, expanded slightly, because I like it and because I can and because shut up just read the damn post.

I read the whole Argonautica comparing bits to Homer, to the point where literally all the notes in my copy are comparisons to the Odyssey. I'm not sure that this is fair, since almost all of the comparisons were less than favourable. It might be interesting, in, say, five years time, to come back and re-read the argonautica without having just finished th Odyssey, and see whether it can actually stand on its own merits as a poem.

Then again, it's very obviously not meant to stand on its own. Apollonius clearly meant it to be referential, such that the only real way to actually get anything out of it is by comparing it to Homer, since the story itself is not all that original. And while it may have been fun for other scholars to read at the time, as a layperson that fun isn't there and it just ends up a little bit lifeless and lacking.

I think there's probably a conclusion to be drawn here about writing something that is so dependent on references that it can't actually stand on its own merits. Which, oddly enough, is a problem I often have with the way we're expected to write essays for uni, with such a constant pressure to find reputable academic references for_ every tiny thing_ that it crushes anything even vaguely resembling original thought out of student work.

There's a place for reference. That place is when an idea is so genuinely useful and revelatory and beautiful it's a no-brainer to put it to use. Not as a crutch to prop up an unoriginal narrative and pander to your fellow bearded toga-wearing scholars.

I keep hearing other students ask questions like "How many references should I have?". Heck, I've asked that myself. And I've never really had an answer that was satisfying, until I figured this one out for myself. The answer is pretty obviously not Apollonius' "as many as possible to show how clever you are." That makes for crap, boring writing. The answer is Vergil's - "The right ones." And that might just be more difficult.

Which I think may just be the most important thing that one tute could've taught me. And they say Classics isn't useful.

tl;dr: Uni sometimes seems to favour referencing over original thought, and that is teh sux.

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