When you mention Greek Mythology in a 3rd grade classroom, students get all excited. They have heard some of the famous names, like Zeus and Poseidon. They might be familiar with Mount Olympus and the idea of characters (gods) having powers or being responsible for natural phenomenon. Very few have ever heard any of the specific stories.
I recently shared a play with the Polite Pirates (my students) that I’d written a few years ago. Originally, I wrote it to be performed during a winter holidays celebration. It is the story of Persephone being kidnapped by Hades, causing her mother Demeter (goddess of the harvest) to get so depressed that she allowed the whole Earth to wither and die (Winter).
Before creating teams of four to read the play, I explained a little about Greek Drama. Rather than have a narrator, there is a “Chorus” that sings the narration. As you can well imagine, this was a silly experience. We read the entire play through once as a class. I had to count to 3 each time the Chorus was “singing” so that we were somewhat together.
One other thing that I incorporated into this drama that was very different was having two groups reading/performing at the same time. This is called dual dialogue. It can be difficult to pull off, but the text lends to rich teaching opportunities. Why would Hades and Zeus be talking at the same time as Persephone and Demeter? Where might they stand, if this was being performed on a stage?
I had to point out the comedy of some of the dialogue and stage directions. Even though you read the text within parenthesis to yourself, and not out loud, it is important to actually read it and imagine what is happening in order to get the point of the story. And then, I made the chorus use hyperbole in its declarations, along with some fourth wall breaking when Hades interacts with it. With these explanations, a little coaching and modeling, we had a lot of fun reading this play. I welcome you to use it (Google Doc of play) in your classroom. It’s a great end of the year activity.
Cast of Characters:
CHORUS – the voices that narrate the play
PERSEPHONE – Goddess of Spring, daughter of Demeter
DEMETER – Goddess of the Harvest, sister of Zeus & Hades
HADES – Ruler of the Underworld, brother of Zeus & Demeter
ZEUS – Leader of the Greek gods & ruler of Mount Olympus (also, Demeter and Hades’s brother)
CHORUS: (As if making an important declaration; introducing a dignitary) Who is more powerful than death? He comes to take us all. NO THING can escape him.
HADES: (Pretending to be humble) Well, you know… I am pretty powerful…
CHORUS: There isn’t a living thing that can withstand your power, oh mighty Hades!
HADES: (seems a little uncomfortable) Yeah, well, that is actually part of the problem.
CHORUS: Hades, ruler of the Underworld, keeper of secrets, all powerful bringer of…
HADES: (cutting CHORUS off, mid praise) Yes, yes, yes… that is all great, and everything, but keeping secrets is not all it’s cracked up to be.
ZEUS: Are you complaining, brother, Hades? I thought you liked being all-powerful ruler of the Underworld.
HADES: Oh, hi Zeus. It’s not that I am complaining or anything. I’m just a little lonely down there, all by myself… me and my secrets… You know.
CHORUS: Hades, lonely, desperate, seeker of companion…
HADES: (interrupting what seems to be an increasingly negative appraisal of himself) No, no, no… It’s not like that. I’m not desperate or anything…
ZEUS: (in a soothing voice) Do you need a friend, brother? I’ve been noticing you leave your Underworld unattended to visit Mount Olympus more often recently.
HADES: (kicks the ground sheepishly) I just see Demeter and her daughter having such a nice time together. All I ever hear are tree roots growing. The only beings I can talk with are the worms of the ground.
ZEUS: You signed up for that job. You wanted to be (exaggerate importance) “All Powerful”. I let you rule down there, even though I didn’t think it was a good idea.
HADES: I know, I know. Okay, you’re going to make me say it: I wish I had a friend.
CHORUS: (jeering tone) Hades, wants a friend! Hades wants a friend! Hades wants a…
PERSEPHONE: (to Persephone) Did you hear that?
DEMETER: No, what?
PERSEPHONE: It was probably just the wind.
CHORUS: (very quietly, as if from far away) Hades, wants a friend! Hades wants a friend! Hades wants a…
(Here, two separate speaking parts happen at the same time. Take turns speaking, but make it obvious who you are talking to.)
|HADES: Oh brother… |
ZEUS: Do you need a shoulder to cry on?
HADES: No, I need someone to share secrets with. They are no good all bottled up inside!
ZEUS: Are you asking me to send someone down to the Underworld to keep you company?
HADES: That’d be nice.
ZEUS: Who do you have in mind?
|PERSEPHONE: There it is again.|
DEMETER: I didn’t hear anything.
PERSEPHONE: I think I want to go check it out, mother.
DEMETER: I don’t know, Persephone. I have quite a bit of harvesting left to do here. I will be sad without you.
PERSEPHONE: I won’t be long. I just feel like someone is in need.
DEMETER: Don’t be gone long.
PERSEPHONE: (not seeing Hades who is walking away, backwards) Hello? Anybody there? …Boy it’s dark down here…
(Hades moves away from Persephone as she moves closer to him, until she bumps into him.)
HADES: Oh, hi there.
PERSEPHONE: Were you the one calling on the wind for a friend?
HADES: No, that was the Greek Chorus. They narrate Greek plays.
PERSEPHONE: So, you weren’t the one in need of a friend?
HADES: Well… (a little embarrassed) I’m not going to turn you away.
PERSEPHONE: What’s your name?
HADES: Oh, excuse me, where are my manners? My name is Hades.
|PERSEPHONE: Aren’t you the ruler of the Underworld?|
HADES: (a little shy) That isssss technical my title…
PERSEPHONE: I bet you get lonely down here.
HADES: You could say that.
PERSEPHONE: Do you play board games?HADES: I’m bored all of the time!
PERSEPHONE: No, board games, like chess, checkers, Monopoly….
HADES: (excited) Let’s play Monopoly!
PERSEPHONE: That sounds fun. I’ll be the top hat.
HADES: That’s classy…
|DEMETER: (looking for her daughter) Persephone? Where are you?Where did you go?|
Zeus, where is my daughter?
ZEUS: What’s wrong, Demeter?
DEMETER: I’m looking for Persephone, and can’t find her.
ZEUS: (thinking to himself) Hmmm, I wonder if Hades brought Persephones to the Underworld to keep himself company.
DEMETER: The Underworld! WHAT?!
ZEUS: (sheepish) Well… Hades was feeling lonely.
DEMETER: (to everyone/threateningly) I am not going to let anything grow again, until Persephone returns to me.
ZEUS: (soothingly) I’ll talk to Hades.
CHORUS: And, Demeter, true to her word, neglected all plants and animals while she searched for her daughter; Field and forest dried up.
ZEUS: (observantly) This is not good.
CHORUS: Demeter looked everywhere for an entrance to the Underworld, by which she might fetch her daughter.
ZEUS: (speaking to Hades) Um, Hades… excuse me.
HADES: (speaking to Persephone) That’s your third roll, and no doubles.
PERSEPHONE: Ah, man! Now, I have to pay the $50 to get out of jail.
HADES: (speaking to Persephone) I’ll go get you something to eat.
ZEUS: (speaking to Hades) Hades, we have a problem.
HADES: (notices Zeus) Oh, hi Zeus! Persephone and I are enjoying a game of Monopoly. Do you want to join us?
ZEUS: I’d love to, but I can’t. Wait, how long have you been playing this?
HADES: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe three months or so.
ZEUS: That’s a long game! No, I can’t join you; Demeter is so upset at Persephone’s disappearance that she has refused to allow the earth to rain or grow or live this whole time.
HADES: That doesn’t sound good. I thought the Underworld was getting more action than usual.
ZEUS: I’m sorry, but Persephone needs to go back to her mom.
CHORUS: Hades agrees to send Persephone back to her mom, but first gives her 3 pomegranate seeds.
PERSEPHONE: Thanks for the nachos, Hades. They were a little crunchy, but yummy.
CHORUS: The pomegranate seeds caused Persephone to remember her Monopoly game with Hades.
HADES: Come play Monopoly with me again, Persephone.
CHORUS: Demeter was overjoyed when she saw Persephone… So happy, in fact, that not only did all of the plants grow back, but they grew beautiful flowers.
DEMETER: I am so happy to see you!
CHORUS: Now, every year, Persephone visits Hade in the Underworld during the winter months. Her absence causes Demeter to get depressed…
DEMETER: I get so depressed.
ZEUS: This causes everything to die.
PERSEPHONE: The world goes cold.
HADES: We play Monopoly for three months every year.
DEMETER: When my daughter returns to me it is like she springs out of the earth.
CHORUS: This is how the ancient Greeks explained the seasons.