Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: 2–Part Lesson
Two 50-minute class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff


Ancient Art Home

Lesson Overview

Victorious Youth

Students will discuss two artworks that depict athletes in ancient Greece and analyze a poem by the ancient Greek poet Pindar dedicated to an athlete. Students will then interview a classmate or an accomplished person they know and create their own "poem on demand" to commemorate that person's achievement.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
• discuss two works of art from ancient Greece depicting athletes.
• learn about athletics and prizes awarded to athletes in ancient Greece.
• analyze and discuss a poem by the Greek poet Pindar.
• write their own "poem on demand" about a person they interviewed.


• Images of Panathenaic Amphora by the Marsyas Painter and Victorious Youth by an unknown artist
• Student Handout: Olympian XIV by Pindar
• Paper
• Pencils

Lesson Steps

1. Ask students whether they play any sports. Are there any athletes they admire? Why? What characteristics do they admire? Ask students whether sports or other forms of competition are important. Why or why not?

2. Show a reproduction of the front side of the Panathenaic Amphora, with an image of the goddess Athena. Ask students the following questions:
  • How would you describe this figure?
  • What is she wearing and holding? (She is wearing a helmet and holding a helmet and shield.) Inform students that these items are called attributes—objects figures wear or hold that help to visually identify them. In this case, the figure is Athena, patron of the city of Athens and goddess of war.

3. Inform students that the writing on either side of Athena helps to identify what the object is and when it was made. Along the vase near the front side of Athena, the text states: "from the games held at Athens." The text on the other side indicates the name Theophrastos, the archon (city magistrate) for 340–339 B.C., so we know the exact year the vessel was made!

4. Ask students to look at the shape of the vessel, and ask them, "Does it remind you of anything you have seen?" (It looks like a big trophy, such as the Stanley Cup.) Inform students that this object is a prize vessel given to winners of the athletic competition held at Athens every four years. These vessels always depicted the goddess Athena on one side and the event for which it was won on the other side.

5. Show a reproduction of the other side of the object, with an image of a chariot race:
  • Do you see movement in this work of art, or does it seem still? What objects show movement? For example, how do we know that the chariot is moving fast? (The horses' legs are all rearing up, the gown of the driver is streaming behind him, and the feather in the helmet of the athlete is flowing in the wind.)
  • What athletic competition do you think is being depicted? (This event was a race where an armed athlete had to jump off, run beside, and then jump back on the chariot as it was being driven by the man in the white gown.)

6. Inform students that these vessels were filled with olive oil, an expensive commodity in antiquity. The winner of this event would have won more than one hundred of these vessels, worth tens of thousands of today's dollars.

7. Inform students that they are going to look at another "prize." Show students a reproduction of Victorious Youth. Begin a discussion with the following questions:
  • How does the figure look?
  • What is the object on his head? (It is an olive wreath, the prize awarded to winners of the Olympic Games.)
  • How would you describe his gesture? (He is holding his right hand up to his head but not touching it. He could be putting on, taking off, or pointing to the olive wreath.)
  • Why do you think his feet are missing? (We don't know. They could have been left on the base where he was originally placed, or they may have been lost at sea, where he was found in the 1960s, after being shipwrecked in antiquity.)
  • What event do you think he competed in? Why do you think so? (He doesn't have a lot of muscles, so he wasn't a discus thrower or a wrestler. Since he has somewhat thin and elegant features, scholars think he may have been a runner.)

8. Inform students that this is a winner from the most prestigious athletic competition, the Olympic Games. Tell students that this statue would have been on a base, with the name of the winner, the name of his father, and the name of his city-state. Although athletes didn't win a monetary prize in Olympia (like they did at Athens), they won something much more important—honor and fame for their families.

9. Tell students that the purpose of this statue was to honor and glorify the Olympic victor. Athletes, their families, or their cities could either commission a statue or a poem for a winner. Poems commissioned for winning athletes are called victory odes. Inform students that one of the most sought-after poets for this type of commission was Pindar (Greek, c. 522–443 B.C.).

10. Distribute the handout Olympian XIV by Pindar, comprising a poem written for another winner of a footrace. Inform students that this poem was probably composed around 488 B.C. and likely sung at Orchomenos, the city of the winner of that year's games, Asopichos. Encourage students to take notes about what they think is being communicated in the poem.

11. Explain different poetic devices and identify which ones are used in the poem, e.g., apostrophe: "O Lady Glory, and Mirth"; hyperbole: "Has crowned his young hair/With the wings of a glorious triumph"; symbol: "Go now, Echo, to the black walls/Of Persephona's house." For information about poetic devices, view the Poetry Glossary on

12. Explain to students that Pindar's poems varied a great deal. Sometimes they were very long, sometimes only a paragraph; sometimes he noted the victor's name in the beginning lines, sometimes at the end of the poem. However, he always included the following elements:
  • the name of the victorious athlete
  • the name of his family
  • the name of his city
  • the event for which he won
  • gods to be praised for his victory
  • mythological stories about the city where the athlete's family was from or the city in which the competition took place

13. Have students re-read the poem and note the elements listed in step 12. (The name of the athlete, Asopichos, is described toward the end. His city, Orchomenos, was native to the Graces (Glory, Mirth, and Health), so they are referenced throughout the poem. Minyas was the original founder of the city; therefore, his descendants (Minyans) are referenced several times in the poem. This was important, because the athlete brought honor not only to his family but also to his city. Finally, although his father was dead, the goddess Echo visits the goddess of the underworld, Persephona, to tell Asopichos's father, Kleodamos, about the glory of Asopichos's victory.)

14. Tell students that they are going to write a victory ode for a classmate, an accomplished person they know, or one of the athletes depicted in one of the artworks discussed.

15. Have students interview a classmate or an accomplished person they know. During the interview, students should gather the following information:
  • the name of the person
  • the name of a family member that would be particularly proud of the person
  • the person's achievement, including any descriptive words that would effectively illustrate the achievement
  • any relevant story or cultural reference to the person's city of origin
(If students are going to interview one of the athletes in the artworks, they will need to do some research and create names and cities for the athletes that would have been plausible in ancient Greece.)

16. Provide paper and pencils. Have students write their poems. Remind students to include all of the information in the bulleted points in step 12. Also, have students think about when they are going to include the name of the person, early in the poem or later? Ask what the effect of each would be (i.e., does providing the name of the victor later in the poem build anticipation?).

17. Have students recite their poems orally.


Have students create lyres using the Art Activity "A Classy Cardboard Lyre" and re-read their poems, accompanied by music.

Pindar felt that his poems were more important than the statues winners commissioned, because his poems were not static. Poems could be read and re-read in different environments (public festivals or private dinner parties) throughout the ancient world, which brought more fame to the victorious athletes. Have students write an essay either affirming or negating Pindar's assessment of poetry vs. sculpture.


Students will be assessed on:
• classroom discussions about the artworks.
• their poem.
• how well they incorporated poetic devices used by Pindar.
• the oral presentation of their poem.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 6–12

Reading: Literature

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1 Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.7 Compare and contrast the experience of reading a story, drama, or poem to listening to or viewing an audio, video, or live version of the text, including contrasting what they "see" and "hear" when reading the text to what they perceive when they listen or watch.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

Writing: Literature

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9a Apply grades 9–10 Reading standards to literature (e.g., "Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work [e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare]").

Speaking and Listening

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.6.2 Interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grade 6
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.3 Describe how artists can show the same theme by using different media and styles.
3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.2 View selected works of art from a culture and describe how they have changed or not changed in theme and content over a period of time.
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Construct and describe plausible interpretations of what they perceive in works of art.

Grade 7
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2. Analyze the form (how a work of art looks) and content (what a work of art communicates) of works of art.

Grade 8
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.3 Construct an interpretation of a work of art based on the form and content of the work.

Grade 9–12 (Proficient)
3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
3.1 Identify similarities and differences in the purposes of art created in selected cultures.
3.3 Identify and describe trends in the visual arts and discuss how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence are reflected in selected works of art.

History–Social Science Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 6
6.4 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of Ancient Greece.