Essay 2: Balberg Track, 2020, 25% of Final Grade: Argument identifying and
resolving an issue of interpretation in a primary source
The first writing assignment helped you develop the skills of close reading, using textual
evidence to support claims, and structuring an argument (focusing on an issue,
establishing the issue’s significance, considering and rebutting a counterargument,
writing a thesis, organizing the body of the paper around your reasons and evidence).
Building on these skills, write an essay that makes an argument about an issue of
interpretation for one of these two texts:
● “The Great Maudgalyayana Rescues His Mother from Hell”
● Excerpt from Theodoret’s History of the Monks of Syria
Each text describes a "holy man," whose religious commitments endow him with special
abilities. What does the text reveal about the society and culture that considered this
man holy and told these stories about him? About the relationships between individual,
family, and community? About political power and religion? Consider these general
questions to help you identify an issue of interpretation. What contradictions,
curiosities, confusing points, connections do you see? Why does it matter? What are
some possible interpretations that are in conflict?
Identify one key issue to explore and resolve in your paper. Formulate the issue as a
level 3 question, and resolve the issue by a detailed, specific analysis of the text.
Follow the guidelines for formulating your argument and structuring the paper, as
specified in the “Writing Assignment Overview.”
If appropriate for developing your argument, you can use approved sources for
background information and context, and you can relate your argument to other material
studied in the course.
Note: If you want to reuse any of your own material from essay 1, you must first get
written permission from your TA with guidelines on how much material you can reuse
and how to cite your previous work. Essay 2 must be completely distinct from essay 1
and represent significant new work and be focused on one of these two texts.
Approved Additional Sources:
● Any assigned course readings
● Sources listed in the MMW 12 Library Guide
● Lecture notes
● Section notes and handouts
Remember: You are required to submit essay 1 before essay 2 is due and essay 2
before the final exam in order to pass this course. Also, remember you can only use
approved course sources--no other outside sources.
LENGTH and FORMAT:
● 4- 5 pages (1000-1500 words) + Works Cited page
● 12-point Arial or Times New Roman font
● MLA format
● One of these file formats: .DOC, .DOCX, .PDF
DUE DATES AND REQUIREMENTS FOR EACH PART OF ASSIGNMENT:
Topic Proposal: Write a paragraph proposing your topic for approval by your TA.
Include all elements of the thesis (TS=O+S+A+R, as specified in the Writing
Assignment Overview), and discuss the significance of your topic. Also provide an
outline of the proposed paper and a bibliography of the sources (in MLA format) you
intend to use. Submit a .DOC, .DOCX, or .PDF file to Canvas section site.
Due first lecture of Week 7. Graded as complete/incomplete. If late or not completed,
⅓ letter grade deduction will be taken on final draft. May also affect section
Please note: TA approval of your topic is required. TA approval means your proposal
is workable for the assignment. Please follow your TA’s directions.
Rough Draft: Write a complete 4-5 page rough draft of your essay for two of your
classmates to peer review. 5% of grade.
1. Submit a .DOC, .DOCX, or .PDF file of your rough draft to your Canvas section
site by the SECOND lecture of Week 8. This draft will be automatically submitted
2. Exchange drafts and participate in peer reviews of drafts as directed by your TA
in Week 9.
3. Save your peers’ comments on your rough draft in one file (.DOC, .DOCX, or
.PDF) to submit by beginning of the first lecture for your track in Week 10.
4. Graded on participation. 5% of grade.
Final Draft: Revise your rough draft, using feedback and the revision guidelines in A
Writer’s Reference and the “Revision Tips” handout. Submit by beginning of the first
lecture for your track in Week 10. 20% of grade.
This complete assignment is worth 25% of your total grade (5% for participating fully in
the rough draft workshop and 20% for the final essay). The final essay will be assessed
according to the criteria in the rubric in Canvas.
TURNITIN: Your rough and final drafts will be automatically submitted to Turnitin when
you submit them to your Canvas section site. Turnitin is a plagiarism-detection service.
It compares your paper against all the other papers ever submitted to it and an evergrowing number of online sources. TAs check all Turnitin reports before grading papers.
Please do your own work and cite your sources accurately.
Excerpt from Theodoret, History of the Monks of Syria
Translated by R.E. Price
Theodoret of Cyrus (393 – c. 458/466) was an influential theologian of the School of Antioch,
Biblical commentator, and Christian bishop. His book History of the Monks of Syria relates with
admiration the lives of holy men and desert ascetics in the fourth century. The excerpt you will
read describes the life of Symeon Stylites (“Simeon of the pillar”), one of the most famous monks
in the Syrian desert.
1. THE FAMOUS SYMEON, the great wonder of the world, is known of by all the subjects of the
Roman empire and has also been heard of by the Persians, the Medes, the Ethiopians; and the
rapid spread of his fame as far as the nomadic Scythians has taught his love of labor and his
philosophy. I myself, though having all men, so to speak, as witnesses of his contests that beggar
description, am afraid that the narrative may seem to posterity to be a myth totally devoid of
truth. For the facts surpass human nature, and men are wont to use nature to measure what is
said; if anything is said that lies beyond the limits of nature, the account is judged to be false by
those uninitiated into divine things. But since earth and sea are full of pious souls educated in
divine things and instructed in the grace of the all-holy Spirit, who will not disbelieve what is
said but have complete faith in it, I shall make my narration with eagerness and confidence. I
shall begin from the point at which he received his call from on high.
2. There is a village lying on the border between our region and Cilicia; they call it Sisa.
Originating from this village, he was taught by his parents first to shepherd animals, so that in
this respect too he might be comparable to those great men the patriarch Jacob, the chaste Joseph,
the lawgiver Moses, the king and prophet David, the prophet Micah and the inspired men of their
kind. Once when there was much snow and the sheep were compelled to stay indoors, he took
advantage of the respite to go with his parents to the house of God. I heard his sacred tongue
recount the following: he told how he heard the Gospel utterance which declares blessed those
who weep and mourn, calls wretched those who laugh, terms enviable those who possess a pure
soul, and all the other blessings conjoined with them. He then asked one of those present what
one should do to obtain each of these. He suggested the solitary life and pointed to that
3. Therefore, having received the seeds of the divine word and stored them well in the deep
furrows of his soul, he hastened —he said —to a nearby shrine of the holy martyrs. In it he bent
his knees and forehead to the ground, and besought the One who wishes to save all men to lead
him to the perfect path of piety. After he had spent a long time in this way, a sweet sleep came
upon him, and he had the following dream: ‘I seemed,’ he said, ‘to be digging foundations, and
then hear someone standing by say that I had to make the trench deeper. After adding to its depth
as he told me, I again tried to take a rest; but once more he ordered me to dig and not relax my
efforts. After charging me a third and a fourth time to do this, he finally said the depth was
sufficient, and told me to build effortlessly from now on, since the effort had abated and the
building would be effortless.’ This prediction is confirmed by the event, for the facts surpass
4. Getting up from there, he went to the dwelling of some neighboring ascetics. After spending
two years with them and falling in love with more perfect virtue, he went to that village of Teleda,
where the great and godly men Ammianus and Eusebius had pitched their monastic school. The
inspired Symeon, however, did not enter this one, but another which had sprung from it;
Eusebonas and Abibion, having enjoyed sufficiently the teaching of the great Eusebius, had built
this retreat of piety. Having shared throughout life the same convictions and the same habits, and
displayed, as it were, one soul in two bodies, they made many love this life as they did. When
they departed from life with glory, the wonderful Heliodorus succeeded to the office of superior
over the community. […]
5. After coming to the school of Heliodorus, Symeon spent ten years in the monastic school. He
had eighty fellow monks, and he outshot all of them; while the others took food every other day,
he would last the whole week without nourishment. His superiors bore this ill and constantly
quarreled with it, calling the thing lack of discipline; but they did not persuade him by their
words, nor could they curb his zeal. I heard the very man who is now superior of this flock
recount how on one occasion Symeon took a cord made from palms —it was extremely rough
even to touch with the hands —and girded it round his waist, not wearing it on the outside but
making it touch the skin itself. He tied it so tightly as to lacerate in a circle the whole part it went
round. When he had continued in this manner for more than ten days and the now severe wound
was letting fall drops of blood, someone who saw him asked what was the cause of the blood.
When he replied that he had nothing wrong with him, his fellow contestant forcibly inserted his
hand, discovered the cause and disclosed it to the superior. Immediately reproaching and
exhorting, and inveighing against the cruelty of the thing, he undid the belt, with difficulty, but
not even so could he persuade him to give the wound any treatment. Seeing him do other things
of the kind as well, they ordered him to depart from this ascetic school, lest he should be a cause
of harm to those with a weaker bodily constitution who might try to emulate what was beyond
6. He therefore departed, and made his way to the more deserted parts of the mountain. Finding
a cistern that was waterless and not too deep, he lowered himself into it, and offered hymns to
God. When five days had passed, the superiors of the monastic school had a change of heart, and
sent out two men, charging them to look for him and bring him back. So after walking round the
mountain, they asked some men tending animals there if they had seen someone of such a
complexion and dress. When the shepherds pointed out the cistern, they at once called out several
times, and bringing a rope, drew him out with great labor—for ascent is not as easy as descent.
7. After staying with them for a short time, he came to the village of Telanissus, which lies under
the hill-top where he now stands; finding a tiny cottage in it, he spent three years as a recluse. In
his eagerness to be always increasing his wealth of virtue, he longed to fast forty days without
food, like the men of God Moses and Elijah. He urged the wonderful Bassus, who at the time used
to make visitations of many villages, as supervisor of the village priests, to leave nothing inside
and seal the door with mud. When the other pointed out the difficulty of the thing and urged him
not to think suicide a virtue, since it is the first and greatest of crimes, he replied: ‘But you then,
father, leave me ten rolls and a jar of water; and if I see my body needs nourishment, I shall
partake of them.’ It was done as he asked. The provisions were left, and the door was sealed with
mud. At the end of the forty days, Bassus, this wonderful person and man of God, came and
removed the mud; on going in through the door he found the complete number of rolls, he found
the jar full of water, but Symeon stretched out without breath, unable either to speak or to move.
Asking for a sponge to wet and rinse his mouth, he brought him the symbols of the divine
mysteries; and so strengthened by these, he raised himself and took a little food—lettuce, chicory
and suchlike plants, which he chewed in small pieces and so passed into the stomach. […]
9. From that time till today —twenty-eight years have passed —he spends the forty days without
food. Time and practice have allayed most of the effort. For it was his custom during the first
days to chant hymns to God standing, then, when because of the fasting his body no longer had
the strength to bear the standing, thereafter to perform the divine liturgy seated, and during the
final days actually to lie down — for as his strength was gradually exhausted and extinguished
he was compelled to lie half-dead. But when he took his stand on the pillar, he was not willing to
come down, but contrived his standing posture differently: it was by attaching a beam to the
pillar and then tying himself to the beam with cords that he lasted the forty days. Subsequently,
enjoying henceforward still more grace from above, he has not needed even this support, but
stands throughout the forty days, not taking food but strengthened by zeal and divine grace.
10. After spending three years, as I said, in this cottage, he went to that celebrated hill-top, where
he ordered a circular enclosure to be made. After procuring an iron chain of twenty cubits, nailing
one end to a great rock and fixing the other to his right foot, so that not even if he wished could
he go outside these limits, he lived all the time inside, thinking of heaven and compelling himself
to contemplate what lies above the heavens—for the iron chain did not hinder the flight of his
thought. But when the wonderful Meletius, who had at that time been appointed to supervise the
territory of the city of Antioch and was a wise man of brilliant intelligence and gifted with
shrewdness, told him that the iron was superfluous, since the will was sufficient to impose on the
body the bonds of reasoning, he yielded and accepted the advice with compliance: And bidding
a smith be called, he told him to sever the chain. When a piece of leather, which had been tied to
his leg to prevent the iron injuring his body, had to be torn apart (for it had been sown together),
people saw, they said, more than twenty large bugs lurking in it; and the wonderful Meletius said
he had seen this. I myself have mentioned it in order to show from this example as well the
endurance of the man: for though he could easily have squeezed the leather with his hand and
killed them all, he steadfastly put up with their painful bites, welcoming in small things training
for greater contests.
11. As his fame circulated everywhere, everyone hastened to him, not only the people of the
neighborhood but also people many days’ journey distant, some bringing the paralyzed in body,
others requesting health for the sick, others asking to become fathers; and they begged to receive
from him what they could not receive from nature. On receiving it and obtaining their requests,
they returned with joy; and by proclaiming the benefits they had gained, they sent out many
times more, asking for the same things. So with everyone arriving from every side and every road
resembling a river, one can behold a sea of men standing together in that place, receiving rivers
from every side. Not only do the inhabitants of our part of the world flock together, but also
Ishmaelites, Persians, Armenians subject to them, Iberians, Greeks, and men even more distant
than these; and there came many inhabitants of the extreme west, Spaniards, Britons, and the
Gauls who live between them. Of Italy it is superfluous to speak. It is said that the man became
so celebrated in the great city of Rome that at the entrance of all the workshops men have set up
small representations of him, to provide thereby some protection and safety for themselves.
12. Since the visitors were beyond counting and they all tried to touch him and reap some blessing
from his garments of skins, while he at first thought the excess of honor absurd and later could
not abide the wearisomeness of it, he devised the standing on a pillar, ordering the cutting of a
pillar first of six cubits, then of twelve, afterwards of twenty-two and now of thirty-six —for he
yearns to fly up to heaven and to be separated from this life on earth. I myself do not think that
this standing has occurred without the dispensation of God. […] the facts themselves proclaim it;
for the Ishmaelites, who were enslaved in their many tens of thousands to the darkness of
impiety, have been illuminated by his standing on the pillar. For this dazzling lamp, as if placed
on a lampstand, has sent out rays in all directions, like the sun. It is possible, as I have said, to see
Iberians and Armenians and Persians arriving to receive the benefit of divine baptism. The
Ishmaelites, arriving in companies, two or three hundred at the same time, sometimes even a
thousand, disown with shouts their ancestral imposture; and smashing in front of this great
luminary the idols they had venerated and renouncing the orgies of Aphrodite—it was this
demon whose worship they had adopted originally —they receive the benefit of the divine
mysteries, accepting laws from this sacred tongue and bidding farewell to their ancestral customs,
as they disown the eating of wild asses and camels. […]
16. On another occasion I witnessed the occurrence of a celebrated miracle. Someone came in —
he too was a tribal chieftain of Saracens — and begged the godly person to assist a man who on
the road had become paralyzed in the limbs of his body; he said he had undergone the attack at
Callinicum — it is a very great fort. When he had been brought right to the center, Symeon asked
him to disown the impiety of his ancestors. When he gladly consented and performed the order,
he asked him if he believed in the Father and the only-begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. When
the other professed his faith, he said: ‘Since you believe in these names, stand up!’ When he stood
up, he ordered him to carry the tribal chieftain on his shoulders right to his tent, and he was of
great bodily size. He at once picked him up and went on his way, while those present stirred their
tongues to sing hymns to God. […]
18. It happened that another miracle occurred in no way inferior to the preceding. A not
undistinguished Ishmaelite, who was one of those who had found faith in the saving name of
Christ the Master, made prayer to God with Symeon as the witness, and a promise as well: the
promise was to abstain thereafter till death from all animal food. At some time he broke this
promise, I know not how, by daring to kill a bird and eat it. But since God chose to bring him to
amendment by means of a reproof and to honor His servant who had been the witness of the
broken promise, the flesh of the bird was changed in nature to stone, with the result that not even
if he wanted to was he now able to eat —for how was it possible, since the body which he had
got hold of for eating had been petrified? Astounded by this extraordinary sight, the barbarian
went to the holy man with great speed, bringing to light his secret sin, proclaiming his
transgression to all, asking from God forgiveness for his offence and calling the saint to his aid,
that through his all-p ...
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