A Lesson on Contemporizing Classics with "After the Ascent, Ganymede"



In this lesson students will:

  • Identify the elements of the original myth of Ganymede
  • Analyze the modern context of the myth
  • Write a poem based on their favorite character from an old tale



Myths and folklore are the bedrock of many poems—whether through one small reference in a poem or an entire poem or book of poems dedicated to the retelling of a certain myth! Myths appeal to poets since they often distill larger truths into compact stories. And Greek myths, especially, offer poets stories to jump off from that many of their readers will be familiar with. Taking those tales and reimagining them is a powerful way to add context to a modern problem or question that a poet is trying to answer. Even Shakespeare made use of this strategy: Romeo and Juliet is a retelling of Pyramus and Thisbē, a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (which, though it is our oldest surviving version of this myth, was itself a retelling).


Encountering the Poem

  1. Read the poem aloud.
  2. Provide some context for the myth of Ganymede. Invite any students in the class already familiar with the myth to share their knowledge or simply have students read the Wikipedia page.
  3. Have a student read the poem aloud again.
  4. Identify the key moments in the poem that relate directly to the story of Ganymede.
  5. Ask students: Where is Ganymede now? What are his struggles? His successes?
  6. Discuss (possibly in small groups) what the modern context adds to Ganymede’s story. How does it expand his character? How does it help us relate to his character? Why might the poet have chosen this story as a frame for her own?


Writing Prompt

Write a poem based on a very old story. Some places to start: What was your favorite fairy tale growing up? Was there a myth that had one element that always bothered you or seemed incomplete? Is there a name you’ve heard that you think is maybe related to some larger story but you aren’t sure what it is? Look up the details of this story and start imagining this character as they would appear today. Are they a student? A barista? Do they have a job? Think about how these new circumstances would affect their old problems.


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