Sixth Grade Boys Explore Art World of Greek Emotions

Middle School history and philosophy teacher Mary Bosworth arranged for sixth grade students to visit a special exhibit, A World of Emotions: Ancient Greece, 700 BC-200 AD, at the Onassis Cultural Center on Fifth Avenue. The excursion enhanced the boys’ study of the ancient Greek gods, as they studied the ancient paintings, sculpture and other art that portrayed death, destruction, betrayal and a gamut of events and emotions still experienced by the human race. Accompanying Ms. Bosworth were English teacher Zack Williams and Greek and Latin teacher Brett Wisniewski.

In describing this exhibit, the center states that more than 130 masterpieces from many of the world’s finest museums – the Louvre, British Museum and Vatican Museums, among others – illustrate the thoughts of people in classical antiquity regarding emotion. As the boys saw how these emotions were portrayed, they realized some are similar while others seem totally unrelatable. Ms. Bosworth noted, “An amphora showing Achilles and Ajax playing a board game during the Trojan War brought home the point that the same pleasures and pains have been moving people throughout human history.”

During the course of their visit, the boys absorbed a multitude of information as they viewed the wonderful works portraying both Greek and Roman gods – all meant to stir the emotions. Gorgons or Medusas, for instance, were not only used as decoration on shields of wars; they were also a source of amusement when painted on everyday items such as plates. Artwork was executed not only in white marble but also in colorful ceramic vessels. The sculpted heads of Achilles and Penthesileia told the tragic tale of their thwarted love, conjuring concurrent feelings of loss, love and pure “adrenalin rush.”

Emotions were also evident in the subject matter chosen by these ancient artists, as apparent in two statues on display, “Love” and “Desire.” The boys were able to assimilate and relate to what they saw through a series of activities arranged and led by their knowledgeable tour guide. For instance, they chose an emotion and then made a sketch to interpret it. Among their choices/related art were fear of death and a sketch of a graveyard, as well as joy and a sketch of the first plant to bloom after winter’s end.

Another exercise was related to the strong emotions that the Athenians felt in their desire to preserve democracy within their society, as accomplished through their practice of “ostraka.” The Athenians decided whether a person – particularly one who displayed too much arrogance – would be exiled or “ostracized” for 10 years by taking a poll with an ostraka, a pottery shard used as a voting token. In this second activity, the boys were read a description of a person under scrutiny and then determined if his actions did, indeed, warrant ostracization.

A final activity entailed the infamous Greek chorus, with the boys focused on the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece. They learned that many of the stories told in ancient Greece were recited or sung in a particular meter called the dactylic hexameter, as the rhythm made these oral histories much easier to memorize.

For more information on this fascinating, free exhibit on display through June 24, visit www.onassisusa.org.