The Challenge: Seat the Greek Gods and Goddesses at a Holiday Dinner Party

December 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

There are more than 30 copies of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology in the Wamogo English Department Library; they are ancient, yellowing slowly in the catacombs of the bookroom, yet these copies are still a valuable resource for a student who may want to read about Greek and Roman Mythology. There is a patchwork collection of Homer’s Odyssey:  a class set of a prose re-telling  (McCaughrean) of the Odyssey, 25 very battered copies of the Richard Lattimore translation, and five highly prized copies of Robert Fitzgerald’s translation.  Two years ago we added a dozen copies of two books from Scholastic Mythopedia: O My Gods and She’s All That!: A Look-It-Up Guide to the Goddesses of Olympus. Like many schools, we have a mixed selection of materials in our resource library for Greek and Roman mythology.

Independent reading books added to the mythology book shelves tend to be those which”modernize” the myths. We have added 20 copies of books in Rick Riordan’s series Percy Jackson and the Olympians through the used book markets. The five books in the series follow a teenager who discovers he’s the descendant of a Greek god and sets out on an adventure to settle an on-going battle between the gods. There are five books in this series and they are very popular with students. In addition, our school hosted a visit from the author Neal Schusterman two years ago, so copies of his modern version of the Medusa story, Dreadlocks, were made available for students. Over the past five years, our total cost for new materials in the mythology unit have been minimal.

Screenshot of Mythweb.com page: All text and images on this site are copyright 1993-2011 Mythweb. Published by Fleet Gazelle. Students can click on the link and read the adventures of any of the heroes from the Ancient World.

However, if there was not a single book on the Greek and Roman gods in our classroom libraries, teaching a unit on Greek and Roman mythology would still be possible.There are a plethora of resources on the Internet for any teacher looking to teach mythology today.

One of the best resources we used was Mythweb, a site that is “kid friendly” for students and teachers. The author of the site Joel Skidmore and Advisor: William Saturno operate the site from the “real world” location of San Francisco, CA. Clever graphics depict the characters from Greek mythology; easy to read text makes th myths understandable to all levels of readers. Our students read the biographies of the gods and goddesses, and also many of the different myths on this site.

Another site that provided a great number of resources on myths is the History for Kids website. This site is a little less secure with pop-up ads, but the stories of human interaction with the gods and goddesses (Arachne, Pandora, Icarus) are all there with easy to read text that is interactive with links to background information.

This year, there were no quizzes or tests on the mythology materials. Instead, the final assessment for the mythology unit was a project titled “A Holiday Dinner Party with the Greek Gods and Goddesses.” The students were provided a graphic of a rectangle table with twelve seats positioned around the table. The assignment prompt read:

“Congratulations! You have been hired as a party planner by Dionysus, Greek god of wine, for a formal dinner on Mount Olympus.

One of your responsibilities is to set up the seating plans for one of the tables at the dinner party.

For this assignment, you need to demonstrate your ability to place six (6) gods or goddesses and six (6) mortals at a table that seats 12. You may choose the gods, goddesses, and mortals from the myths we have studied and from the Pantheon, however, you must have reasons as to why you would place these characters next to each other.”

The students were required to write a short paragraph explaining each seat placement, label the seating plan, and to design an invitation using any medium they wanted.

Some of the responses from students demonstrated diplomatic tendencies with careful placement of all mortals and deities in order to not offend.

One student suggested,”On the other side of Aphrodite is Ares. They were not only good friends but they had a fling a few different times!”

Another noted, ” Demeter is the goddess of agriculture and I put her next to Apollo to heal the crops and Poseidon to water them. They should be good friends if he meets with her to water his crops. “

Other students had a “reality show” approach where classical antagonists are purposely placed in order to engage them in conflict. For example, “Arachne is next to Pandora. Arachne thought she was the best at everything and she thought she was the most beautiful person and no one was better than her. She was wrong though because since her attitude was so bad, she ended up turning ugly. They both think they’re always right and because of that I think it would make a good conversation at the dinner table.

Another wrote, “Next, Eros is next to Aphrodite and Psyche. It will be good to put these three next to each other because Aphrodite is furious at Eros for making it so he and Psyche were in love. It should cause a good fight and that would be fun to see. Also he is next to Psyche because they are in love.”

Finally, a student moralized, “Pandora next to Persephone because like Persephone who did not do as she was told neither Pandora when she was told not to open the box she did.  When you don’t follow direction bad things happen.”

The project was completed right after the Thanksgiving break when students had several days to experience their own celebrations. We considered how their decisions on seating the Greek gods and goddesses may have been influenced by holiday dinner with family relatives.Apparently, there is nothing more risky than a family get-together, for mortals or immortals!

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