Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2), Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts, History–Social Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
4 class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

For the Classroom

Curriculum Home
Lesson Plans
Image Bank
About Greek and Roman Mythology

Lesson Overview

Students will examine a scene depicting Herakles (known as Hercules to the Romans) and the Hydra on the face of a black-figure hydria. They will then read Greek myths and choose one to depict in the style of the vase painter, known as the Eagle Painter.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• examine a black-figure hydria and interpret the scene on it.
• read ancient Greek myths and choose one to illustrate on a vase form.
• understand black-figure technique of decorating ancient Greek and Etruscan vases.


• Image of the Water Jar, attributed to the Eagle Painter
• Handout: Excerpt from the story of Herakles
• Fact Sheet: About Greek Vases
• Scratchboards
• Paperclips
• Wooden stylus
• Crayons—red or terracotta colors
• Black tempera paint
• Heavy construction paper

Lesson Steps

1. Begin by examining the Water Jar using the following questions.
• This object is known as a hydria. The name might remind you of another word, fire hydrant. If so, what do you think it might have been used for? (A hydria is a Greek water jar. Decorated vases such as this would have been used when fetching water.)

• Describe the decoration that you see on the front and side of this water jar. Be sure to look at both views of the jar. See the side view of this jar. (There are two figures on this water jar fighting a many-headed snake-like creature known as the Hydra. The figures on this water jar are Herakles, to the right, attacking the Hydra with his club, and his companion Iolaos, who is cutting one of the heads off of the monster. Looking at the side of the jar, one can see a crab pinching Herakles's foot. Next to the handle is a sphinx, a winged creature with the body of a lion and a human head. There are also decorations inspired by nature. An ivy vine circles the shoulder of the jar, while palmette and lotus patterns decorate the lower portion.)

2. Read the story of Herakles and the Hydra and discuss what elements of the story the artist has chosen to include on this vase. What characters did he include? What other elements of the story are included? (Also included are the fire below Iolaos and the crab pinching Herakles's heel.)
• Based on the design of the vessel, how do you think it was used?
• Why do you think the artist, who is known as the Eagle Painter, chose to create such elaborate decorations on a functional object? (This water jar, or hydria, would have been used to hold water. Hydriai also served as general purpose containers that could hold liquid [such as honey, milk, oil, wine, or water], dry goods, or small foods such as olives.)
• How does the artist use positive and negative space to define the figures and scenes on the vase?
• What kinds of objects do you have in your home that are used to store things and are elaborately decorated?

3. Refer to the story of Herakles and the Hydra again. Discuss the differences and similarities between the scene on the vase and the details found in the story.
• What has the artist added to the story?
• What has he left out?
• Which moment in the story would you have chosen to focus on if you were going to illustrate it on a vase?

4. The Greeks liked to decorate their vases with repeated patterns. Examine the use of pattern on the vase. What shapes are repeated and where are they located on the vase?

5. Ask the students to look for clues to the decoration of this vase. (This style of vase painting is called the black-figure technique. Black-figure vase painting shows figures silhouetted against a lighter-colored or unpainted background. A preliminary sketch outlined the design of the figures, which were then filled in with a layer of liquid clay or slip. Before firing, incisions were made through the black gloss with a sharp pointed tool to delineate details of the figures in the lighter color of the underlying clay. In the firing process the clay slip turns black. After firing, white or other colors were sometimes applied on top of the black to add details.)

6. Discuss the function of other types of Greek vases using the fact sheet About Greek Vases. Painted vases were often made in specific shapes for specific daily uses.

7. Next, explain to students that they are going to read other myths from ancient Greece. They will select a scene from one of the myths they have read and then illustrate the myth, on the side of a vase form on scratchboard, in the manner of the Eagle Painter. Some possible stories to read are:
• The Fall of Icarus
• The Abduction of Europa
• The Story of King Midas
• Odysseus and the Cyclops
• The Trojan Horse
• Pandora's Box

8. Scratchboard can be purchased and used for this project, but it can also be created. First, take a heavy sheet of construction paper and a red crayon (or if you want to be more specific, use terracotta, or other shades of red) and cover the entire sheet of paper with that crayon. The color has to be applied heavily in order for the final product to work, so emphasize that students must completely cover their sheet before moving on to the next step. Then, take a large brush and paint the entire sheet in black tempera, covering all of the crayon.

9. Once the tempera is dry, students can begin to draw their designs for their vases. Create a vase template by outlining the shapes of the three vases examined in this lesson: the hydria, amphora, and lekythos. Let the students choose the vase style they want to draw. Before beginning, discuss with students how they can use line and patterns on their own vase design, which are similar to the vases that they examined.

10. Once they have decided on how they want to portray the myth they have chosen, let students begin by using a wooden stylus or toothpick to scratch their design through the surface of the black paint. They should think about positive and negative space and create a design that recalls the black-figure technique, leaving the main characters and scenes from their myth silhouetted in black against their colored background.

11. When they have finished, have students label the name of the vase style they chose.

12. Once everyone has finished, have each student talk about his or her illustration in a class critique. Each student should be able to talk about why he or she chose to portray his or her particular scene from the myth. Students will also discuss what they intended to show in their artwork. Discuss with students how their vases are similar to or different from the vase by the Eagle Painter.

Water Jar / Eagle Painter
Water Jar, attributed to the Eagle Painter, Etruscan, about 525 B.C.


Students will be assessed on their completion of the assignment and their ability to incorporate line and pattern into their designs. They will also be graded on their ability to use new art vocabulary to talk about what they wanted to do in their art.


Many vases from ancient Greece show scenes of daily life. Examine vases from the collection that show everyday life and have students create their own vase scenes that show scenes from their own lives.

Standards Addressed

Common Core Standards for English Language Arts

Grades 3–5

3.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
4.3 Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker or media source provides to support particular points.
4.6 Differentiate between contexts that call for formal English (e.g., presenting ideas) and situations where informal discourse is appropriate (e.g., small-group discussion); use formal English when appropriate to task and situation. (See grade 4 Language standards 1 and 3 for specific expectations.)
5.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
5.3 Summarize the points a speaker or media source makes and explain how each claim is supported by reasons and evidence, and identify and analyze any logical fallacies.

Visual Arts Content Standards for California State Public Schools

Grade 2

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing

Responding to, Analyzing, and Making Judgments About Works in the Visual Arts

Derive Meaning
4.1 Compare ideas expressed through their own works of art with ideas expressed in the work of others.

Make Informed Judgments
4.3 Use the vocabulary of art to talk about what they wanted to do in their own works of art and how they succeeded.
4.4 Use appropriate vocabulary of art to describe the successful use of an element of art in a work of art.

Grade 3
3.0 Historical and Cultural Context

Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts

Role and Development of the Visual Arts
3.1 Compare and describe various works of art that have a similar theme and were created at different time periods.
3.4 Identify and describe objects of art from different parts of the world observed in visits to a museum or gallery (e.g., puppets, masks, containers).

English-Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 2

3.0. Literary Response and Analysis

Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
3.1 Compare and contrast plots, settings, and characters presented by different authors.
3.3 Compare and contrast different versions of the same stories that reflect different cultures.

Grade 3
3.0 Literary Response and Analysis

Structural Features of Literature
3.1 Distinguish common forms of literature (e.g., poetry, drama, fiction, nonfiction).

Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
3.2 Comprehend basic plots of classic fairy tales, myths, folktales, legends, and fables from around the world.
3.3 Determine what characters are like by what they say or do and by how the author or illustrator portrays them.
3.4 Determine the underlying theme or author's message in fiction and nonfiction text.
3.6 Identify the speaker or narrator in a selection.