A Greek goddess

Teaching ideas

Ask the students to work in pairs to collect as many words as possible to describe the figure. They may refer to how she looks, what condition it is in, how it has been made or any other aspect of it. You may want to start them off with words they can accept or reject such as kindly, scary, comforting, awe-inspiring, important. Identify which words are used most – you could use a free word-cloud website to do this. Look at the figure together and discuss the results.

You could also start by drawing students’ attention to specific visual features such as her dress and tall hat and asking what effect they have. In either case, you will eventually want ask who she may be and then focus in on her necklace. You could bring a pomegranate in to help students compare the shape and to show them the thousands of seeds inside.

Tell or read the story of Demeter and Persephone which offers many opportunities for discussion of feelings and for identifying the myth as a means of explaining the natural phenomenon of the seasons. Discuss the connections between fertility and death using the idea of the many seeds of the pomegranate which can bring life, the endless flow of the dead into the underworld and the idea of the return of life in spring. Look at the terracotta pomegranate in For the classroom and compare it with a real one. Discuss why the Greeks may have placed objects like this in a grave.

Rather than teaching the students a simple table of the gods and their responsibilities, start a wall chart of the gods that the students will build up over their period of study. As you encounter a new god put their name in the chart and add what they do or are connected with, not what they are god of. At the end of your time studying the Greeks review the chart to develop an idea of the complex nature of the gods, how they may overlap with each other and how they relate to humans. You could start your chart using Demeter and Persephone and the gods shown on the objects in A bigger picture.

Use the pomegranate and the pot showing Triptolemos in For the classroom to start an enquiry into what crops were grown in ancient Greece, what was produced from them and the life of the farmer. Discuss with students what the risks were to the farmer: disease of crops, disease of seeds, pests, too much rain, too little rain, cold, too little sun etc. Consider which gods a farmer might appeal to so as to ensure a successful harvest.

How did the Greeks worship their gods?

Look at the bowl showing the preparation for a sacrifice in For the classroom. Then do the interactive exploration either as a class or individually, using the notes sections to find out more each time. Ask students to note the different stages of the sacrifice and all the different items that were needed to carry it out. Then look at the pot with a scene after a sacrifice – see For the classroom – and identify as many items and actions as possible using the knowledge gained from the interactive. Explain that these sacrifices were on a large scale and that everyday religious rituals, for example in the home, involved simpler offerings of food, wine, milk or honey – see Object file: a Greek family (coming soon) for an example of a libation of wine poured to secure the safe return of a warrior. Try to bring out wherever possible examples some of the students may know of contemporary ways of communications with gods. This enquiry should move to considering large festivals such as at Olympia or the Panathenaia at Athens and how activities such as athletics and music competitions were aspects of worship. Be sure to note that canonical sacred or divinely revealed texts did not feature in ancient Greek worship, which was based rather on the correct carrying out of rituals and ceremonies.

Why did the Greeks worship the gods?

The chart of gods suggested above would be a good basis for gathering initial information for this enquiry. To begin the enquiry, review encounters with gods so far and discuss what these suggest about what the gods could do for humans. It is very unlikely that you will have come across all the possibilities, so brainstorm what students think from what else they know about life in ancient Greece. Depending on what you have covered, you may need to steer the students towards looking at oracles, gods connected with the protection of the city, gods of healing, gods of stages of life such as childbirth, mystery gods. It will be important to distinguish between what a whole community and what an individual might hope for from the gods. The votive sculpture in For the classroom, would make a good way into the topic of gods of healing and various objects in A bigger picture could lead into gods of cities (Poseidon, Athena), oracles (Apollo), achievement (Nike), nature (Eos) and the wild (Pan).

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A Greek goddess