Grades/Level: Upper Elementary (3–5), Middle School (6–8)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science, Theater
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three 50-minute class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff


Ancient Art Home

Lesson Overview

Lidded Storage Jar with the Blinding of Polyphemus

Students will read a story from The Odyssey by the Greek poet Homer and freeze-frame their favorite scene through a tableau vivant (living picture). They will then discuss an artwork depicting the blinding of Polyphemos, a scene from The Odyssey. Students will write a narrative describing what they think will happen next in the story and compare their narrative with two more artworks that illustrate the next scene.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
• work in a group to create a tableau vivant.
• discuss works of art from different cultures that depict a story from The Odyssey.
• learn that different cultures share similar stories.
• write a narrative describing what they think will be the next part of the story.


• Copy of The Odyssey (Available on the Poetry in Translation Web site)
• Images of Lidded Storage Jar with the Blinding of Polyphemos, Mixing Vessel with Odysseus Escaping from the Cyclops's Cave, and Statuette of Odysseus under the Ram
• Props such as sheets for togas or a jug (optional)
• Paper
• Pencils
• Scratch-Art® Paper (optional)
• Crayola® Model Magic® (optional)

Lesson Steps

1. Ask students whether they have heard of a monster called the Cyclops. Ask them to describe what they think he looks like. (A big, scary monster with one eye.)

2. Read the story of Odysseus, as he and his men get trapped in the cave of the man-eating, one-eyed Cyclops (from The Odyssey by Homer [Greek, life dates unknown], Book IX, lines 105–412.) (View the excerpt on the Poetry in Translation Web site.).

3. Form groups of four students apiece. Ask each group to discuss its favorite scene in the story and each student to select a different role to play in the scene. Have group members discuss which facial expression and pose would best communicate what each character is thinking and doing in the scene. Finally, have each group discuss how it will freeze-frame that scene.

4. Have each group present its freeze-frame in front of the class, and have the rest of the class speculate as to what scene from the story the group is performing.

5. Inform students that just as they could only show one scene of the story from The Odyssey, artists can usually only illustrate one scene that encapsulates a moment from a story. Show students the image of the Lidded Storage Jar with the Blinding of Polyphemos. Lead a class discussion about the work of art, using the following questions:
  • How do the figures look?
  • What are the men doing?
  • Which one is the Cyclops? How do you know? Does he look how you imagined/described him in step 1? Why do you think the artist showed him this way?
  • Where do you see patterns in the work of art? How do they help tell the story?

6. Inform students that The Odyssey was a Greek epic poem written down almost three thousand years ago (around the eighth century B.C.). Tell students that this artwork is from a different country, Italy, from the seventh century B.C. Ask students to discuss with a partner how he or she thinks the story traveled so far, so fast. Remind students that travel in the ancient world was both difficult and dangerous. Ask student pairs to volunteer to share their responses.

7. Provide paper and pencils to students and ask them to write a narrative about what they think is going to happen next in the story. Use the following prompt: "Now that Polyphemos has been blinded, how are Odysseus and his men going to escape the cave?" Have volunteers read their story aloud to the rest of the class.

8. Read the next part of The Odyssey, about what does happen next (Book IX, lines 413–79) (View the excerpt in the Poetry in Translation Web site.). Introduce the image of Mixing Vessel with Odysseus Escaping from the Cyclops's Cave. Have a class discussion about how the artist chose to illustrate the next part of the story. (Odysseus looks awkward; he is holding his body close to the underside of the ram, but his head is turned backwards.)

9. Lead a discussion about the main character, Odysseus. How would you describe him? How does he react to the situations he finds himself in? Inform students that Odysseus is known as the "quick-witted" and "wily" one. Does this story support his nickname? Why or why not?

10. Show the image of Statuette of Odysseus under the Ram. Ask students to speculate what it shows. (It illustrates the same scene as the one on the Mixing Vessel.) Inform students that this object also comes from Italy, from the sixth century B.C. Ask students to discuss which artwork best illustrates the scene, the vase or the statuette.


Ask students to confirm their choice from step 10. If students chose the vase, instruct them to use Scratch-Art® paper (or you can make your own by coloring a red piece of construction paper with black crayon, making sure the entire paper is covered) and a wooden stylus to illustrate the scene they wrote about in step 7. If students chose the statuette, provide them with one packet of Crayola® Model Magic® to construct a sculpture that illustrates one character from the scene they wrote about in step 7.


Students will be assessed on:
  • participation during discussion.
  • group participation in the freeze-frame.
  • how creatively they addressed the prompt in their written narratives.

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.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.RL.6.3 Describe how a particular story's or drama's plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

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.

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.

English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 4
Listening and Speaking
2.1 Make narrative presentations:
a. Relate ideas, observations, or recollections about an event or experience.

Grade 5
Listening and Speaking
1.6 Engage the audience with appropriate verbal cues, facial expressions, and gestures.
2.1 Deliver narrative presentations:
b. Show, rather than tell, the listener what happens.

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.

Theater Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 5
5.0 Connections, Relationships, Applications
5.1 Use theatrical skills to dramatize events and concepts from other curriculum areas, such as reenacting the signing of the Declaration of Independence in history social science.

Grade 6
2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Participate in improvisational activities, demonstrating an understanding of text, subtext, and context.

Grade 7
2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Use improvisation in rehearsal to discover character and motivation.

Grade 8
2.0 Creative Expression
2.2 Perform character-based improvisations, pantomimes, or monologues, using voice, blocking, and gesture to enhance meaning.