School Visit Pre-Visit Activity Looking at Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes

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J. Paul Getty Museum Education Department
School Visit Pre-Visit Activity
Looking at Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes

Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes worksheet

The ancient Greeks believed that their lives were ruled by fate or destiny. They created myths, or stories, to explain how fate controls what happens in all sorts of situations. Myths talk about fantastical animals, amazing events, and gods, goddesses, and heroes. Many describe the early “history” of a place or thing, and sometimes they explore serious problems like anger, earthquakes, jealousy, and death. Long ago, myths were told out loud. Later, writers and poets wrote them down, and artists made pictures and sculptures to help people imagine the various characters in the stories. There are twelve main gods and goddesses—all related to one another and living together on Mount Olympus—whose exciting and sometimes violent lives are told in Greek myths. Many other gods and goddesses also appear in these stories. The Romans adopted a lot of the Greek myths, but they used different names for the characters. Thus, the gods, goddesses, and heroes in myths are known by two names, one Greek and another Roman. For example, the Greeks called the king of the gods and goddesses Zeus, but the Romans called him Jupiter.

Zeus / Jupiter

Zeus, the king of the gods and goddesses, was known to the Romans as Jupiter. He ruled on Mount Olympus, where all the deities lived. Zeus also controlled the sky and weather and was the god of order and justice. He was famous for his love affairs with both deities and ordinary humans. Disloyal to his wife, Hera, Zeus liked to turn his body into different forms to attract other women. He appeared to a king’s wife, Leda, as a swan and to a beautiful young woman, Europa, as a bull. Works of art often show Zeus as a bearded man with a thunderbolt or eagle nearby.

Aphrodite / Venus

Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was known to the Romans as Venus. There are different stories about how she was born. In one version, Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus; in another, she was born from seafoam. She loved many men but is best known for falling in love with the handsome Adonis after Cupid’s arrow struck her. Aphrodite appears in works of art more often than any other god or goddess, many times with doves, swans, a shell, or dolphins nearby. In Greek art, she is shown wearing clothes and is usually the main character in scenes with other gods and goddesses, or she is alone with her son, Cupid. Images of Aphrodite without clothes became popular in Roman times.

Herakles / Hercules

The Greek hero Herakles was known to the Romans as Hercules. He was famous for his amazing strength and courage. In ancient art, this hero is often shown performing one of his twelve great labors. Herakles had married Megara, a royal princess, but he killed her and their children in a fit of madness. As punishment for this terrible deed, he became the servant of the king Eurystheus, who made Herakles perform twelve nearly impossible labors. Herakles was able to accomplish each one. One of his most famous labors was his battle with the Nemean lion, and so one often finds a lionskin in works of art that show Herakles. The young Herakles is usually shown performing some feat of strength.

Activity Questions

Look at two works of art that show the same subject—Zeus, Aphrodite, or Herakles. Using the images and the description you read about your character, answer the following questions:

Which details from the written description are shown in each image?
How are the images similar? Different? Make a list of five similarities and five differences.
Why might the two images of the same god, goddess, or hero have these differences? What different parts of the character’s personality or deeds might the artist be trying to show?
Using what you learned about your god, goddess, or hero, make up a story with him or her as the central character. Write your story down using about half a page.

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