Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 2: “The Metamorphoses” and Modern Poetry: A Comparison of Mythic Characters

Created November 7, 2014

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The Lesson

Introduction

Metamorpheses unit image Apollo and Daphne

Antonio del Pollaiuolo, Apollo and Daphne

Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876

The great mythologies of the world take on the difficult subject that all humans must come to terms with—the inevitability of death. In Ovid’s tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. (Bk X:1–85) a husband, Orpheus, expresses such intense love for his wife, Eurydice, who has died and entered the underworld, that he dares to descend into that realm to beg for her life. This tragic tale is filled with universal emotions of passion, courage, doubt, and devotion. Ovid tells the story primarily from an androcentric point of view through the character, Orpheus. In the 20th –century a poet known by the initials H.D. took up the tale and put a different spin on it. H.D.’s poem, “Eurydice” offers the story from a woman’s point of view and articulates the emotions of a broken-hearted, and downright angry, Eurydice.   

This lesson is part of a three-lesson unit on The Metamorphoses. In this lesson, students will compare the traditional story of Orpheus and Eurydice as told by Ovid with the poem “Eurydice” by the modern day poet H.D. The three lessons may be taught in sequence, or each lesson can stand on its own. Teachers may link to the full unit, with Guiding Questions, College and Career Readiness standards, and Background. Lesson 2 aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9.

Learning Objectives

Compare the elements of the Orpheus and Eurydice story as told by Ovid in The Metamorphoses with the 20th-century version written by poet H.D.

Preparation and Resources

Readings:

The Metamorphoses Bk X: 1–85 Orpheus and Eurydice

An easy-to-use (but out of print) translation by A. S. Kline, available online from the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center, is the version that is referenced in this unit. If you wish to use other translations of The Metamorphoses, many are available. Allen Mandelbaum’s version is particularly graceful. If you print the selections from Kline, you may wish to copy them into a word processing program to enlarge the type for your students

Eurydice” by H.D. can be found at EDSITEment-reviewed Poetry Foundation.

H.D. is the pen name of Hilda Doolittle (1886–1961), a modernist poet who wrote most of her poems, novels, and memoirs during the first half of the 20th century. Her work is marked by vivid images and by the use of classical mythology.

Background on H.D.’s life and poetry may be found at the Poetry Foundation along with additional poems and essays about her work.

Worksheet 4. Comparing two versions of the Orpheus and Eurydice story

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Metamorphoses and Modern Poetry: A Comparison of Mythic Characters
  1. Have students read Bk X: 1–85 Orpheus and Eurydice of The Metamorphoses silently and then read it aloud in class. Start a discussion about this passage using the following questions:
  • Hymen was the god of weddings and was supposed to attend every one.  How did his presence at the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice foretell disaster? (Suggested answer: He was silent and unhappy-looking; even his torch sputtered.)
  • What happened to Eurydice? (Suggested answer: She was bitten by a snake shortly after they were married, died, and went down to the underworld.)
  • How did Orpheus find and reclaim her? (Suggested answer: He went to the underworld himself, sang beautifully to the gods there, and begged them to allow her to return to the living. He promised if they refused, he would die with her.)
  • How did they leave the underworld? (Suggested answer: Orpheus went first, and Eurydice followed. They had to climb a steep and dark ascent. )
  • Why did Orpheus look back? (Suggested answer: He loved Eurydice and was afraid she was no longer following him.)
  • What was Eurydice’s reaction when she had to return to the underworld? (Suggested answer: She made no complaint to her husband, since she had nothing to complain of except that he loved her. She turned back and called farewell.)
  • How did Orpheus react to her loss? (Suggested answer: He wept, prayed, and complained about the cruelty of the gods. He also abstained from loving other women for three years.)

Put the following question on the board: How would you feel if you were Eurydice and had just been sent back to the underworld? Ask students to free-write for a few minutes on the question.  Then have them share their answers with the class.

Distribute copies of the poem “Eurydice” by H.D.  Have students take turns reading sections of the poem aloud. Then give them about 10–15 minutes to re-read the poem and write their comments, questions, and reactions as notes on the copy of the poem. Hold a class discussion to clear up questions they may have and share their reactions to the poem.

Distribute Worksheet 4. If you are using a prose translation of The Metamorphoses, remind students that the text by Ovid was originally couched in verse. Have students work in pairs or small groups to complete the worksheet.  (Worksheet 4. Teacher version is also available.)

Go over the worksheet with the students when they have finished, encouraging them to take additional notes. Then ask them to respond to these questions using evidence from the text.

What does Eurydice mean when she makes the following statement?

my hell is no worse than yours

though you pass among the flowers and speak

with the spirits above the earth

 

Against the black

I have more fervor

than you in all the splendor of that place,

against the blackness

and the stark grey

I have more light;

(Suggested answer: She’s asserting her own powers and the endurance, even triumph, of her own spirit compared to Orpheus.)

This poem was written in 1917, long before the modern feminist movement began. Discuss in what ways this poem might have anticipated elements brought up later in the 20th century in the feminist movement?

(Suggested answer: H.D.’s effort to give voice to a silent woman of classical myth; her resentment that she is punished for her husband’s arrogance; her insistence on the value of her own self.)

Assessment

Have students write a paragraph or more in response to the following prompt:

Ovid and H.D. both wrote poems on the same subject, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. What are three ways in which the poems differ? How do these differences reflect on the meaning and the power of the story?  Explain using textual evidence.

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Time Required

1 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Common Core
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > Ancient World
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > AP Literature
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Fables, Fairy tales and Folklore
Skills
  • Auditory analysis
  • Compare and contrast
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Cultural analysis
  • Discussion
  • Fairy tale analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Online research
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Summarizing
  • Textual analysis
  • Visual analysis
  • Visual art analysis
  • Writing skills
Authors
  • Eileen Mattingly, Director of Education for Journeys in Film, former chair of the Humanities Department at Indian Creek Upper School (Annapolis, MD)

Resources

Activity Worksheets
Media