Students survey works of art derived from many different eras and schools based on myths from The Metamorphoses. They compare the imagery in the artworks with the passages detailing Ovid’s original tales to understand the artists’ frame of reference and choices.
Students compare two versions of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. Ovid’s version in (Bk X: 1–85) tells the story primarily from an androcentric point of view through the character, Orpheus. In the version expressed by 20th –century a poet H.D. offers the story from a woman’s point of view and articulates the emotions of a broken-hearted, and downright angry, Eurydice.
Students compare the stories of creation as told by Ovid in Book I. of The Metamorphoses with the Biblical narrative of creation as told in Genesis: 1–2. They identify the significance of those elements and the emphasis placed on them.
Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Apollo and Daphne
Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
The Metamorphoses by Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid) is considered one of the most influential books in the Western canon and an extremely important source for classical mythology. Since the Middle Ages, writers, painters, and sculptors have been drawing on Ovid’s stories of the passions, adventures, and battles of the gods and heroes for inspiration. Even modern filmmakers use these myths as the foundation for their screenplays (i.e. the portrayal of Achilles in Troy and the 1930s-style retelling of Odysseus’ wanderings in O Brother Where Art Thou?) Despite his popularity in his own lifetime, this Latin author was exiled from Rome in 8 CE by the Emperor Augustus. Thanks to Ovid’s imaginative rendering of these mythological figures and events, the stories still continue to have meaning for us today.
The lessons in this unit comprise a series of comparisons. The first lesson compares similarities between Genesis and The Metamorphoses. Students consider the creative elements within two stories of creation and the destructive elements within two stories of a great flood that all but obliterated humankind. The second lesson has students consider the story of Orpheus, the lover who tries to rescue his beloved wife from death itself. They then compare Ovid’s mythic passages with the poem entitled “Eurydice” by H.D., a twentieth-century poet. In the third lesson, students turn from Ovid’s legacy in literature to visual art. They explore great art works that drew inspiration from Ovid and compare how the same story can be rendered in two different mediums.
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
Grade level standards:
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
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).
Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment (e.g., Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts" and Breughel's Landscape with the Fall of Icarus).
Born near Rome in 43 BCE, Ovid studied rhetoric to prepare for a career in politics but abandoned his studies to pursue poetry. His early works were collections of poems that were both passionate and erotic. His major text, the one for which he is best known, was The Metamorphoses (literally, “the changes”), in which he set down tales of the Roman divinities and heroes from creation to the deification of Julius Caesar. Frequently, those stories entail physical changes: a god changing into a swan; a girl changing into a heifer; a nymph becoming a tree. For a reason unknown to history, Ovid was exiled in 8 CE by the Emperor Augustus and was forced to live away from Rome until his death in 17 CE. Ovid’s Metamorphoses continued to be very popular, however, and his stories continued to inspire writers and artists from the Middle Ages to the present.
The Metamorphoses appears on the Common Core State Standards in Appendix B as a grade 9–10 Text Exemplar under the category: “Stories.” The unit maybe adapted for different grade and ability levels.
Read more background about The Metamorphoses of Ovid including the structure and significance of the poem and the influence Greece had on this work.
Have students write an essay using the following prompt:
Select another short work of literature: a poem, a painting, a musical work, or a film that interprets a myth found in Ovid. Write a report which covers (a) general information about the author/artist; (b) a description of the tale(s) from Ovid that the author/artist used as inspiration; and (c) a discussion of how the author/artist shaped those ideas to create a work that is distinctively his or her own.
For item (d), your teacher may suggest a work of art or sculpture, or you can locate one yourself using websites such as:
EDSITEment-reviewed Metropolitan Museum of Art's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, which has a feature devoted to Ovid’s Metamorphosis with a number of works derived from it.
EDSITEment-reviewed National Gallery of Art has a remarkable array of works derived from classical literature. The collection is particularly rich in imagery from Ovid’s The Metamorphoses—the stirring stories of Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Narcissus, Pomona, Phaeton, Philemon and Baucis, and Cupid and Psyche are found in paintings, sculptures, ceramics, prints, and drawings. Here are five examples:
Worksheet 5. Rubric for Final Assessment provides a tool for both student writing and teacher evaluation.
1. Analyze the hero’s journey archetype as described by an American mythologist, Joseph Campbell. Campbell refers to a “monomyth” (a word he borrowed from James Joyce), a universal pattern that he sees as the essence of, and common to, heroic tales in every culture. This appears in his seminal work in comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) but there are many online sources that disseminate Campbell’s monomyth.
Veteran journalist Bill Moyers sat down with Campbell in 1988 for a series of six PBS interviews entitled The Power of Myth. In “Episode 1: The Hero's Adventure” Campbell explains this archetype and offers examples of it in mythology, literature and film. The Power of Myth videos and its companion text are widely available in libraries, though the full episodes are not online.
Students may analyze one of Ovid’s hero stories to see to how well it fits Campbell’s formula (i.e. Perseus, Jason, Theseus, and Hercules.)
2. Analyze the interpretation of the Orpheus myth as it appears in the 1959 classic film Black Orpheus (originally Orfeu Negro) directed and with screenplay by Albert Camus. It was filmed largely in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and uses their annual pre-Lenten Carnival as a backdrop for a modern retelling of the classic myth. Have students compare Ovid’s telling of the myth in The Metamorphoses with the film version. They may look for similarities and differences between the two versions of the stories told through different mediums.
3. Ovid’s collection of letters in his Heroides represent 15 aggrieved heroines of Greek and Roman mythology who address their heroic lovers. One letter is written in the voice of Penelope to her husband Ulysses, long overdue from the Trojan War. Contemporary Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood’s novella, the Penelopia retells the story of the long-suffering wife, from Penelope’s perspective. Have students read both Ovid’s letter poem and Atwood’s short novel to compare and contrast the two versions.
In this lesson, part of a unit on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, students focus on stave 5 as they identify and articulate themes that permeate the story.
In this lesson, part of a unit on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, students examine Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and discover how Dickens used both direct and indirect characterization to create a protagonist who is more than just a stereotype.
In this lesson, part of a unit on Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, students focus on the first stave of the novel as they identify the meanings of words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to them. This activity facilitates close examination of and immersion in the text and leads to an understanding of Scrooge before his ghostly experiences.
1842 portrait of Charles Dickens.
Credit: By Francis Alexander (1800–1880) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
“I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.”
— Charles Dickens, preface to A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol December 1843 and the book won instant popularity. The proliferation of film adaptations during the holiday season continually demonstrates the timeless appeal of this story. Its brevity and memorable characters make it a good choice to introduce young students to Victorian fiction and to facilitate discussion of themes that transcend philosophical and religious differences. Dickens tells the story of a man transformed from cynical and mean-spirited loneliness to generosity and peace, conveying insights echoed by countless stories, poems, films, and popular adages, e.g., “I never saw a hearse with a luggage rack,” and “You can’t take it with you.”
In Lesson 1, students focus on the first stave of the novel as they identify the meanings of words and phrases that may be unfamiliar to them. This activity facilitates close examination of and immersion in the text and leads to an understanding of Scrooge before his ghostly experiences. In Lesson 2, students examine Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and discover how Dickens used both direct and indirect characterization to create a protagonist who is more than just a stereotype. In Lesson 3, students focus on stave 5 as they identify and articulate themes that permeate the story.
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS ELA Literacy RL 8.1
Cite textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text
CCSA ELA Literacy RL 8.2
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting and plot; provide an objective summary of the text
CCSS ELA Literacy RL 8.4
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts
When Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol in December 1843, it won instant popularity with the reading public. Critics note that in the novel Dickens virtually invented the holiday season as many celebrate it today. In earlier times the observance of the twelve days of Christmas was limited to wealthy courts. The Puritan takeover during the seventeenth century involved the suppression of all Christmas festivities, and they did not return with the restoration of the monarchy. The novel presents Christmas as a time for charity, caroling, good will, and celebration within nuclear families. The story’s immediate popularity demonstrates that this vision had tremendous appeal for people early during the Victorian Era.
A Christmas Carol came relatively early in Dickens’ career, only ten years after his first published story. The Pickwick Papers was published in serial form in 1836–1837, followed quickly by Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. Meanwhile, Dickens had married and begun what would become a large family. The small boy forced to black shoes while his family was in debtors’ prison was decades in the past, and Great Expectations was decades in the future.
A Christmas Carol, regardless of the title, is not a religious text as much as a humanistic one. Church bells do ring, but Dickens emphasizes not religion as much as humanitarianism. As in many of his other works, we see concern with ethics, the right (and wrong) way to live, as well as an awareness of the plight of the poor. Naomi Wood, Kansas State University professor of English, labels it “a compelling story about the Christmas holiday not as a religious observance, but as an aspect of the social contract: the time when those who 'have' experience joy in sharing with those who 'have not.’”
Dickens titled his novel A Christmas Carol rather than A Christmas Story. Although the work is clearly not a song, he carried through the metaphor by using divisions he called staves instead of “chapters.” In music and poetry, a stave can be a musical score or a stanza. The novel also capitalizes on Victorian interest in ghost stories and the custom of telling them during the Christmas season.
This is an excellent choice to introduce young adolescents to Victorian writing and to Charles Dickens in particular, especially just before or during the holiday season when retail pressures can elicit a “Bah, humbug!” from just about anyone. The novel is short enough to be identified sometimes as a novella; it tells a good story; and it stresses themes that transcend all kinds of differences.
Many print editions of A Christmas Carol are available, including the Thrift Edition from
Dover Press. The text is also available online at Literature.org.
Write an essay discussing three experiences that you think were powerful factors in changing Scrooge’s attitudes and behavior. For each, include specific textual evidence, a description of Scrooge’s responses, and an explanation of the impact on Scrooge.
Worksheet 4. Evaluation Rubric provides a tool for both student writing and teacher evaluation.