The Last Days of Socrates and The Pillowbook

Despite their vast differences in subject matter, objectives, style, and tone, Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates and Shonagon’s The Pillow Book both contribute much to our sense of what it means to partake in the project of humanity and of what’s important to us humans. Each text paints a unique picture of a particular time and place, rather far removed from one another both geographically and historically; but they both also have served as touchstones for humanistic thinking over the course of millennia. Given your reading of Plato and Shonagon, what do you see to be the more significant questions, concerns, values, and/or ideas behind the formation of this thing we call “humanity” and why? In other words, what is it that constitutes our understanding of who we are as civil, political, social and/or ethical creatures? Support your response by citing/quoting and interpreting relevant passages from the two texts (you don’t need to include a bibliography or works cited page). To jumpstart your thinking, you might, for example, ask yourself the following: What do you see as being the most revealing differences, in terms of this question of humanity, between The Last Days of Socrates and The Pillow Book? Are there any underlying similarities between them? What would Shonagon think of Socrates’ ideas about justice, piety, wisdom, and the soul? Likewise, what do you imagine Plato (or Socrates) might have to say about Shonagon’s lists, or her tales of courtly life in Imperial Japan? Make sure your essay is focused and your main point clearly stated early on. You will be evaluated based on your demonstrated engagement with and understanding of the readings, your ability to compare and contrast their various key points, the clarity of your explanations of each text, and the overall organization and readability of your paper.

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