Antigone – Lesson Plans for Linking Literature to History, Art, Science and Music
In Antigone & the Greek World students learn how the Persian Wars and birth of democracy in Athens helped shape Sophocles’ themes in Antigone and Oedipus Rex.
Creon: Then am I to rule for the many
And not for myself?
Unit lessons and the text examine how ancient Greek theater taught Athenians to run a democracy, to be responsible citizens, and to consider and weigh conflicting points of view in the Assembly (useful skills today as well). At Orestes’ trial in Aeschylus’ The Eumenides, Athena tells the biased jurors “Here are two sides and only half the argument.” No one wants to attend to the Furies’ (Eumenides) version of justice, until the goddess of wisdom prods them to do so.
Persian and Peloponnesian Wars
300 Spartans – What We Can Learn from the Past
NEXUS Antigone and the Greek World Text Sample:
“When the Persian army arrived in Greece in 480 B.C., the Spartans voted to fight – but not until the Olympic Games were over. In Greece, wars were postponed during the games. But the Persians weren’t about to wait. So Sparta sent a detachment of 300 infantrymen to stop Xerxes’ million-man army at the mountain pass of Thermopylae in central Greece. The Spartan contingent was led by King Leonidas, who was reputed to be a descendent of Herakles (Hercules). The main army would join Leonidas after the games. 5000 allied troops from other city-states also skipped the Olympics to back the Spartan force…”
“Thermopyae is a narrow pass between the Aegean Sea and the cliffs that rise sharply above the shoreline in the district of Locris. The narrowness of the passage and the long spears of the Greeks gave them the advantage in hand-to-hand combat…”
“King Leonidas went to Thermopylae to die for Sparta. Before leaving Laconia, he made sure his 300 soldiers were all fathers with living sons. On the last day of their lives, the Spartans ventured out from the protective cliffs of the pass, where they’d withstood Xerxes’ million-man army for two days, and carved their way with spear and sword into the mass of Persian troops, slaughtering as many as they could. Herodotus describes the battle:
“The barbarians fell in heaps. Behind them the captains of the [Persian] squadrons, armed with whips, urged their men forward with continual blows…For the Greeks, reckless of their own safety and desperate, since they knew that, as the mountain had been crossed, their destruction was nigh at hand, exerted themselves with the most furious valor against the barbarians.”
“When the Spartans’ spears splintered they fought on with their swords. Those whose swords were beaten away waged war with their bare hands and teeth. When they saw the Persian cohort approaching from the opposite direction, the Spartans raced up a small hill to make their last stand. But rather than risk losing more men, Xerxes turned his archers on them. The Persians launched so many missiles that one observer said ‘their arrows darkened the sun.’” [For more see “The History of the 5th-Century Greece,” Antigone and the Greek World
, NEXUS and the interdisciplinary guidelines and ONLINE lessons
We explore the roots of democracy.
Solon –Lessons in Neutrality
NEXUS Antigone and the Greek World Text Samples Below:
“The seeds of democracy were sown by Solon, the ‘lawgiver,’ in 594 B.C., almost a 100 years before the Battle of Marathon. Before and during Solon’s time, the wealthy ruled. The system was either a tyranny (unconstitutional rule by one) or an oligarchy (rule by a few). The poor lived in misery; many were legally enslaved for not paying their bills. A class struggle grew from their discontent. Solon, a moderate, was appointed arbitrator or lawgiver to create a fairer system. Like all reformers seeking a middle road, he angered people on both sides of the political spectrum: the right (those who wanted little or no change) and the left (those who wanted a lot of change)…” [For more see “The History of the 5th-Century Greece,” Antigone and the Greek World, NEXUS]
SAMPLE HISTORY ACTIVITY (attenuated) from NEXUS Guidelines: “Have students read and reflect on the Solon poem below (see NEXUS Antigone and Greek World Guidelines, History Section) and compare it to part 2 of ‘The History of 5th-Century Greece’ in NEXUS. Also have students explain the highlighted simile and back up their explanation with an example from our time.” This lesson satisfies CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.1, 6 and 8 (for 9-10 and 11-12).
Cleisthenes – A History Lesson in “Idealism”
“The first democracy was created in 508 B.C., by Cleisthenes, Pericles’ great uncle. Cleisthenes didn’t establish democracy because he believed in giving ‘power to the people.’ He needed support against the upper classes who wouldn’t accept him as their leader, so he turned to the poor. He promised to give them power if they backed him. They did, and the first democracy was born. Herodotus tells us:”
Having brought over entirely to his side the common people of Athens, who had before lacked rights…he was now that the common people took his part, very much more powerful than his adversaries. [For more see “The History of the 5th-Century Greece,” Antigone and the Greek World, NEXUS]
Delian League – The NATO of Ancient Greece
“Pericles brought Athens into its Golden Age. He moved the Delian League tribute money from its original (neutral) home on the island of Delos to the Acropolis in Athens. It seemed logical to keep the money in Athens since Athens paid for the navy. But Pericles used the money not only to build ships, but also to support and strengthen the Athenian city-state. After moving the money to the Acropolis, unemployment disappeared in Athens – largely because half the citizens worked for the government and their salaries were now paid for with the allies’ tribute money. Before Pericles, politicians worked for free, which meant only the wealthy could afford to serve. Thanks to Pericles’ policy, the poorest citizen could hold office and make a decent living doing it. Pericles also used the money to give Athens a facelift. He commissioned the magnificent Parthenon and other new buildings on the Acropolis with the allies’ tribute. [For more see “The History of the 5th-Century Greece,” Antigone and the Greek World
See “Antigone’s Challenge, Democracy or Dictatorship,” Antigone and the Greek World, NEXUS
Athenian Democracy and the Peloponnesian War – Learning from History
“Forty years (after Cleisthenes instituted Athenian democracy), Ephialtes and Pericles successfully weakened the Aeropagus by attacking some of its members on charges of misconduct. This was and still is a popular politician’s tactic: discredit your opponent, then strip him of power. The misconduct charges can be real, exaggerated or made up. The point is to damage your opponent’s reputation enough so that the public backs you when you deprive him (or his group) of power. Can you think of examples of politicians using this strategy today?”
“The [Peloponnesian War] started in a typical way—with name calling. The Corinthians (who had grievances against Athens) said Athens wanted to enslave all Greece. A Corinthian ambassador told the Peloponnesian Congress: ‘We must believe that the tyrant city…has been established against all alike, with a program of universal empire.’ Pericles accused Sparta of having similar ambitions. Labeling one’s enemy an arch-villain or ‘evil empire’ is an often used political tactic. Basically, it says you’re the good guy and your enemy is the bad buy. During the Cold War, Russia and the US did the same thing, each labeling the other an evil empire.”
SAMPLE HISTORY LESSON
: from the NEXUS Guidelines: “Have students identify and explain weaknesses and strengths in Pericles’ arguments for war in Book 1, ch V of Thucydides’ History
. Pericles, of course, was a great orator. Ask students to identify distinguishing features of his rhetorical style in his pro-war speech. Also have them point out and explain all examples of antithesis and parallelism.” This lesson satisfies CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.4, 5 and 8
(for 9-10 and 11-12).
Athens Attacks Its Ally Melos – A Lesson in Power vs. Trust
Defeat in Sicily – Learning from History Instead of Repeating It
FOR DESCRIPTIONS OF THE OTHER CHAPTERS IN THIS VOLUME, SEE Antigone and the Greek World, NEXUS]