The Far Reaches of Greek Culture

In what ways did ancient Greek culture influence the development of Western thought and culture


Key Staff

History Teacher

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving


This lesson is designed to help students shape a frame of reference for examining specific areas of ancient Greek influence on Western thought and culture. The lesson addresses some general questions about the shaping of culture and reacquaints students with the range and some specifics of the enormously rich heritage of ancient Greece.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Recognize diverse forces that help shape and/or change cultural fabric, patterns, and tone.
  • Collect specific data on a range of ancient Greek names, places, and concepts that are deeply embedded in modern Western culture.
  • Examine and demonstrate a grasp of a range of root sources in ancient Greek culture develop a creative response that reflects understanding of ancient Greek sources researched.

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discussion
  • Direct Instruction

Assessment Type

Alternative Assessment


Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

This lesson is intended to help students identify and understand specific areas of Western thought and culture that were predominantly shaped by Greek ideas.

The following links may help to provide some background information:

Prior Student Knowledge

Basic history of ancient Greece

Physical Space



  • Small Group Instruction
  • Large Group Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Introduce the word "ethos." Share a dictionary definition of ethos, for instance: "the spirit of a people, a civilization or a system as expressed in its culture, institutions, ways of thought, philosophy and religion," and/or "the distinguishing character or tone of a group."

2. Initiate a two-part classroom discussion in which you pose the following questions to students. You may refer to the Teacher Discussion Guide for possible answers.

  • Define some specific ways the ethos (i.e.: cultural "spirit," "character," or "tone") of a people, civilization, or system might be revealed.
  • What forces help shape and sustain cultural attitudes, habits, values, institutional designs, concepts of morality, roles, and rituals?

3. Introduce the words "syncretism" and "syncretize". Share a dictionary definition, for instance:

  • "The reconciliation or union of conflicting beliefs or tenets."
  • "To fuse or harmonize conflicting principles and/or practices (for instance, rituals, forms of faith; fusion of languages)."
  • "The process of growth through the coalescence of different beliefs, attitudes, and practices."

4. Ask students to draw from their knowledge of history to identify examples of how such fusion changed or reshaped the "ethos" of a culture.

Build Knowledge

1. Ask students to give examples of specific cultural realignments brought about through the infusion of a conflicting ideology or the cultural impact of conquering or being conquered. Explain that ancient Greek culture, as we know it, grew out of such a synthesis process, made cohesive in our perception of it through the written manuscripts, the architectural wonders, the sculptures, and the rich, provocative discoveries of artifacts uncovered in generations of archeological digs.

Refer to the Teacher’s Discussion Guide, located in the Resource Carousel, for possible answers.

2. Explain to students that the primary mission in the following activities is to broaden and deepen their understanding of the far-reaching influence of ancient Greece on modern Western thought and culture by examining some of the powerful sources that have strongly embedded this Ancient Greek influence.

3. Share the following assertion with students:

Although segments of Western culture have been modified through such forces as syncretism and many surface aspects have changed throughout historical time, the incredibly wide and deep roots of Ancient Greece still prevail as a key foundation and bulwark of modern Western thought and culture.

Explain that students will work as "research scholars," in essence as "detectives" searching for "clues" to uncover specific evidence of the nature and scope of this influence. They will be searching for specific evidence of ancient Greek influence on such areas of modern life as:

  • Concepts of government and law.
  • Postures on such issues as morality, metaphysics, behavioral models, and social patterns.
  • Theories of logic, science, medicine, math, education.
  • The nature and value of sports; patterns of rhetoric, of the heroic and the well-lived life.
  • Inspirational designs in architecture and the arts, a rich heritage of formal literature.
  • Music theory and musical instruments.
  • Inspiration for dance; and the origin and nature of the compelling narratives and provocative images of myths and legends threaded throughout all genres of modern arts expression.

Students will then conduct independent research or work in small groups to research and document the influence of Greek culture on the area of modern life they have chosen.


1. Parcel out the names on the Reference List, located in the Resource Carousel, to students.

2. Explain that each student has the responsibility of developing a brief but clearly stated written identification of each name on his or her segment of the lists and that this information is to be shared in large group format.

3. Divide the class into collaborative groups of three. Assign each group one of the suggested topics from the Research Topics worksheet, located in the Resource Carousel. Clarify that each group has the responsibility of:

  • Researching the topic in both print and Web media.
  • Collecting a good range of specific information.
  • Organizing the information into sub-topics. (Consider suggesting that students divide out the responsibility for the sub-topics.)
  • Preparing a written analysis of the topic.
  • Incorporating the sub-topics into the analysis.
  • Giving a brief oral class presentation.
  • Preparing some sort of graphic display (poster board display, drawing) that helps to illuminate the points made in the oral presentation.


Suggestions for Culminating Activities:

Assign students to develop a creative writing response (poem, vignette of prose, short story, vignette of dialogue) based on the following guidelines:

  1. Select a source(s) from the lists of Deities and/or Heroes and "Celebrated Greeks" in Assignment 1.
  2. Make a brief preliminary sketch of an event, a personality trait, an anecdote, or an imaginative situation in which your chosen source(s) is the centerpiece.
  3. Use this sketch as the springboard for developing your creative writing response in the genre of your choice. For example:
    • an interior monologue—in poem or prose genre—in which Atlas laments his plight of having the burden of supporting the sky on his head and hands or the world on his back
    • an angry argument between Hera and Zeus initiated by her jealous fit over Zeus’ latest "conquest"
    • a festival scene, celebrating Dionysus, developed from the point of view of an objective observer, or with dialogue of participants in the festival
    • the examining of an abstract subject such as: Truth, Friendship, Beauty, etc. crafted in the pattern of a Socratic dialogue (This would require student to research an excerpt from Plato that contained an example of Socrates’ pattern of inquiry - but such research is a manageable task.)
    • a prose vignette, poem, or dialogue that captures Socrates’ thinking and/or conversation with friends the evening in which he drinks the hemlock
    • a conversation between Aristotle and Plato on the nature of the Universe
    • an Ode in tribute to Apollo, Poseidon, Athena, Heracles, or Epicurus
    • an anecdotal account of your personal encounter with one of the gods - perhaps an "intervention" in a "dilemma" you are caught up in

  4. Consider assembling the ancient Greece creative writing manuscripts into a "publication." Encourage students interested in art to contribute sketches that complement and/or illuminate the theme or narrative.
  5. Students interested in music composition might consider developing a music score (to be included in the “publication”) that could serve as background music for one or more of the manuscripts. A score adaptable for a flute would be a particularly enriching contribution.
  6. A "travelogue" type account, rich in specific detail, of a visit to the Parthenon. This could be an imaginary visit, or the account of an actual visit a student might have made to Greece
  7. An interior monologue revealing the inner emotions or thoughts of one of the key figures involved in the events of the Trojan War: for instance, Achilles, Helen of Troy, Agamemnon, Hector, Paris, Priam
  8. A hypothetical visit to the Oracle at Delphi, chronicling the reason the "visitor" is seeking a prophecy and the emotional context of the "visitor" when he/she receives the prophecy
  9. A specific description of walking through the "stacks" of the great library in Alexandria before it burned (what kind of reading material would one have found, the nature of the architecture, etc.); or a subjective account of the trauma felt at the loss as the library is burning
  10. A spoof of a dialogue between a "humanist" of Athens and a military figure” of Sparta
  11. Description of a battleground scene in the Peloponnesian War
  12. Description of a classroom scene (physical environment; personalities of a few of the students, etc.) in which Plato is explaining his concept of two worlds—the "ideal" and the "real" worlds , based on excerpts from Plato’s Phaedo (Note: this would involve some extra research if the student has not encountered the theory before, but it would be time well spent as a base for other areas of study such as Puritanism, Romanticism.)
  13. An incident where the Fates seem to have intervened in your personal life
  14. A personal account of having bonded with one of the Muses through dance, music, etc.
  15. an account of your personal struggle (or that of a hypothetical or political figure) between your "Apollonian" side and your "Dionysian" side. (Consider reminding students that the themes and narratives of much of the world’s greatest literature grow out this struggle.)
  16. The inner thoughts of an athlete preparing for the games at one of the Panhellenic festivals
  17. An observer’s first person account of some aspect of the pentathlon contest at the ancient Olympic games


Students should demonstrate:
  • Substantive contributions to class discussion, reflecting serious dedication in follow-through of assignments
  • Range and depth of analysis in content of oral presentation
  • Quality of organization, rhetorical skill, and poise in oral presentation
  • Quality of creative thinking and evidence of serious effort in creative writing response
  • Serious and productive engagement in all class activities, including listening, note-taking, sharing, and required formal responses
  • Evidence of serious and cooperative participation in research and collaborative assignments (A student-generated peer evaluation rubric for small group collaborative assignments perhaps could be helpful.)

Consider announcing that an identification quiz on the lists will follow the sharing of information.

(Note: The "quiz" could be traditional or could be set up as a "game show" quiz. The "game" could be in large group format or in divided groups. A "scorekeeper" could be assigned in each of the groups. The group that got the most "right" answers in a first quick try at identifying the names would win the "trophy.")


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
Visual Arts

Grade 9-12 Visual Arts Standard 4: Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

National Standards in Other Subjects

Geography Standard 10: Understands the nature and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics

World History

World History Standard 8: Understands how Aegean civilization emerged and how interrelations developed among peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia from 600 to 200 BCE



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

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