Introducing the classics

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By Jerome Monahan – freelance writer and workshop provider

From Ancient Greek poetry to Shakespeare – we provide ways to engage children with classic texts through drama

For 20 years I have been helping children and young people to explore and enjoy classic literature. It is a quest that has come to include everything from Grimms’ Fairy Tales to Beowulf, Shakespeare’s life and works to The Canterbury Tales. My conviction is that you cannot start giving children a taste of these rich literary landscapes (‘realms of gold’, Keats called them) early enough and despite the challenges they undoubtedly pose; a mix of drama and play can make them highly accessible and memorable – and, most importantly, a launch pad for children’s own creativity.

Greek columns

What is chaos?

Ask the children what they think the word chaos means. Once they’ve discussed it, tell them that the Ancient Greeks used the term chaos to describe the nothingness they believe existed before the universe was created.

The Roman poet, Ovid, wrote a wonderful description of what he thought chaos was. His description mostly focused on what chaos lacked or did not allow; for example ‘No sun was lighted up’. This is a translation by poets such as John Dryden (17th century).

1. Nor yet was Earth suspended in the sky,
2. Nor seas about the shores their arms had thrown;
3. A lump…Of jarring seeds; and justly Chaos nam’d.
4. No sun was lighted up, the world to view;
5. And soft with hard, and light with heavy mixt.
6. And water’s dark abyss (was) unnavigable
7. One was the face of Nature; if a face: / Rather a rude and indigested mass:
8. A lifeless lump, unfashion’d, and unfram’d,
9. But earth, and air, and water, were in one.
10. Thus air was void of light, and earth unstable,
11. All were confus’d, and each disturb’d the rest.

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