I have been reading through my journals and blog entries lately because I have the idea of writing a short autobiography to give my adult kid. It’s really an excuse to read through decades of memories, now that I have the time.

My students used to read an abridged version of the Trojan War in sixth grade English, and by the eighth or ninth time I had taught it, I knew it by heart. I got the Reading Teacher to take over teaching it in 2011 so I could teach some other things.

One day when the Reading teacher was out and the Internet was down, I had to sub for her but couldn’t use her lesson plan depending on online access, so instead, I gave the following talk, illustrating it on the whiteboard as I spoke and announcing, “There will be a quiz” before I started.

Zeus had a son, Tantalus, who cooked and served his son Pelops to the gods.  They realized it and condemned Tantalus to Hades where he was up to his neck in water that drained away when he tried to drink, with a bunch of grapes that pulled itself away when he tried to eat.  The gods brought Pelops back to life, and Pelops killed Hippodamia’s father in order to marry Hippodamia.  Pelops and Hippodamia had two children, Thyestes and Atreus.  Atreus married Aerope, but Thyestes had an affair with Aerope, so Atreus killed and cooked Thyestes’ two sons and served them up.  Thyestes vowed vengeance and ran away with his daughter Pelopia, having a son, Aegisthus, by her.  Don’t forget Aegisthus.  Pelops also had a sister, Niobe, who bragged that her seven sons and seven daughters were REALLY SPECIAL, so the gods turned her into a WEEPING ROCK.  MEANWHILE, Atreus and Aerope had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus.

And MEANWHILE, Zeus had an affair with Leda while he was pretending to be a swan, and though she was married to Tyndareus, Leda laid two eggs, each of which hatched to produce twins:  Castor and Pollux, and Helen and Clytemnestra.

WHEREUPON (imagine me drawing lines and arrows and family trees) Menelaus married Helen, who was his great-great-grandfather’s daughter.  Agamemnon married Helen’s sister Clytemnestra, and had three children:  Iphigenia, Orestes, and Electra.  Helen ran away with Paris, and Agamemnon and Menelaus went after her.  On the way, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the gods so he could have a fair wind.  Ten years passed, during which Paris died and Helen married somebody else.

AND MEANWHILE, Aegisthus (remember him?) was having an affair with Clytemnestra, who was SERIOUSLY ANNOYED with Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter.  In other words, she was fooling around with her husband’s cousin because her husband killed their daughter. 

The war ends.  Agamemnon brings home Cassandra, the sister of Paris, the guy who stole his brother’s wife.  Cassandra is condemned to always know the future and never be believed, so she’s all like BLOOD DEATH DESPAIR DON’T GO IN THAT HOUSE, but nobody listens.  Clytemnestra welcomes Agamemnon with open arms, draws him a bath, takes his armor and his sword, and HACKS HIM TO DEATH IN THE BATHTUB.  She does Cassandra in while she’s at it.  And Orestes, who was out of town, comes home and KILLS HIS MOTHER.  AND GOES BONKERS.  And Helen and Menelaus live happily ever after. 


As you might imagine, this talk, which takes about five minutes at high speed without an audience, takes fifteen with an audience because of the cries of “Wait.  That’s not right!” and “No!” and the feverish attempts of some of the students to slow me down so they can take notes.  By the end of it, the class is pretty raucous and they have gained a new appreciation of all things Ancient Greek because, as someone said today, the story is better than “Jersey Shore.” 

6 thoughts on “THERE WILL BE A QUIZ

  1. Heather Marshall Jacobsen says:

    I came upon a thing on the Internet, not long ago, that suggested “A Florida Man” and “In the Old Testament” were delightfully interchangeable. I think your comparison is even more wonderful! (And, Happy Birthday!)

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