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Agamemnon, Faust and YOU: Life and the choices we make

Course Description

Revenge, power, money, control, equality, justice, fairness, self-control or fate. What do you do when the gods require the sacrifice of your only child? When you are offered anything you want in exchange for your soul? What circumstances drive you to be better than you are? The great stories behind myth and great plays take us into situations through which we can experience powerful dilemmas, make choices and not actually suffer the consequences of these decisions. They allow us to learn about ourselves and the worlds - both mundane and divine - around us, to explore our values and goals while confronting the terrible complexity of making the choices that being human. This course explores a theatrical panorama, from the ancient Greeks to contemporary times, in an attempt to understand the mythological significance of the events dramatized by master playwrights.
Required Reading:

Antigone – Sophocles (Available for free via Internet Public Library)
Iphigenia at Aulis -- Euripides
The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus – Christopher Marlowe (Available for free via Internet Public Library)
Extended Reading:

(Books that are worth taking a look at after the required reading is complete and/or books that we will be reading excerpts from)

Agamemnon- Aeschylus

Who’s who in Classical Mythology- Michael Grant

Faust- William Goethe

The Odyssey – Homer

The Iliad – Homer

Inferno- Dante Alighieri

Additional Media to Consider:

(While not required the following are worth taking a look at while in this course, with your parents’ permission of course)

Star Wars Episode I-VI- Fate, Power, Destiny

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn – Sacrifice - Mythology

WEEK ONE: “Live from Antiquity!”
Forum (1): Tell us about yourself! Start with your name, favorite subject in school, favorite thing to do in your free time. Then since most of our work will deal with theater, plays, and drama, list your favorite play/show/movie. What specifically do you enjoy about it? Finally, was there ever a time in your life where you had to choose between right and wrong? Give real life examples or quotes to support your ideas that you've develop in a well-formed paragraph. Don’t forget to respond to at least 3 other students!!!

  1. Think, but think honestly, if you are honest with yourself and our band of adventurers, our discussions and forums will be more productive. (I.e. One time I chose to steal five dollars from my mom’s purse to buy a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards)

  2. If you are uncomfortable sharing a personal story or are stuck, it’s OK! Just think about an imaginary situation and how you might react (just let us know that you made the situation up!)

  3. Finally, this goes without saying, but just in case, the forum only works if we all participate and we all create an environment where we feel comfortable to post our thoughts and feelings. SO, remember to be respectful and kind while posting. You may disagree, but there is a right and a wrong way to respond!

Group Work: Meet and greet your team members and work to complete this assignment!

Antigone is just one of seven plays that have survived from the many plays Sophocles wrote during his lifetime. The Perseus Project as well as The Glory That Was Greece (specifically the section entitled “Drama”), (available via the Internet Public Library) provides historical background for ancient Greece and the importance of theater as ritual in this culture. The latter website contains an ample biography of Sophocles. The Introduction to Greek Stagecraft has three-dimensional images of Greek and Roman stages. Roger Dunkle of CUNY provides a useful summary and series of questions for the play in his Study Guide: Sophocles' Antigone.

Together answer these questions…

  • Why was theater so important to the Greeks?

  • Who was Sophocles?

  • Where were Greek tragedies staged?

  • What did the stage look like?

  • What kinds of props and scenery were used?

  • When during the year were plays performed? When during the day?

  • Who performed in them? What costumes did they wear?

  • Who came to the plays? How did they behave? What were they looking for - entertainment, knowledge, enlightenment?

  • What kinds of issues were addressed in plays?

  • What was the playwright's role in the performance?

Decide as a group how best to divide the work.
Assignment: Ancient cultures provide some of our deepest connections to the humanities, drawing life from that distant time when the study of history, philosophy, arts, literature, and language itself began. On the Internet, students can return to those times, re-enter that age of discovery, and learn from their study the timeless nature of the human condition and the profound effects of the human drama on people of any era.

This week begins with the study of Sophocles' Antigone and the universal issues it raises about power, gender, family obligation, ethics, and honor.

Read through the play Antigone.

  • The electronic version of Antigone is available at the Perseus Project. Note about this edition: the arrows at the top-right corner of the text allow you to progress page by page through the work. The red mark on a blue bar along the top of the work shows how far you have progressed through the text.

After reading, post your answers to these questions.

  1. Complete the “Theater Vocabulary” exercise
  2. When in recent history have individuals been forced to choose between the law and human rights?

  3. When in your own life have you faced a choice like Antigone's, a choice between obedience to authority and remaining true to one's conscience?

  4. Compare the setting of the play to those of modern plays and how its limitations affect staging. Consider what happens in the key episodes and the motivations and actions of characters when in the public setting with the Chorus always present, hearing and seeing all. Speculate how dialogue and intensity would change with a private setting versus the public setting.

  5. Note the important functions of the chorus and have students cite examples of these functions. Discuss any modern plays/movies/shows that incorporate a chorus, or a chorus type setting.

Extension Exercise: Visit the Perseus Project for information on the controversy concerning the historical basis of Antigone's defiance of Creon's edict, which features Sir Richard Jebb's "Commentary on Sophocles: Antigone." Write a 1-2 paragraph summary of the controversy.
WEEK TWO: “Responsibility Requires Action”

Forum (1): What does responsibility mean to you? Based on your answer, who ultimately is controls your life? Remember to respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Forum (2): In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Spock the first-officer of the starship Enterprise and best friend of Captain James T. Kirk, risks his life and ultimately dies saving the ship. When Kirk asks him why he risked his life for the ship, Spock explains, with his last few breaths, that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Do you agree or disagree? What, ultimately would you be willing to sacrifice yourself for, if anything? Remember to respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Forum (3): What if the only way to save the world was to sacrifice yourself? Your parents? Your siblings? Your video games? Would you? Remember to respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Reading: Before reading, look up the definitions of the following words. Using the “Vocabulary Worksheet” fill in each word and bring it to the face-to-face meeting.

  • seething

  • prostrate

  • prophetic

  • libations

  • vengeance

Begin reading Iphigenia at Aulis, the book is written as a play so the format may be different than what you are accustomed to Check out the “How to Read a Play” resource. When met with an unfamiliar word, post the word, and add your definition to the “Vocabulary Worksheet” you will be turning in at the face-to-face.

Assignment: Complete the “Vocabulary Worksheet”

Extension Exercise: Find two newspaper stories that deal with the following: sacrifice, responsibility, decision making. Summarize each article in 3-5 sentences and include a sentence or two why you picked the articles you did.

WEEK THREE: “Truth and Suffering”

Forum: Does the nobility of sacrifice for one’s country in a time of war depend upon the reasons for the war? Can an act of sacrifice be noble and misguided at the same time? Are those who lead us into war guided by principle, or, ultimately, by power and pride? Remember to respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Reading: Finish reading Iphigenia at Aulis. When met with an unfamiliar word, post the word, and add your definition to the “Vocabulary Worksheet” you will be turning it at the face-to-face.

Assignment (1): After finishing Iphigenia at Aulis, make sure the “Vocabulary Worksheet” is completed and add these words.

  • stupor

  • gorge

  • eviscerations

  • desecrator

  • ravenous

Assignment (2): Next take a look at this passage from “Agamemnon” handout. Using both the handout and Iphigenia to answer the following:

  1. In “Agamemnon”, the Chorus says:

“Zeus had led us on to know/the Helmsman lays it down as law/that we must suffer, into truth.”

Do you agree with the Chorus? Does truth always come with pain? More importantly…what is truth? How do you define truth? Is it the same for everyone? Why or why not? Write a short paragraph explaining your answers.

  1. What role does the chorus play? (Think back to Antigone and Iphigenia at Aulis too!)

  2. Why are Greece and Troy at war?

  3. Why does Agamemnon kill his daughter? Did he make the right choice? Why or why not?

  4. Should Iphigenia’s death in support of the Trojan War be seen as a glorious martyrdom or as a foolish waste of life?

Assignment (3): After reading both Iphigenia and the “Agamemnon” handout, discuss with the group the similarities and the differences. Why do you think I had you read both tales? Post your answers into the forum and respond to at least three (3) responses.
Finally, create a timeline of events that lead to the death of Iphigenia. You may combine events in both stories or make one timeline for each event. Timelines should include passages from the texts as well as drawings/photos/magazine clip-outs. These are to be handed in at the next face-to-face.

Extension Exercise: Create your own ‘Director’s Cut’ of the “Agamemnon” story and ‘stage’ your own play. Include a drawing of the stage and scenery you would use for this passage as well as create drawings of the characters and their costumes. Additionally add director’s notes, or cues, that would direct the actors if this play were to be acted out.

WEEK FOUR: “The Key to Life Is Just a Myth”

Forum (1): Do you believe in destiny or fate? How does that make you feel?

Forum (2): What lengths would you go to get something you needed to survive? Would you steal? Would you kill?

Reading: For the next week or so, we will be taking a look at some classic Greek myths that deal with difficult decisions. Keep that in mind as it will help guide us to our final project. This week I would like you to take a look at the following:


  1. Why does Zeus take fire from the mortals?

  2. Why do the gods and goddesses want it returned?

  3. In what ways is Prometheus a champion of the ‘little people’?

  4. In your opinion, was Prometheus wise or foolish? Explain your answer.

The myth of Cassiopeia

  1. Do the gods create constellation for Andromeda as a punishment or a reward?

  2. What is Cassiopeia’s greatest fault?

  3. How does this fault contribute to her downfall?

The Ungrateful Daughter

  1. How does Scylla feel about Minos?

  2. In what ways is Scylla an ungrateful daughter?

  3. Why does Scylla seize the rudder of Minos’s ship?

  4. Do you feel sorry for Scylla? Why or why not?

Group Work: In your groups, divide the following questions amongst yourselves:

  1. What are myths

  2. Myths, legends, fables, and folktales… are they one in the same? What are the differences between them?

  3. Are all myths historical?

  4. Are all myths in our minds?

  5. Are all myths religious or spiritual?

Use the internet, dictionaries, and encyclopedias to help answer the questions.

Assignment: After reading the myths, is there a common theme you see among them? What is it? Who do the humans in the story ‘pass’ responsibility for their actions to? How do they make decisions? What factors play into their decision making? Include your answers in a short paragraph.

Extension Exercise: Search the internet, newspapers or magazines to see if you can find examples of myth and how they are still part of our everyday lives. (The myths do not have to include characters from the stories we have read so far). Create a collage of myths in our modern world. This will be due at the next face-to-face.

*Freebie example- Nike*

WEEK FIVE: “Revenge, Destiny and Wisdom”

Forum (1): What would you do to escape your destiny? Respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Forum (2): What if the only thing you wanted to do, was the one thing you could not…would you brave the consequences and do it anyway or would you play it safe? Respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Forum (3): What does revenge mean to you? Are there times when revenge is justified? What kinds of people seek revenge? Respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Reading: As with last week, we will be taking a look at some classic Greek myths that deal with difficult decisions. Keep that in mind as it will help guide us to our final project. This week I would like you to take a look at the following:


  1. At what point does Midas realize that his wish was foolish?

  2. Why is Bacchus sorry that Midas had not made a better choice?
  3. What would be your wish if, like Midas, you could have anything you asked for?


  1. How would you describe Pandora

  2. Why did Zeus want Pandora and Epimetheus to marry?

  3. How did Zeus achieve revenge on mankind through Pandora?

  4. Was Pandora wrong to open the box? Explain your opinion.

  5. In your opinion, is the worst ‘ill’ to know “exactly what misfortune was to happen every day”? Why or why not?


  1. Why does Oedipus blind himself?

  2. What message does this myth convey about trying to escape one’s destiny?

  3. How did Harmonia’s magic necklace affect people?

  4. Why do you think people are so fascinated by the myth of Oedipus?

The Apple of Discord

  1. What decision is Paris supposed to make

  2. What promise do Odysseus and the other suitors make to Helen

  3. What is the cause of the Trojan War?

  4. What does the saying “Helen had a face that launched a thousand ships” mean to you?

Assignment: After reading, complete the ‘Learning Cube’ and ‘Who’s Who’ activities. Bring the completed activities to the next face-to-face.

Extension Exercise: Already, we have read several myths that use different names for seemingly the same person. Why is that so? Look into the variations in names in the myths we have read and explain why some characters in these stories have more than one name or spelling.

WEEK SIX: “Is There a Doctor in the House?”

Forum (1): Reflect on this quote from Aristotle:

“All men by nature, desire to know”

What do you suppose Aristotle means by this? What does knowledge mean to you? Is there a difference between knowledge and wisdom?

Forum (2): If someone makes a deal with ‘the devil’, are they ‘damned’ for all eternity? Have you ever made a deal to get something you really wanted and thought nothing of the consequences or price? Remember to respond to at least three (3) classmates!

Assignment: After reading The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus answer the following:

  1. The Faust myth has captured people’s imaginations for centuries. Why do you think it is so popular? Did you like the story? What parts of the play might have appealed to the Renaissance audience it was written for? What parts might appeal to people today?

  2. How does the author, Christopher Marlowe, capture the visual imagination? Draw a scene from the play and describe how the author’s imagery helps ‘paint’ the picture.

  3. Ghosts, magic, power, and the devil are all things that fascinate audiences. How does the author use out fascination with these things to capture the audience?

  4. Mephistopheles is one of the more interesting characters in the play, what did you think of him? Many people see him as a sort of con-man because he is capable of seducing Dr. Faustus and distracting him every time he is close to repenting. Do you agree or disagree? Who was your favorite character? Your Least?

  5. How does this play relate to the other plays and stories we have read thus far? Is there a common theme? If so what is it? Why do you think I made you read these plays and stories?

Group Work:

Reading: Read The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus.

Christopher Marlowe, the author, lived in a time of great transformation for Western Europe. New advances in science were overturning ancient ideas about astronomy and physics. The discovery of the Americas had transformed the European conception of the world. Increasingly available translations of classical texts were a powerful influence on English literature and art. Christian and pagan worldviews interacted with each other in rich and often paradoxical ways, and signs of that complicated interaction are present in many of Marlowe's works. England, having endured centuries of civil war, was in the middle of a long period of stability and peace.

Not least of the great changes of Marlowe's time was England's dramatic rise to world power. When Queen Elizabeth came to power in 1558, six years before Marlowe's birth, England was a weak and unstable nation. Torn by internal strife between Catholics and Protestants, an economy in tatters, and unstable leadership, England was vulnerable to invasion by her stronger rivals on the continent. By the time of Elizabeth's death in 1603, she had turned the weakling of Western Europe into a power of the first rank, poised to become the mightiest nation in the world. When the young Marlowe came to London looking to make a life in the theatre, England's capitol was an important center of trade, learning, and art. As time passed, the city's financial, intellectual, and artistic importance became still greater, as London continued its transformation from unremarkable center of a backwater nation to one of the world's most exciting metropolises. Drama was entering a golden age, to be crowned by the glory of Shakespeare. Marlowe was a great innovator of blank verse, unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter. The richness of his dramatic verse predates Shakespeare, and some argue that Shakespeare's achievements owed considerable debt to Marlowe's influence.

Doctor Faustus is a play of deep questions concerning morality, religion, and man's relationship to both. England was a Protestant country since the time of Queen Elizabeth I's father, Henry VIII. Although theological and doctrinal differences existed between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, the former still inherited a wealth of culture, thought and tradition from the latter. Christianity was a mix of divergent and often contradictory influences, including the religious traditions of the Near East, the heritage of classical Greco-Roman thought and institutions, mystery religions, and north European superstition and magic.

Sorcery and magic were part of widespread belief systems throughout Europe that predated Christianity. These early beliefs about magic were inextricable from folk medicine. Women in particular used a mix of magic and herbal medicine to treat common illnesses. But as Christianity spread and either assimilated or rejected other belief systems, practitioners of magic came to be viewed as evil. In the fifth century CE, St. Augustine, perhaps the most influential Christian thinker after St. Paul, pronounced all sorcery to be the work of evil spirits, to distinguish it from the good "magic" of Christian ritual and sacrament. The view of the sorcerer changed irrevocably. Magic was devil-worship, outside the framework of Church practice and belief, and those who practiced it were excommunicated and killed.

The Protestant Reformation did not include reform of this oppressive and violent practice. Yet magic continued to keep a hold on people's imaginations, and benign and ambiguous views of magic continued to exist in popular folklore. The conceptions of scholarship further complicated the picture, especially after the Renaissance. Scholars took into their studies subjects not considered scientific by today's standards: astrology, alchemy, and demonology. Some of these subjects blurred the lines between acceptable pursuit of knowledge and dangerous heresy.

As this new Christian folklore of sorcery evolved, certain motifs rose to prominence. Once Christ was rejected, a sorcerer could give his soul to the devil instead, receiving in exchange powers in this life, here and now. Numerous Christian stories feature such bargains, and one of the most famous evolved around the historical person Johannes Faustus, a German astrologer of the early sixteenth century. Marlowe took his plot from an earlier German play about Faustus, but he transformed an old story into a powerhouse of a work, one that has drawn widely different interpretations since its first production. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is first great version of the story, although not the last. In the nineteenth century, the great German writer Johann Wolfgang van Goethe gave the story its greatest incarnation in Faust. Faustus' name has become part of our language. "Faustian bargain" has come to mean a deal made for earthly gain at a high ethical and spiritual cost, or alternately any choice with short-lived benefits and a hell of a price.

Extension Exercise: Explore the history of the Faust myth. Was there a real Dr. Faustus? Is there any truth behind the myth? Use the internet to help guide your research. Include your answers in a short paragraph.

WEEK SEVEN: “We’re on a mission…”

Forum: Which do you think motivates people more, punishment or rewards? Support your ideas in a well-formed paragraph.

Forum (2): Which would motivate you more, fame or money? Why? Give real life examples to support your ideas that you've develop in a well-formed paragraph. Remember to respond to at least three classmates!

Group Work: Meet the other members of your team in the group forum.

Together answer these questions:

  1. What makes a person successful?

  2. What makes a team successful?

  3. What is more important… a part or the whole?

  4. Who is responsible for the team’s actions? The leader or the team?

  5. Who has more power, the team or the leader?

After coming up with answers that everyone can agree on, your team needs to:

  1. Come up with a name for the team

  2. Choose a mascot or icon for your team

  3. Come up with a theme for your group. The theme is a buzzword that describes what the mission statement is all about. It’s a buzzword that can go on shirts or can be used to ‘break the huddle’. The theme reminds you of and summarizes the team mission.

  4. Read the article “Are You On A Mission”

    1. Respond to the Key Questions in the forum, share at least three responses and respond to at least three classmates.

    2. Respond individually then share with the team,

    3. Find a newspaper article about a team

    4. Find a quote about teamwork
    5. Share with your team.

  5. As a group think of a world problem to solve (hypothetically or for real). After compiling a list of ten, narrow down your choices. As a team, you mission, should you choose to accept it (you don’t really have a choice…sorry…you already accepted it by taking this class) is to devise a plan to solve your chosen problem. Problems could be anything as complicated and serious as Global Warming and Poverty to as fun and exciting as why hot dogs come in packs of 10 but hot dog buns come in packs of 8. Together as a group:

    1. Divide the Project should be divided up into at least 5 steps or tasks

    2. Create a timeline for the project

    3. Create a supplies/ needed information list

    4. Create a list of groups or people who have attempted to solve a similar problem

    5. Write a paragraph explaining why the team made the decision it did and why you felt it was a problem worthy of solving

    6. Fill out the “Action Plan” work sheet and divvy up the responsibilities of the project.

*You will have TWO weeks to complete this task*

Reading: Take a look at the article, “Are You on a Mission”, after reading complete the assignment.

Assignment: Complete the following; responses should be at least 1-2 paragraphs:

  1. If you could become anything you wanted, or accomplish anything you wanted in life, what would it be? What can you do to make that happen? Are you doing it? Why or why not?
  2. Think of three things you would like to accomplish in the next several months. These must be things that are truly important to you and within your power to accomplish. For each one, describe in detail what you will need to do in order to succeed and lay out a plan for doing it (include deadlines). Now that you have these goals, work towards carrying out these plans.

  3. Write about a time when you succeeded at something because you made it a goal and committed to it. Describe what happened. How did it make you feel? What did you learn from your experience?

  4. Sometimes despite our best laid plans and efforts, we fail anyway. Write about a time when you tried to accomplish something but it came up short. Describe what happened. How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it? Did anything positive come from it?

Extension: Search online for the poem “Ode to a Mouse” by Robert Burns. After reading it and re-reading it (try reading it with a Scottish accent to grasp the sounding of the words better), what is the poem about? Do you agree with the poem? Do the best laid plans of mice and men go awry? To extend it further (and for extra points) think about the summer blockbuster, “The Dark Knight” how does the movie, the character of Batman, and this poem related to goal setting and decision making?

WEEK EIGHT: “Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!”

Forum: If you could go back in time and change one thing what would it be and why? Remember to respond to at least three of your classmates!

Assignment: Complete the following:

  • “Visualizing Goals” Handout

  • “Goal Setting Timeline” Activity

  • “What Would You Like to Accomplish in School” Worksheet

  • “What Is Our Mission and Why Is It Important” Worksheet

Assignment (2): Imagine that someday you will have children. Write letters of advice for them to read when they reach the age you are right now. Tell them about the goals you had at this age, and what those goals did for you. Tell them about taking risks- what kinds of risks are good to take, what kinds are not. Tell them how to deal with failure and disappointment so they won’t be discouraged when things don’t work out the way they want. Be sure to check out the proper format for a personal letter in the resource section! Letters should be about a page to a page and a half long typed.

Group Work: In addition to working on your projects, take a look at the following articles to help aid your development:

  • “Guidelines For Going on a Mission”

  • “How To Set Goals”

After reading these handouts, continue to work on your project, reporting your progress. The leader should determine who may need help and who could do more to make sure the project is done for the last face-to-face. As a team, brainstorm ways you could present your project to the others. Power Point, Poster, Rap, Play, etc.

Extension Exercise: Search online for the lyrics or your iPod Music Library for the Country Song, “Letter to Me” by brad Paisley. Write a short summary of the lyrics/song. How does it make you feel? What can be the benefits of writing a letter to one’s self?


Surveys: Fill out the 4 different personal surveys and the class survey.
Forum: Take a look back at your posts from the beginning of this course- would you change your answers for any of them, knowing what you know now?

Assignment (1): In a well developed short response, using quotes from classmates and the stories we read, who ultimately controls the future? How do revenge, power, greed, money, control, equality, justice, fairness, self-control, and fate play a role in the decisions we make? Responses should be at least one page in length double spaced.

Group Work: Apply the finishing touches to your project and decide on a way to present it at the face-to-face.


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