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Creative Writing: From Greek Gods to Modern Superheroes

 

Subjects

Language ArtsZeus
--English
--Writing
Social Sciences
--World History
--World Cultures and Religions
Critical Thinking

Grade

6-12

Brief Description

Students use critical thinking to compare Greek gods, goddesses, heroes and myths to modern superheroes. Then they create and write about special characters who aid the modern world.

Objectives

Students will:

  • Explore Greek myths and associated heroes, gods and goddesses
  • Consider the take-away lessons from these stories
  • Compare the themes and messages of Greek myths with those of modern superheroes
  • Write descriptions of new characters to add to the Greek “pantheon”

Keywords

Greek, gods, goddesses, Olympus, Titans, heroes, myths, mythology, superheroes, writing

Materials Needed

  • Computers with Internet access or texts on Greek mythology (teachers should preview all sources for age-appropriateness or print out selected sources in advance of the lesson)
  • Computers with word processing or a Gods and Heroes Profile sheet printed out for each student, along with pens or pencils
     

Lesson Plan

Greek gods and heroes are the subjects of some of the great myths in history. Their exploits have been shared for centuries through spoken word, written poetry and prose, and even stage and film productions. The classic tales of good versus evil are timeless, as is the public’s thirst for exciting narratives about heroes and their triumphs. The Titans (the most well-known of the Greek gods and goddesses) laid the foundation for the superheroes we enjoy today.

Start by introducing the religion of ancient Greece.

The ancient Greeks were polytheistic, meaning they worshiped multiple gods. They also told many stories (myths) about the gods, which were meant to guide human behavior and teach about the relationship between gods and humans.

Some of the main characters in the Greek “pantheon” (collection of gods and goddesses) include:

Zeus, the thunder god and ruler of the gods
Poseidon, sea god
Hades, god of the underworld
Persephone, queen of the underworld
Hephaestus, god of fire (blacksmithing)
Hermes, messenger
Ares, god of war
Apollo, god of light, linked to Helios, the sun
Dionysus, god of wine and fertility
Hera, wife of Zeus, queen of the gods
Aphrodite, goddess of love

In addition to gods and goddesses, the Greeks included many heroes in their myths. Heroes were either human or demigods (the offspring of a human and a god or goddess).

Since the Greek pantheon is large and complex, you might want to have students explore a “family tree” of gods and heroes to see how they are all related.

Here is another student-friendly source for basic information about Greek gods.

Separately, teachers may want to reference History.com for more information, and the videos below provide a quick rundown of the more noteworthy gods and some of their achievements.
 


Once you feel students have a good handle on “who’s who” in the world of Greek gods, consider playing a Greek god bingo game as a form of review.

Next, introduce selected myths.

A good source written for young people is Kidipede: Greek Myths.

NOTE: Even when written for children, Greek myths contain mature content such as violence and death; curses; sexuality, polygamy and infidelity; slavery and human sacrifice. It is highly recommended that you preview myths to assess their appropriateness for your students.

The following myths are recommended choices, since they have clear take-away lessons, and because violent elements and other mature content are a bit less prominent (though certainly still present). Decide whether you will allow students to access these links themselves, or whether you will print out the stories ahead of time.

Pandora  – With hardship comes hope
Daedalus and Icarus  – Plan ahead and don’t take unreasonable risks
Medusa  – The importance of respect
Judgment of Paris  – What should you value most -- wisdom, power or beauty?
Arachne  – Pride comes before the fall
Kleobis and Biton  – Being selfless
Arion and the Dolphins  – No bad deed goes unpunished
Achilles  – Everybody has a weakness; be careful what you wish for
Phaedra  – The importance of self-control
Theseus  – Bravery can accomplish great things

Discuss the following:

  1. How are male characters different from female characters? (Do males and females have comparable powers and status?)
  2. How are heroes different from gods and goddesses?
  3. What lesson is each god, goddess or hero’s story meant to teach humans?
  4. What themes do you find are common to various myths?
  5. What weaknesses do the characters have, and what mistakes do they make?
  6. Do any of the characters redeem themselves after making mistakes?

Next, discuss how themes present in Greek myths are echoed by modern superheroes and associated fiction, comic books and movies.

NOTE: As students discuss and research popular movies and comic-book characters, they are likely to encounter mature material including violent content and skimpy superhero attire. Before proceeding, preview content and consider whether direct Internet access is appropriate for your students.

Consider superhero films from the past few years that have been based on DC Comics and Marvel Comics characters:

Batman Begins (2005); The Dark Knight (2008)
Fantastic Four (2005); Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Superman Returns (2006)
X Men: The Last Stand (2006); X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009); X-Men: First Class (2011)
Ghost Rider (2007); Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Iron Man (2008); Iron Man 2 (2010)
Incredible Hulk (2008)
Watchmen (2009)
Jonah Hex (2010)
Green Lantern (2011)
Green Hornet (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Have students guess how much money these 19 films have grossed in total (according to Wikipedia, which it should be noted may not be 100% accurate, the total figure is $7,272,851,573—that’s over 7 billion dollars). What does this dollar figure tell us about the modern popularity of “Greek god-like” superheroes?

NOTE: The list of recent superhero movies will change rapidly, and new box-office figures will continue to be added. You might ask students to choose a particular span of years and calculate an updated dollar figure.

Have students guess the highest-grossing and lowest-grossing movie on the above list. (The highest-grossing was the Batman movie Dark Knight [2008], which brought in over a billion; Spider-Man 3 was a close second with about 890 million. The lowest-grossing film was Jonah Hex [2010], which brought in a little over 10 million.)

Ask students to speculate regarding the reasons behind the popularity of the highest-grossing movies. Obviously the production quality of a film and its level of critical acclaim have a lot to do with its commercial success, but do you think the characters and stories of Batman and Spider-Man are more compelling than the stories of the other superheroes featured on film? If so, why?

Superheroes almost always begin as ordinary humans who later acquire special powers. In their pre-superhero lives, these humans often are outcasts or “nerds.” Many have also experienced personal tragedies, challenges or setbacks. Superheroes are known for fighting evil, whether in the form of human criminals or supervillains, so gaining superhero status allows tragic individuals to redeem themselves and/or avenge wrongs. Good examples of outcasts-turned-superheroes are Spider-Man, Rogue (from X-Men) and Captain America. Batman does not have special powers per se, but prior to taking on his superhero persona, he witnesses the murders of his parents. Are the themes of redemption and vengeance also present in Greek myths? How are the motivations of superheroes similar to, or different from, those of Greek gods, goddesses and heroes?

Consider the role of female superheroes in the above movies. Although certainly fewer in number than male characters, a few noteworthy ones include Sue Storm Richards (The Invisible Girl/Woman from the Fantastic Four), Natasha Romanova (Black Widow, one of the Avengers, appeared in Iron Man 2), Rogue and Storm (X-Men), and the Silk Spectre (Watchmen). How are these characters different from their male counterparts?

Finally, ask each student to create his/her own modern character (god, goddess or hero) to add to the Greek pantheon.

(For a longer, essay-style assignment, give students computer/word processing access. For a shorter assignment, print out a Gods and Heroes Profile for each student to fill out by hand.)

The new god, goddess or hero should fall into the hierarchy of the Greek pantheon but rule an aspect of modern life (think about things that didn’t exist in ancient Greece, such as cars and electronic devices). Might the modern world need a new god or goddess to control highway traffic, keep kids off drugs, prevent cyber-bullying, govern television broadcasts, influence fashion trends, promote healthy eating, bring white-collar criminals to justice, promote human rights in developing countries, or help working mothers?

Students should come up with a name for the character, as well as a list of special abilities such as super speed, mental telepathy, etc. You might want to challenge male students to create female characters, and female students to create male characters.

Each character’s profile should include:

  • Character name
  • Is s/he a god, goddess or hero?
  • If s/he is a god, what does s/he rule?
  • What is his/her primary weapon, symbol or tool?
  • What special abilities (super speed, able to control electricity, etc.) does s/he have?
  • How/why did s/he come into being, and how does s/he help in the modern world?
  • What weaknesses does s/he have, or what challenges does s/he face?
  • What lesson does s/he teach humans?


Extend the lesson:

  • Ask students to present their character profiles to the class. Take it a step further by having students use a comparison chart template or Venn Diagram to guide discussion of the following:  How is your character similar to, or different from, a particular Greek god, goddess or hero? How is your character similar to, or different from, a particular superhero?
  • Have students write an essay comparing a recent superhero movie with a Greek myth that shares similar themes. Plot synopses for superhero movies can be found at IMDB.
  • Have each student illustrate his/her character or create a short comic strip featuring the character. Post character profiles and illustrations on a bulletin board.
  • Scan students’ illustrations and post them on a class Web page. Or, hold a contest where other classes vote on their favorite new character created by your students. Feature the winning illustration and character profile on your school’s Web site.

Assessment

Evaluate students in terms of the following:

  • Participation in class discussion
  • Writing quality
  • Knowledge gained about the Greek pantheon
  • Creativity in creating new characters
  • (If applicable) Effort put into character illustration
     

Lesson Plan Source

EducationWorld

Submitted By

Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor

National Standards

English
Grades K-12
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

World History
Grades 5-12
NSS-WH.5-12.1 Era 1: The Beginnings of Human Society
NSS-WH.5-12.2 Era 2: Early Civilizations and the Emergence of Pastoral Peoples 4000-1000 BCE
NSS-WH.5-12.3 Era 3: Classical Traditions, Major Religions, and Giant Empires 1000 BCE-300 CE

 

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