Showing posts with label greeks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label greeks. Show all posts


Sharing The Myth of Sisyphus With Kids: The Original Rolling Stone

I’ve been teaching Greek myth to a class of 8-12-year-olds since February, and it’s been so much fun hearing what the kids say about myths when they process the psychological insights I can share. One of the primary themes of our class has been how and why the myth is still relevant today, thousands of years after these stories were first told. A particularly useful recent lesson was on the myth of Sisyphus, an excellent metaphor for human struggle.
A Detail of an Ancient Greek Vase Depicts the Story of the Trickster Hero Sisyphus Who was Punished by the gods for Attempting to Cheat Death
The Myth of Sisyphus
Sisyphus was a Greek king in the evil trickster mold who found trouble with Zeus when he traded his knowledge of where Zeus was cavorting with a river nymph to her father in exchange for a spring of pure water for the people of his kingdom. In anger, Zeus had Sisyphus carried away to the underworld, but Sisyphus tricked Death into wearing his chains. No one could die until Ares released Death and gave Sisyphus to him.

Sisyphus tricked Death once again (Death must not have been the brightest guy), persuading him that since his (Sisyphus’) wife hadn’t performed the proper funeral rites, he must return to the upper world to correct the situation. Once there, of course, he lived happily for another 50 years or so.
For his offenses against the honor of the gods, Sisyphus is punished by being forced to push a large rock up a steep hill, only to see it roll back down again. He must trek down to the bottom of the mountain and start pushing still.

French-Algerian Writer Albert Camus Reinvents the Myth of Sisyphus for Modern Readers
In his seminal essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus writes about this myth, arguing that Sisyphus’ fate is the fate of every human. Every day we must do the same tasks: going to work, cleaning our homes, and making our meals. We roll the rock up the hill; each day, it rolls back down, and we must start again.

However, Camus argues that Sisyphus is not genuinely cursed because he isn’t unhappy with his fate. The gods can force him to repeat this task, but they can’t force him to hate it. He is content, and therefore Zeus’ punishment has failed.

Teaching the Myth to My Kids in the Classroom
It was refreshing when I explained all of this to my kids because they asked brilliant questions. They always want to know why the characters in Greek myths didn’t make different, better choices. One question came up: why doesn’t Sisyphus chip away at the rock to make it smaller and more manageable for himself? I compared that to working less hard on studying for an exam and getting a “C” instead of an “A.” You can always take steps to make things easier for yourself, but you’d be cheating yourself at the same time. They got it, and it was cool to see them getting it.
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Aesthetic Thursdays: Dionysos Holds a Theater Mask

Terra-Cotta Mixing Bowl, Dionysos and Young Pan, 410-390 B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art
The mixing bowl depicted above was probably made in Greek occupied southern Italy in the 5th century B.C. The bowl was used to mix wine for the celebration of the feast of Dionysos, the god of the theater. Dionysos stands opposite a young Pan who pours water into a mixing bowl. 

Dionysos holds a mask. Masks were used by actors on stage to personate the roles they played. In this piece, Dionysos appears to hold a mask of himself. The mask he holds is identical to the artistic representation of his face. Dionysos wears the person of the character he personates. His mask is his person. To personate means to wear the person of someone. Person derives from the Greek word for "mask." To personate is to wear a mask. Personation is the act of personating. In an obsolete usage, a personation is also the mask itself. So we could say that Dionysos holds his own personation.


Aesthetic Thursdays: Medusa

If the canvas is Perseus's shield, then this is Medusa's last stare.
Caravaggio, Medusa, 1597, Oil on canvas mounted on wood
Perseus, a son of Zeus, an epic hero of Greek myth, was locked in a chest as a boy by his grandfather with his mother inside and thrown to sea, because an oracle foretold he would kill the king Of Argos; he was saved by a fisherman and raised to manhood. His most famous deed: he sought to behead the Gorgon Medusa, partly from a wager with Polydectes the King of Seriphos, his mother's husband, and partly out of despair, for he knew Polydectes wanted to get rid of him. Perseus traveled to the edge of the world to find the Gorgon, one of three Gorgons, who were sisters, Medusa was the only one mortal. The Graeae, nymph sisters, helped him, as well as several gods and goddesses. To kill the Gorgon, Perseus had to avoid eye contact with her lest he turn to stone by looking her directly in the eye. So armed with a shield, bequeathed to him by Athena, and a scimitar, from Hermes, and a cape of invisibility, and winged sandals, he was able to peer on the Gorgon indiscreetly in her lair without looking at her directly, and slew her with his blade. When Perseus slew the Gorgon she was pregnant, and out of her belly flew Pegasus, the winged horse.
NB: If you want to check out the real shield, haunt the Uffizi gallery in Florence, Italy.
image credit: New Crafts, Co.


Plato's Allegory of the Cave in Plain Language

Retold from The Republic of Plato

image credit: "Plato and the Pure Forms"
       Once upon a time, everyone on earth lived in total darkness. In a cave.
       The only light people had was from a huge fire. The fire never stopped burning. The fire shone light from behind the people. But people were unable to turn around and see the source of the light because they were all chained to a wall. In between the fire and the people were cut-outs, of animals, trees, dogs, cars, etc., all the objects of the sensible world.
        The light from the flame cast the outline of the paper cut-outs onto the wall of the cave. The people chained to the wall were only able to perceive shadows of objects and not real objects. People only saw images. People were content. No one attempted to escape.
        But, one day a man became unchained. He at first did not know what to do with his new found freedom. But, he decided to turn around. He was surprised to see, when he turned around, that what he thought was real, was only shadows cast onto a wall from paper cut-outs.
         "That's lame," he said.
         He walked around the fire and the paper cut-outs and found an exit out of the cave. He climbed out. He stood on solid ground. He looked up and saw the brightness of the sun and shielded his eyes. The light was intense. After living in a cave all his life he had never experience the light of the sun. The intensity of the light was way too much for his unaccustomed eyes. But after a few hours above ground he began to adjust to the light and was able to see more clearly. He could discern leaves on trees and was able to distinguish goats from dogs. Everything was way more clear than down in the darkness of the cave.
        He became so overjoyed at what he was seeing, that he decided to tell all his friends in the cave so they could know the truth. He went back underground. Into the darkness.
        "Hey, guys. It's me. Look. You're all chained to a wall and what you see on the wall is not really real. Those are just shadows. You cannot see it, but behind you is a fire that casts shadows of paper objects onto the wall. None of that is real. I have been above ground and seen the sun and have seen real trees and real dogs. Not shadows. Allow me to release you from your chains and you can see for yourself."
        The people would not have any of this. They said amongst themselves, "He is crazy. Let us kill him." So they did. All at once they pounced on him and killed him because they could not accept the truth of his words.
         After they killed him they forgot about him. To this day no one speaks of the unchained man.

The End

If you would like to teach your students the Allegory of the Cave and you need additional resources, check out this lesson plan I created on Teachers Pay Teachers. You and your students will love it - and I gave it a lot of extra time and attention (which I hope you'll use and appreciate).
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific -


Ten Everyday Words and Phrases that Originate from Greek Mythology

We Use Phrases from Greek Mythology in the English Language and We Often Do Not Realize it

We use the following phrases, "Achilles Heel," "Between a rock and a hard place," "To have a Midas touch," "To rise from the ashes," "He's a mentor to me," quite commonly in written and in spoken language. But, where do these phrases come from? Did you know that they have a common origin in mythology? Read and find out about ten phrases we use today that owe their origins to the Greeks: 

10 Popular Words and Phrases in English that Originate from Greek Myths

1. Achilles's Heel
Achilles, an ancient warrior, a child of Zeus and protected by the waters of the river Styx, fell to his death by an arrow struck at his heel, his only weak spot.

The phrase has come to mean any weak spot of an organization, a person, etc., who is generally deemed to be strong.

Marvin's brother was the only one who knew that his Achilles's heel was his weakness for gambling the $100 slots at the casino.

Here is an example from an article on cooking apps for the iPad for the New York Times:
“BigOven’s community involvement may be its biggest asset, but it is also its Achilles’ heel.”

Cassandra warns Priam
2. To Be A Cassandra 

Cassandra was a priestess to Athena in ancient Troy. She warned King Priam that the Trojans should not take in the large wooden horse standing at their door (see, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts") but no one would listen to her.
"To be a cassandra," in present day language has come to mean someone who proclaims truth, or spreads a message, but no one wants to believe it despite its authenticity.

Another example of environmental Cassandras is a small coastal town that did not listen to the reports from a scientific recommendation to begin creating a buffer zone of trees to protect its estuary from the encroaching ocean waters. ran a story asking if Kathleen Parker was a Cassandra when she spoke out against the nomination of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.

3. Caught Between a Rock and Hard Place

Odysseus learns from the blind seer Tiresias that he must journey through a strait where the path breaks into two; no matter what path he and his crew choose, Tiresias forebodes, the outcome will be equally perilous. For on one side is the Scylla monster who gobbles up his men like chickens and on the other side is a gaping whirlpool with teeth called the Charybdis, which swallows his men alive. The Charybdis' cousin is the sand whirlpool in Return of the Jedi.

We say we are caught between a Scylla and a Charybdis, or between a rock and a hard place, when whichever decision is made, the outcome is hardly good.

A news article from The New Hampshire Keene Sentinel refers to refereeing teen bullying online, as caught between a rock and hard place because the school must choose between peer mediation, which seldom works because the bullying is not happening in school but at home online:
"We’re caught between a rock and hard place, disciplining them for what happens outside the school...”

It was easy to see Simone was caught between a rock and a hard place. If she chose Zack, tall and handsome, she would not have someone to discuss poetry, but if she chose Zed, a recent Rhodes Scholar, she would have to settle for a tepid body.

Et cetera:

It is also possible to use the phrase "Scylla and Charybdis" to mean caught between a rock and hard place, as in a San Fransisco Chronicle on global warming and stopping green house gases as a Scylla and a Charybdis.

4. Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts
How is Health Care in this cartoon used as an example of "Beware ..."

The phrase originates from Virgil's Aeneid. Laocoon tells the Trojans, "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts" but they do not listen to him and allow the Trojan Horse to enter the city (see entries on Trojan Horse, Cassandra). After the Greeks sack Troy, as punishment for attempting to warn the Trojans, Laocoon and his sons are eaten alive by a sea serpent.

The phrase is heavily used in political language to describe situations where a particular political action is not as benign as it may at first appear. The expression can be used, however, in any situation where appearances are not always what they seem.

"I say beware of Greeks bearing gifts," said Troy. "Your parents pay for dinner only when they have bad news!"

Consider a recent article, "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts," from the Heritage Blog about Hilary Clinton. In the article, the expression is used to warn policy makers about a seemingly benign Central and Eastern European endorsement of the United States in regards to foreign policy.

5. Herculean Strength
Hercules is a hero from the Greek panoply, famous for his seven labors. Hercule gave Atlas respite by taking a turn to carry the world atop his shoulders.

To say someone has “herculean strength” means they have strength that far exceeds that of a normal person. (E.g., sometimes seen as “herculean effort”)

Ned's ability to juggle three jobs, raise two twin boys alone, while at the same time serving as the Neighborhood Watch chairperson was considered by many in the community as a herculean effort.

Here is an example from an article about Facebook from Mashable, the social media online guide:
... [the] Social web has become increasingly complex — relating the full implications to a broad audience is a Herculean feat.

6. Mentor
Mentor is the form the ancient Greek goddess Athena takes to counsel the young Telemachus, son of Odysseus. Athena becomes a friendly, man who encourages Telemachus to go find news of his missing father who has been lost at sea after the sack of Troy.
The word mentor has come to mean a professional relationship where a more experienced person gives the necessary skills to a novice. Or it can mean simply an older person who guides a younger one.
In college I had a writing mentor who helped me to write a thesis statement.

The Associated Press uses the word to describe the relationship between the president and his former Harvard professor:

The Rev. Al Sharpton is a "lightning rod" for President Barack Obama on inner city streets, Obama's former Harvard mentor and friend said Saturday at a forum in Harlem.

7. To Have the Midas touch
In legend, King Midas turned everything he touched to gold. In the legend Midas’ wish is granted: his food turns to gold, even his own daughter. Horrified by his new found skill, he rushes to the river to wash his hands of his gift/curse, which is why gold is to be found in river beds! The original legend was meant to illustrate the folly of the rich man and teach a lesson to rich fools.

But, if someone has the Midas touch today, it means they are skilled at becoming rich, or, just seem to be really lucky. A synonym for the Midas touch could be a “lucrative entrepreneur”. The phrase can also mean someone or something which brings luck or success.

It seemed that Mike had the Midas touch: he had a stunning wife, three handsome children, and a 401k that paid steady dividends. The block was green with envy.
A headline reads “Britain's Got Talent Betting: Simon Cowell's Midas Touch.” Betters hope Cowell’s success on American Idol will bleed over to the British counterpart.

8. To Open a Pandora's Box
Poor Pandora lives with her family in a state of preternatural bliss but she opens the box she is explicitly told not to touch (similar to Eve eating of the fruit in the garden in Genesis). When she opens the box, corruption enters the world: death, decay, entropy, murder, war - but Pandora closes the box before everything that is horrible escapes and the one thing that is not stolen by is Hope.

Little did the popular girls at Ridgemont High know, uncovering secrets about the new kid in school was to open a pandora's box that neither of them had been able to anticipate.

We use the expression “Pandora’s box” to express an action, an event, an object, or a person that has been unleashed from its shackles and gotten out of hand.

The Huffington post ran an article about the crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as opening a Pandora’s box.

9. Trojan Horse
In the Aeneid, Virgil recounts how the Greeks were finally able to conquer the Trojans after ten years of brutal fighting. Odysseus, the wily entrepreneur, devises a hollow wooden horse to place Greek soldiers inside of and place it as a “gift” at the walls of Troy. The Trojans. thinking it is a peace offering, take the horse in their gates, celebrate their victory and go to sleep. The Greeks come out of the horse, murder the men and boys and make slaves of the women and children.

To call something a Trojan horse The phrase has been used to describe computer viruses that enter “the back door” of a closed system, veiled as a normal-looking file, but are actually malware hackers use to gain information, delete files, and basically wreak havoc on civilized humankind.

Equipped with walkie talkies, Blake and his buddies decided to inject Lane into the birthday party as their
trojan horse to signal to them when it was time to launch the water balloons en masse.

Federal News Radio reports on malware hackers have lured computer users to download onto their PCs from their iPads:

The link in the message leads to a Trojan horse that injects code into Windows' explorer.exe and opens a backdoor for hackers.

10. To Rise From the Ashes

As this detail from the Aberdeen Bestiary illustrates, the Phoenix is a mythic bird who every one thousand years immolates itself and is then born again from its own ashes. In everyday speech, we use this phrase to indicate a major life change or total makeover in a person's life. One could say Bill Clinton rose from the ashes to become a post-presidential celebrity despite the scandal of Whitewater and Monicagate.

Tip: Don't try this at home, kids.

After thirty years in the working world, Hannah decided to rise from the ashes and return to school to get a nursing degree.

A post on the Consumerist claims that the once defunct electronics chain will rise from the ashes:
Circuit City to Rise from the Ashes!

And another article from a life coach promises readers to learn how to change their lives and start anew:
Et cetera: How To Rise From The Ashes Like A Phoenix

Go to my Teacher's store to buy a ready-to-go educational resource on words and phrases from Greek Mythology.
Note: I will add to this post as I begin to compile more examples.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Not Grade Specific -
Find a supercharged lesson plan on allusions to  Greek myths here 


Poem: Four Loves

The shrink’s nose told me to read The Four Loves
so i did

i read the whole book in two sittings,
even the bibliography,

sorta −

and pondered the book’s message,
you know,

how there are four loves,
according to the greeks,

those sexy helens


like how i used to love diecast cars and bowling
and now i mainly instant message.

how i used to love you in some other symbol,

how i used to gaze on you and blush.

how you ran away and closed the book.

how i came to sit and read

wonderin’ where it all went,


stitching together a story


Poem: Juice Stained Man