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Episode 4: The Calm Before the Storm

Teaching activities

  • Starting points
  • Follow-up
  • Further activities
  • The ship: Explain what a small, open ship was like. Look at the illustration [pdf] Ancient Greek ship and any other pictures of boats you may have. To get an idea of the size compare it to a bus and demonstrate this by positioning learners on the floor seated as oarsmen and standing as steersman and lookout. Make sure the children know that the sailors relied upon the seas and winds. When would they use sails? When would they row? What if the wind blew the wrong way? Or didn’t blow at all? Or blew at night-time? (Use role to explore these situations.) How might the gods have the power to help or hinder, make or break their journey?

  • The words of Polyphemus to Poseidon: Recall them and clarify their meaning. Write them large. Display them near the end of a timeline, at the point where Odysseus returns to Ithaca. We will hear the words again at the beginning of this episode. Listen out for them.

  • Poseidon: Who is he? Learners may know him by his Roman name Neptune. What do we know of him already? (God of the sea; father of Polyphemus and the other Cyclopes.) We will hear more about this important god — listen out for him.

  • The greatest gift: What will it be? Show them a sack, real or imaginary. It contains a gift given by a king. We will hear about it in the story. Odysseus will call it ‘The greatest gift that ever I have been given. A greater treasure than even the spoils of Troy.’ What could it be? (Pass the sack from child to child to establish rules for turn-taking as each child explains and gives reasons for his or her view.)

  • Poseidon: What else have we found out? (He is in the middle of a feud with his brother Zeus. Zeus has stolen the winds from him. He is below the ship scratching his barnacled chin and hatching a plan. Polyphemus has asked Poseidon to take revenge on Odysseus.) Use reference books to find information and pictures. Learners have already composed descriptions using similes, starting from body parts, when discussing the Cyclops. Try the same approach to describe Poseidon. (Work orally, with learners speaking a line each. Compose a chorus to create a structure then work towards the performance of a group poem.)

  • The island of King Aeolus and the island of Ithaca: Listen to the description of these islands. As you listen draw what you hear. Make your drawing into a postcard. Display and compare the cards. Mark the islands on [pdf] your map.

  • The welcome: We already know of a welcome that Odysseus will receive in the future. (He will finally be washed up on Alcinous’ island — Episode 1.) How does it compare with this welcome?

  • Odysseus: We have discovered more about his character. He worked hard to keep the ship sailing. He was a good leader. But why did he keep the contents of this bag secret from his men? And he boasted again: what does that reveal? Add more evidence to Odysseus’ picture.

  • Open the sack!: Discuss the feelings of the men when the sack rolled towards them. What would you have done? Remember that they did not know what the great treasure was. (Learners take on the role of crew-members and speak sentences arguing for or against opening the sack.) Use details from the text (‘hands studded with blisters’) and imagine what else they had suffered.

  • The greatest gift: Were you surprised at what this was? Recall previous gifts and treasures (e.g. on the Cyclops’ island Odysseus wanted to swap some goblets, some bracelets, and a brooch for animals and directions to a source of fresh water). How do you decide what really is precious?

  • The return to Aeolus: What kind of a welcome this time? Why? (Aeolus’ island is a floating island, reliant on the good will of the sea god for its survival. Odysseus and his men have further angered Poseidon.)

Telling a story: This activity results in identifying with a character and telling a story from a different viewpoint.

King Aeolus offered sanctuary in exchange for tales of adventure: ‘For seven days and nights we told him tales.’ (Let them take on the role of one of Odysseus’ crew and tell to a partner — someone from the court of King Aeolus — the story of their adventure with the Cyclops.) They will first need to think and talk through their character’s own story. They each experienced the events differently and are telling them from a different point of view. Were they one of the twelve chosen to go ashore? Perhaps their best friend was eaten. Did they believe that Odysseus would find a way for them to escape? Encourage the listeners to be a curious audience and to prompt the tellers with questions. Make notes as reminders.

Visual aids

Ancient Greek ship

Based on an Attic stamnos (pot), late 6th-early 5th century BC, British Museum, London
Larger ancient Greek ships had a steering rudder on one, or both, sides towards the rear of the ship. In addition to the main sail, the ship shown here has space for a bank of six oars on each side (only five of which are used in the image), allowing it to be rowed when there was no wind and more easily manoeuvred in confined spaces. The oarsmen would sit facing towards the back of the boat, so only the steersman, standing up at the back, would be able to see where the ship was going. The ship has an eye painted on the front, helping to bring it to life, and a battering ram at water level. The raised wooden construction at the front might provide protection for the crew against waves and sea-spray, and perhaps against arrows or spears during fighting. The relatively long, thin hull of the ship further suggests that it is a war ship rather than a trading ship (which tended to be shorter and more rounded).

Suggested activities
For teaching ideas see Teaching Activities for Episode 4.

Line drawing of a Greek ship with a single mast and an eye painted on the prow.