Dolphins! The Heroes of Ancient Greece
The learning sequence for this activity begins by exploring how dolphins were depicted in Ancient Greece. Their presence in folklore, where they were often seen saving human lives, is well-documented for students in the source entitled ‘Delphinia!’ Following this reading, students choose from several tasks to show their understanding of the connection between humans and dolphins in Ancient Greece. Finally, consideration is given to the legacy of this ancient Greek connection on human-dolphin interactions in the modern world.
Key Inquiry Questions
- How do we know about human interest in dolphins in the ancient past?
- What role did art play as one of the defining characteristics of ancient societies, and how were dolphins depicted?
- What has been the legacy of ancient societies in relation to our relationships with dolphins?
Check students’ understanding of the following terms: fables, myths and legends. Ask students to think of examples of these from a range of cultures, both modern and ancient. Explain that everyday life in Ancient Greece included the sharing of stories in the form of fables, myths or legends.
- Fable: a short, fictional story, usually with an underlying moral lesson, used to guide our behaviour. Often uses animals as characters. Includes stories about supernatural beings or amazing humans, such as gods and heroes.
- Myth: a traditional and fictional story that usually includes heroes and describes significant events often relating to deities. Traditionally used to explain cultural practice or natural phenomenon.
- Legend: a story passed down through generations relating to a cultural event or person but which cannot be verified as fact.
- As a class, read the source ‘Delphinia!’ by Adrienne Mayor and discuss the interactions between humans and dolphins in these ancient tales. What messages might they have given to the Ancient Greeks in relation to how to conduct their everyday lives? List these.
- Examine the images in the article. Did other animals feature in Ancient Greek art as much as dolphins did? Why might this be?
- Refer to the painting entitled ‘Bacchus (Dionysos) and the Tyrrhenian pirates’ and explain the figure on the left hand side. Why might the artist have included this creature and what might it represent?
As in Ancient Greek culture, contemporary Australian culture is also largely a coastal one. In pairs, have students create a modern fable, myth or legend with a dolphin as one of the main characters. Student work could take the form of a short play, a spoken monologue, an illustrated story for young children or a series of annotated drawings.
As a class, choose a selection of pieces to perform to a primary class or to another Year 7 group.
Ask students to write a 150-word response to the following: ‘Why do you think dolphins were so revered in Ancient Greece? Do you think they are still respected in the modern era? Consider our interactions with both wild and captive dolphins in your response.’
6. USEFUL RESOURCES
Mayor, A. (1986) ‘Delphinia!’, in The Athenian, May, pp. 19-22.
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