The Legacies of Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks gave the world many wonderful innovations, such
as democracy, science, astronomy and philosophy. This workshop focuses on
three of their greatest gifts: art,
architecture, and theatre.
Pick two of these to make a full day's workshop.
Minoan fresco (reconstruction) of a man bearing a vase
During the first millennium BC Greek art went through such a profound
change it has been called 'the Greek revolution'. In Minoan times
(around 1500BC) depictions of people and nature were influenced by
Egyptian art - colourful, beautiful, but not realistic in a photographic
sense. Then, beginning with the Archaic period (around 700BC), the
Greeks began to
represent life, especially the human form, in a much more realistic
Discobolos - Roman copy of Greek original
By the 400s, in the 'Classical' period, the Greeks had invented a wholly
realistic style which can be seen for example in the famous Parthenon
sculptures. Striking poses, believable bodies with accurate muscles and
even veins, and flowing, rippling robes, all gave life to statues as
well as pottery paintings. This style was developed in later centuries
and rediscovered in the Rennaissance, leading to our modern conception
of classical art.
Modern reconstructions of painted Greek sculpture
What many people don't realise is that added naturalism was given to sculpture
by painting. Statues and temple reliefs were far more colourful than
they appear today in museums.
Another important legacy was styles of architecture.
Greek temples such as the Parthenon, with their beautifully modelled columns,
pediments, and friezes inspired the Romans, and much later, modern
European and American architects. Nowadays most city centres and
mansions are replete with Greek/Roman designs, and we associate this style
with grandeur, harmony, and a sense of timelessness.
In this lesson children learn about these legacies through photos,
games, and above all making their own versions of Greek art as well as a
model of the Parthenon in its heyday, with full colour and its
monumental statue of Athena, plated in gold and ivory.
Our third legacy option is theatre.
Around 534BC in the choirs singing hymns to Dionysus one man began a
dialogue with the chorus. Over time more actors were added and full
stories told, although still with singing. Drama was born and a major
gift to the world given. Without the Greek invemntion of tragedy and
comedy there would be no Shakespeare; perhaps even no movies or TV
In the theatre session children dress up and
rehearse and perform a Greek myth play, with costumes, props and
script provided. This is the ideal way to learn not only about Greek
theatre and how to act, but also the myths, which were frequent
subjects for ancient Greek plays.
To book, contact:
Artefacts used in the art game:
Relief showing the abduction of a nymph (original in Athens) (click for
vase showing the goddess Artemis
Relief of the discus thrower
Kylix (wine cup) with black figure painting of the god Dionysus
(click for larger version)
Minoan frieze showing 3 women (click for larger version)
Relief of running hoplite used in game
Also one of the options for the art session
Lesson Plan: Architecture
1. Greek temple architecture (30 mins)
The temple of Hephaestus in Athens
Look at photos of the Parthenon and other temples, to learn about these
amazing buildings and their architecture. Learn about the 12m high golden
statue of Athena, and the exact copy of the Parthenon in America. Compare
ancient temples with modern buildings to see the influence on modern
The Birmingham town hall
Learn about the parts of a temple (column, capital, cella, entablature,
metope, triglyph, pediment) and the 3 main types of column (Doric, Ionic,
and Corinthian) using photos, paintings and models.
Play game using photos: identify the type of
Metope from the Parthenon, in the British Museum
2. Make a model of the Parthenon (60 mins)
Children work in groups to make the various parts of the temple, with two
acting as architects, sticking all the parts together. The model is about
60cm long and made from a wooden base, wood, plasticine, foam card and
acrylic paint for the columns, and thick white card for the main body of the
Pictures of temple making at
Bollinbrook Primary, Macclesfield
Statue of Athena (painted by y4 children)
Because the sculpture was painted, children use felt tips to colour in
outlines. Corrugated card is used for the triglyphs. Two children paint a
scale model of the statue of Athena gold (see above).
The finished model is very impressive and will look fantastic by the side of
Temple made by Y5 at Bollinbrook Primary. Click for larger version
Lesson Plan: Art
1. Introduction to Greek Art (20 mins)
We learn about the styles of Greek art and
how they developed through time, by looking at photos. We begin with
frescoes and vase paintings (around 1500BC), from Crete and the nearby
The famous dolphin fresco at Knossos
The Minoans were strongly influenced by Egyptian art
which showed people from different points of view (e.g. face in profile but
eyes from the front). See my own copies of Minoan
Next we take a quick look at Geometric art (c.900-700BC) in which there was little large sculpture. Pottery was painted
with geometric patterns and eventually crude stick-figures of people.
Geometric period vase painting (showing a funeral)
Third is the Archaic period (c.700-480BC) in which
statues of young men and women were carved in an increasingly realistic
style. At first the poses were again Egyptian-influenced, very stiff and
square, arms by the sides and one leg forward.
Greek kouros (young man) and Egyptian man statues
Pottery painting too became more sophisticated. The
Archaic period is known for the 'Black figure' style, in which the subject
was painted in a clay slip which turned black with firing, while the
background remained a clay colour (varying from beige to reddish-orange).
Lines were inscribed with a sharp tool and red and white details could be
Black figure vase showing Odysseus blinding the
Finally we look at the classical period (480-330BC) in
which Greek art perhaps reached its peak. Sculpture was much more realistic,
and varied in pose and orientation. Statues were carved in marble or cast in
bronze, although sadly few bronze statues have survived the centuries.
Head of a bronze statue of a boy
Pottery painting turned to the 'Red figure' style, in
which the background was black and the figure left the orange colour of the
clay. Lines were now painted very thinly in black, which allowed for more
detailed and realistic representations.
Red figure vase showing Artemis and Apollo
2. Greek Art Game (10 minutes)
To help children understand these four styles of art
we now play a game. Working in pairs, children look at 7 replicas of
Greek art. In each case they must identify (a) the art period, and (b) any
gods or heroes (4 are present). Each child in the winning
pair will get a free
Parthenon poster. The 7 items can be seen on this page. All except the kylix and the
geometric vase were painted by me.
Lesson Plan: Art, continued
3. Make Greek Art (90+ minutes)
In the main part of the afternoon session, children create authentic replicas
of 4 kinds of Greek art: vase
paintings on clay tiles (20X20cm, up to 8 provided), kylix
(drinking cup) paintings on clay saucers (19cm wide, up to 4
provided), relief paintings (on plaster casts, up to 8
provided), and Minoan frescoes (on 24X30cm wooden boards
already painted white, up to 16 provided).
An art lesson will be given first, and then careful one-to-one guidance
during the session, to ensure children create beautiful works of art. Each
child has their own item, with 4 levels of difficulty to suit the needs of
Minoan fresco of boys boxing, from Santorini
The reliefs are simply painted, but for the other items there are several
(a) Choose a design. Many options are provided, including both red-figure
and black-figure for the pottery paintings. Examples are given on this page
but many more can be seen here.
(b) Draw round a template in pencil. Then go over the lines with a thin
black permanent marker.
(c) Do details with pencils first, then marker pens.
(d) Paint background colours - black for the pottery paintings. Acrylic
paint is used. For the white lines children use special paint pens. On
the saucers, lines can be inscribed with a dart.
Red figure painting of Zeus
Reliefs of Athena and Aphrodite
Pottery painting of the sphinx by a Y6 girl
Pottery painting by a Y5 child
Lesson Plan: Theatre
1. Learn about Greek theatre (10-30 minutes)
To begin we look at some photos of famous theatres
in the Greek world, such as Ephesus in Turkey, Epidaurus in the
Pelopponese, and the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, where it all began.
We see the design of the theatres, with their semicircular seating and
wonderful acoustics. I have a short video of my wife dropping a coin in
the Ephesus theatre, which can be heard all the way up on the top row.
If you have a short afternoon (2 hours or less) this section will be
brief (just a quick look at photos of Greek theatres).
The theatre at Delphi
2. Dress up and discuss performance (25
Next the children dress up in authentic period
costumes which I provide. I also give them any props they require, such
as Poseidon's trident, or a shield and sword. We then talk about how to
rehearse and perform - how to read the script in a clear, audible and
entertaining way, and how to mime the actions for the benefit of the
3. Rehearsal (60-70 minutes)
We now go into the hall and set up benches in a
semi-circle, like a Greek theatre, and position the children to begin
rehearsing. To ensure a good performance we will need to go through the
play twice. I will direct but I will need at least one adult present to
help keep the children on task.
Some children will read the script, standing at the
side of the hall. They will wear costumes. Other children act, without
speaking. This maximises the number of children who can take part in
the play. There may however be some children who have not been allocated roles.
can make scenery. You will need to provide resources and an adult to
4. Performance (15 minutes)
At the end of the day we will perform to another
class. It is best not to invite a large audience as I have always found
this impairs children's performance, due to nerves.
Photos of children performing a play at
Liverpool College Prep
Options for the Play
There are four myth plays. The easiest is the
Olympian Myths, a series of short stories about the 12 main gods. A
year 4 class will always do this option, and I recommend it for any
lower ability year 5s. You can read the scripts by following the links
When you book I will ask you to choose a play and I
will email the script along with a cast list. It is very important that
you do a read through of the script with the class before my visit,
with narrators reading their lines so you can correct any errors. There
is a guide to pronciation of Greek names at the end of each script.
Please note, if you choose the art and theatre option the Perseus and
Medusa play will not be available as a choice.
Gods of Olympus Theseus
and the Minotaur
Odysseus and the Cyclops Perseus and Medusa
Vase painting showing actors, holding their masks