Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5), Middle School (6–8)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: Single Class Lesson
One class period
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom


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About Greek and Roman Mythology

Lesson Overview

Students collaborate to compose a short piece of creative writing based on a painting depicting a mythological narrative. They then learn more about the mythological scene in the painting and adapt their original stories into tales from the life of the Greek hero Perseus.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• work collaboratively to create a short story based on what they see in a work of art.
• explain the story of the Greek hero Perseus based on an examination of a painting.
• use their own original piece of creative writing as the basis for a longer story about the life of a mythological character.

Materials

• Image of Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa by Sebastiano Ricci
• Pens and paper

Lesson Steps

1. Follow the steps below for a creative writing activity using the Sebastiano Ricci painting.

Begin by making four lists of words that describe what students see in this painting.

• List all things that can be described as NOUNS.
• Make a list of ADJECTIVES that could be used to modify the nouns.
• Make a list of VERBS whose actions could relate to this work.
• Make a list of ADVERBS that modify the verbs.

2. Have each student use one or more words from each list to write a descriptive, introductory sentence, or topic sentence. Have them write this sentence on a file card and place it face down in front of the room.

3. Have the students choose a topic sentence that is not their own and use this sentence as the opening line of a paragraph that describes the event depicted in the painting.

4. Once everyone is finished, read the students' interpretations of this painting aloud.
• In what ways are their writings similar?
• Discuss the differences between the students' stories.
• Did some students seem to draw on different characters than other students?

5. Once everyone has read their interpretations of the painting, have them discuss as a group what they think is happening in the scene. Draw on the conclusions from the students' writings as they talk about the image.

6. Continue with the following questions to learn about the scene as a group. Use Information and Questions for Teaching in the Image Bank to support the discussion (follow link in Materials section, above). Two details of the painting may aid discussion as well (see links in Materials section):
• Who do you think the main character in this scene is? Why? What is he doing?
• If there is a battle going on, what weapon is the main character using against his enemies? What appears to be happening to his enemies? (The main character is holding up a head in front of him, and it seems that his enemies have been turned to stone amidst the fighting.)
• In art history, attributes are clues or objects that are used to symbolize a person. What are the attributes of the main character in this scene? (The character holds the head of the Gorgon Medusa in his left hand; his other attributes are the helmet of invisibility [although he is visible] and his winged shoes, both of which were gifts of the nymphs of the Hesperides. All of these attributes tell us that the hero in this story is Perseus.)
• The artist, Sebastiano Ricci, has set this scene in a great room or large hall, because in the story the setting of this scene is the wedding feast of Andromeda and Perseus. Examine the elements of the room. If this is supposed to take place in ancient Greece, what is wrong with the room? (The sculptures along the back wall are all missing limbs and look as if they are ancient statues, not new, as they would have been if the story was set in ancient Greece.)
• Now that you know about the story shown in this work, does that change the way you looked at it before?

7. Have students read more about the life of the Greek hero Perseus. Ask them to return to their original writing and use it as a basis for a new story, embellishing their original writing to fit within the larger story of Perseus's life. Remind students to use sensory details and to develop the plot and characters.

Perseus & Phineus / S. Ricci
Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa, Sebastiano Ricci, 1705–1710

Assessment

Students will be graded on their ability to follow the assignment steps, their ability to create a short story based on the painting, and their re-adaptation of their original story into a tale from the life of Perseus.

Extensions

Have students illustrate their personal stories about Perseus. Ricci chose to show the moment of the battle in his work. What moment from your story will provide the most drama for an illustration?

Standards Addressed

Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4

2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.1 Write narratives:
a. Relate ideas, observations, or recollections of an event or experience.
b. Provide a context to enable the reader to imagine the world of the event or experience.
c. Use concrete sensory details.

Grade 6
2.0 Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.1 Write narratives:
a. Establish and develop a plot and setting and present a point of view that is appropriate to the stories.
b. Include sensory details and concrete language to develop plot and character.

Grade 7
Writing Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.1 Write fictional or autobiographical narratives:
a. Develop a standard plot line (having a beginning, conflict, rising action, climax, and denouement) and point of view.
b. Develop complex major and minor characters and a definite setting.
c. Use a range of appropriate strategies (e.g., dialogue; suspense; naming of specific narrative action, including movement, gestures, and expressions).

2.2 Write responses to literature:
a. Develop interpretations exhibiting careful reading, understanding, and insight.
b. Organize interpretations around several clear ideas, premises, or images from the literary work.
c. Justify interpretations through sustained use of examples and textual evidence.