1. Since (in the words of Sir John Malcolm's The History of Persia) young Sohrab "had carried death and dismay into the ranks of the Persians" when he confronted Rustum on the field of battle, he was like the legendary hero Achilles encountering the Trojan Prince Hector in the twenty-second book of the Iliad. What differences distinguish Arnold's Sohrab from Homer's Achaean hero?
2. According to the legendary material at Arnold's disposal, notably the tenth-century Persian epic Shah Nameh, or Book of Kings by Firdausi, Sohrab and Rustum had already encountered each other twice before the point at which Arnold chooses to open their story: on the first occasion, though Sohrab had the clear advantage, the pair ceased combat by mutual consent; on the second, Sohrab, although clearly the victor, spared the life of his adversary, still ignorant of the fact that the older warrior was in fact his father. Using the classical model of the in medias res opening, found in both the works of Homer and the tragedy Oedipus the King by Sophocles, explain why Arnold omitted these previous encounters and elected to begin with the third.
3. As both Milton and Virgil realized in writing their secondary epics, an heroic poem requires a suitably grand setting. Briefly, how does Arnold render the encampments and the battlefield on the shores of the River Oxus "epic" in scale and quality?
4. Arnold concludes the poem with the armies' shifting camp, leaving Rustum alone with his grief and his son's corpse. Arnold, however, would have read in his sources that, having at last acknowledge Sohrab as his son, Rustum attempted suicide, and was only prevented from taking his own life by the efforts of his expiring son. The grieving father then burned his tents and other worldly possessions before carrying the boy's body back to Seistan for internment. Afterwards, as Sohrab had requested, Rustum allowed the army of Turan to cross the Oxus unmolested. Why, then, has Arnold chosen to eliminate this epilogue to conclude the action as he has?
5. Consider the following properties or characteristics of the classical epic, then briefly explain how "Sohrab and Rustum" possesses them:
A. Long, formal speeches occur in the midst of the action.
B. The principals employ a courtly manner of address, even under great stress.
C. The poet "hastes into the midst of the action," employing the in medias res opening.
D. The poet frequently employs extended similes, often drawn from nature.
E. The climax involves the confrontation of mighty opposites.
F. The epic hero exemplifies a life of physical action, often in military combat.
G. The epic hero carries finely crafted weapons so massive that none other may wield them.
H. A sense of doom, destiny, or fate surrounds the battle of the heroic adversaries, which is often going to determine some national issue.
I. In dying, the defeated warrior pronounces upon the fate of the victor.
J. The victor achieves an epiphany, a supra-rational understanding of the nature of human existence. (Ten separate components)
6. The plot of hinges upon the fact that Rustum is not aware that he even has a son, let alone that that child is now facing him on the field of battle. Evaluate the plausibility of this plot gambit.
7. Since the outcome of a tragedy should arouse in the audience the antithetical feelings of pity and fear, how may one describe the conclusion of Arnold's poem as tragic?
8. Why does Arnold describe the "wound's anguish" (line 840) as "imperious"?
9. If both Sohrab and Rustum are proven heroes, tried in combat and exemplars of martial valour, what about their persons, ranks (social status), and actions specifically makes them heroic?
10. Although the poem was written in the early 1850s in England, it is set in ancient Persia, a time and place utterly unfamiliar to most of Arnold's readers. What was Arnold's motivation for writing about a time and place so far removed from his present reality?
11. Arnold wrote his friend and fellow-poet Arthur Hugh Clough on 30 November 1853 that "the poem has, if not the rapidity, at least the fluidity of Homer; and that it is in this respect that it is un-Tennysonian" (quoted in Houghton & Stange 553). Explain exactly what Arnold was getting at, utilising, if possible, pertinent references to the works of Tennyson and Homer.
12. In that same letter to Clough Arnold also remarks:"Homer animates — Shakespeare animates — in its poor way I think Sohrab and Rustum animates" (Cited in Houghton & Stange 553). What exactly does Arnold's poem "animate"?
13. In that same letter Arnold also writes that "the complaining millions of men . . . want something to . . . ennoble them — not merely to add zest to their melancholy or grace their dreams" (553). How does Arnold's poem "ennoble" its readers?
14. According to Beckson and Ganz in A Reader's Guide to Literary Terms (1969), "the epic poet adopts a style dignified, elaborate and exalted, suited to his theme" (p. 52). How does Arnold create such a style in English? What models does he have?
15. How may we characterize the theme of Arnold poem as "heroic"?
16. According to Harmon and Holman in A Handbook to Literature (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000), an epyllion may defined as a "narrative poem usually presenting an episode from the heroic past and resembling an epic but much briefer and more limited" (195). Whereas Homer's Iliad, for instance, consists of twenty-four books, Arnold's poem has a mere 892 lines (without subdivisions), so the relative brevity of "Sohrab and Rustum" is obvious. In what other ways does Arnold's poem fit the above definition?
17. Explain the difference between "primary" and "secondary" epics and then explain in which category "Sohrab and Rustum" belongs.
18. In the epic simile, according to Harmon and Holman in A Handbook to Literature, "The VEHICLE is developed into an independent aesthetic object, an IMAGE that for the moment upstages the TENOR with which it is compared" (189). Select such a simile from "Sohrab and Rustum," then briefly apply Harmon and Holman's thesis.
19. The perspective of the writer of epic must necessarily be completely omniscient, transcending the normal limitations of human understanding, including the restrictions of present time and space. How does Arnold create a suitably "epic" narrative voice for "Sohrab and Rustum"?
20. What is the purpose, intention, or effect of the epic catalogue (list) that Arnold incorporates in lines 116 through 140?
Last modified 26 August 2004