Friday, August 31, 2007

A Little Gift from the Professor's Bag of Tricks

I always appreciate it when colleagues of mine share from their bags of pedagogical tricks, so I thought I might pass on a recent experiment that generated an eminently "teachable moment" for me.

I've just begin teaching the Iliad in my course, which is a small seminar-tpye class. Yesterday, I decided to utilize an exercise from John Bean's text Engaging Ideas that was distributed to all of the new faculty this year. (I should say that, as a general rule, I don't usually avail myself of such resources, but I am learning that this may be to my own detriment!) Bean suggests an exercise in the text that he calls the "Bio-Poem," which aids students in conducting character analyses. The format for the poem is as follows:

LINE 1: Name of character

LINE 2: Four traits that describe character

LINE 3: Relative of (brother of, sister of, etc.) __________

LINE 4: Lover of __________

LINE 5: Who feels __________ (three items)

LINE 6: Who needs _________ (three items)

LINE 7: Who fears: _________ (three items)

LINE 8: Who gives __________ (three items)

LINE 9: Who would like to _________ (three items)

LINE 10: Resident of __________

LINE 11: Name

Here's an example (from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov) that Bean offers for guidance:


Cynical, bold, all knowing and fearless

Friend of no one, peer of few.

Lover of self, wisdom, and inconquerable knowledge.

Who feels neither pity not compassion nor the love of God.

Who needs no man, save for himself.

Who fears the kiss that warms the heart

And the coming tide which will not retreat.

Who radiates cold shafts of broken glass

And who fits all mankind with collar and chain.

Who would like to see the deceivers burned

And Christ humbled before him.

Resident of ages past.

The Grand Inquisitor.

I had my students work collectively on the poem. For each line, I let them toss out ideas for what was most appropriate, then decide together on which to keep and which to throw away, while I stood at the front of the room and recorded the poem on the board. Here's what they came up with for Achilles:


Proud, godlike, selfish and enraged.

Son of immortal and mortal, brother to his Myrmidons.

Lover of honor, glory and Patroclus,

"Lover" of Briseis.

Feels the fire of vengeance, the sting of unacknowledgment, the grief of loneliness.

Needs combat, confrontation and, ultimately, recognition.

Who fears slipping into unknown oblivion and

The war that has no place for him.

Who gives to his comrades in battle confidence, but also pause.

Who would like to strike the blow that inspires epics.

Resident of Greece's battlefields.



kgrady said...

The "heel" at the end totally makes it.

Doctor J said...

yeah, i thought that was particularly clever of them, too!