March 2018: CREATION TALES AS TOLD BY ANCIENT THINKERS
Perhaps one of the most effective ways to study the past is via mythical literary traditions that great thinkers left behind. What immediately comes to mind is Plato’s fictional city Atlantis, or the mesmerizing world Homer depicted with the mythical Trojan War. The former tale generated a typical belief that the fallen city of Atlantis may have actually existed, or was modelled on another fallen society, such as the Minoan civilization of Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zagros, Crete. Minoan society succeeded the Cycladic culture and thrived in the Bronze Age between c. 2600 – c. 1100
With respect to Homer’s cycles, although Troy itself was an imaginary city, the archaeologist, Calvert, claims that Hissarlik represents the epic’s actual context. Homer devised the unrhymed dactylic hexameter format to narrate his mythical cycles, where each foot consisted of one long and two short syllables. As to Atlantis, a British Egyptologist, Alan Alford, hypothesizes that Plato’s myth is really a pre-Christian account of the universe’s creation. So, at a spiritual level, the myth explains the birth of humanity; politically, the fallen Atlantis represents Athens’ actual declined naval power by 5th century BC.
Plato’s dialogue begins with Phaeton, son of a Sun god, who leads a chariot across the sky to burn the earth. What other mythical man do we already know who flies through the sky in modern western culture? The format Plato used to spin his elaborate fiction was the Socratic dialogue, which involved the historical figure of Socrates, Timaeus of Locri, Hermocrates of Syracuse, and Critias of Athens. These dialogues established typical role reversals commonly seen in later literary comedy. Socrates reverses roles in the course of his discussions and completely befuddles his colleagues: the philosopher, Socrates, professes to know nothing, whereas his comrades boast of expertise. The content is based on socio-political ties between Athens and then major centres, and on conversations of a poet-lawgiver, Solon.
Since Homer compiled his dramatic narratives, the Illiad and Odyssey, during the Bronze Age, around 1194–1184 BC, they directly correspond to Minoan society’s collapse and the mythical Trojan War, waged by Achaean Greeks against the Spartans of Troy after Paris took Helen from Menelaus, Sparta’s king. This is the intently dramatic narrative that immediately precedes the Roman Republic’s founding around 750 BC and is central to most Greek and Roman mythology. Apart from an intent military focus, other critical points of educational study on such profound literature can include the socio-cultural aspects of such societies. What values did ancient Greeks admire? How were honorable men worshipped? What were the vices most detested by ancient civilizations? The legend of the Trojan Horse is basic to the teaching of honorary qualities cherished in the ancient world.
The lesson plan formats for studying ancient literature can be adapted to suit any level, whether it be through the reading of the Homerian epic or studying the works of Plato. For early learners, the fable of the Trojan Horse is an ideal way to introduce the theme of great societies and the extent to which men worked to maintain stability during difficult times.
Literary resources can be adapted to suit any level of education, and can be read independently, or studied as a group task. Works by Plato and Homer provide suitable content for adults. For learners who want to further explore period-related content on their own, these tales create appropriate starting points.
Isaac Vasquez, The Tales of Perseus
Saviour Pirotta, First Greek Myths: Perseus and The Monstrous Medusa, Orchard Books, (2006)
Joan Holub, Heroes in Training: Perseus and the Monstrous Medusa, SIMON SCHUSTER, (2016)
Geraldine McCaughrean, Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa (Orchard Myths), Orchard Books (1998)