“In war, the first casualty is truth” – Agamemnon, Aeschylus

At Penguin Hall, our rich and rigorous curriculum gives students boundless opportunities to think critically, ask deep questions, and apply their knowledge in innovative ways. Penguin Hall’s interdisciplinary, inquiry-based curriculum allows students to be curious and engaged in relevant, meaningful discussions. Our World Humanities class taught to our 9th Graders by Dr. Trout, is a classic example of this interdisciplinary education where both History and Literature are interwoven. History is present in literary works. Literary works have the power to alter or influence history. Both possibilities are examined here in World Humanities, especially through a creative project!

Murder, scandal, war, vengeance—the perfect ingredients for a Greek tragedy and one play incorporates them all like no other: “The Oresteia” trilogy by the ancient Greek play write, Aeschylus.

The Oresteia” tells the story of the house of Atreaus and is divided into three plays. The first play, “Agamemnon“, portrays the victorious return of King Agamemnon from the Trojan War and his grim fate–murdered by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. This murder is vengeance for sacrificing their daughter, Iphigenia, for a favorable wind to sail to Troy. At the play’s end, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus rule over her dead husband’s kingdom, Argos.

After reading “Agamemnon“, together, students broke into groups for a creative assignment. to put their own spin on the tragic play and presented it in a totally different style. Projects ranged from a rap video to a reality TV show!

What do a rap and a Greek tragedy have in common? Rhythm and meter! That’s just what one group accomplished with their very own rap video: “Bloodshed.” This collaborative effort showed off students’ musical and dancing abilities as they described the tale of Agamemnon’s woeful choice to sacrifice his daughter. Students wrote their own lyrics, created their own beat and filmed the whole video themselves. And for Christelle B. ‘24, her first group project ever certainly paid off:

“It was so fun to do this whole process together!” she says. “Sarah came up with the idea, Jay made the beat and I helped, everyone worked on the lyrics and Ella choreographed it all! I hope there are more group projects in the future. We had so much fun!”

In the origins of Greek theater, a play was accompanied by a “chorus,” a group of actors who sang the narration of the play’s events in dithyrambs–lyric hymns in praise of the god of theater, Dionysus. Just like the choruses of old, students decided to update this tradition with their rap video. Christelle also noticed that creating the video was almost like taking a step back in time:

“It was so interesting to learn how plays were like that back then! When we first started reading this play, I honestly thought it was going to be boring, but I was hooked! It’s actually so interesting and I was totally shocked when we got to the end.”

There’s no doubt about it. As humans, we are captivated by drama. Even these Greek tragedies written a couple thousand years ago, still have us on the edge of our seats waiting to learn of the next plot twist.

What if the characters in Agamemnon were followed around by a camera crew like on the popular reality tv shows of today? Students in the second group brought that idea to life with “Keeping Up With the House of Atreus.” Honestly, the family drama in Greek tragedies almost rival the Kardashians!

With the aim of showing how these characters behave in their ordinary lives, the project gave a human-ness to the otherwise in-human acts of the play’s characters. It’s just Agamemnon up to his old tricks and Clytemnestra overreacting again!

Sarah B. ‘24 explains one of their key changes to the original texts–transforming the chorus:

“Originally, the lines of the chorus were often misogynistic and we didn’t care for them, which is why in our version we turned the chorus into sassy, old men, which made for a more fun reading experience!”

As the camera pans from each character, giggles can be heard as students hold back laughter. It’s clear that this isn’t an ordinary literature project. This is fun!

Going the more traditional route, students in both the third and fourth groups performed staged productions using Penguin Hall as their theater! From the height of the grand staircase, the chorus of Group 3 echoed throughout the halls of the murder of Agamemnon. However, no murder was actually depicted in this re-telling. Emma P. ‘24 explained the history behind depicting death in ancient theater:

“We decided to move Agamemnon’s death off stage because in ancient Greek theater, showing a murder simply wasn’t done. We wanted to stay true to some of the historical aspects of theater while still keeping true to our version.”

Meanwhile, Group 4’s  performance added more modern elements, replacing the death of Iphigenia on an altar with her death in a car accident and a chorus of old men with a chorus of nosy neighbors. Both Alicia B. and Olivia D. explained their choices:

“Instead of ancient Greece, we made the House of Atreus relocate to a suburb. Agamemnon gets his daughter killed in a drunk driving accident. The chorus that interrupts the narrative constantly made for great “nosy neighbors” who always want to know what’s going on!”

As you can see, the creative and innovative wheels of our students’ minds were certainly turning.

In the end, what’s the purpose of all of this? What’s the benefit of reading these ancient stories? What can we glean today from what was written 2,000 years ago? For Emma, it was a story of “balancing morals:”

“On the one hand, this play was absurd and sometimes hilarious, but when you really get into it, it’s full of moral lessons. There’s one scene at the end where both the goddess of justice and the goddess of ruin appear together. It’s all about balancing morality.”

Olivia and Alicia both agreed that the play “encouraged debate” among the students about which character was more moral than the other. What is literature for if not to encourage dialogue and conversation? And this open dialogue brought on one result that was the same in each group: the fun of a group project.

Each student this writer interviewed explained how this project brought them all closer together, encouraged conversations that wouldn’t normally happen otherwise and showed the power of teamwork with a final reward of one grand project! I suppose that’s why theater has stuck around for 2,000 years and why our students will remember this project for years to come!

Bloodshed
Christelle B., Sarah B., Mel F., Thea G., Fiona H., Jay H., Lily M., Yelianny R., Caroline V., Ella W.

Keeping Up with the House of Atreus
Bridget A., Sarah B., Valentina D., Alexis E., Ellie L., Kora L., Aymee M., Olivia M., Avery N., Tylor S., Ani S., Micaela T.

Staged Performances of “Agamemnon”

Group Three
Chloe B., Natalie D., Courtney F., Taylor G., Eliany G., Gwen H., Emma H., Alea J., Emma P., Grace R., Katie R., Erin W.

Group Four
Gigi A., Alicia B., Chloe B., Lindsay C., Ally C., Olivia D., Caitlin D., Lehna F., Gabby F., Chloe J., Mica T., Koa L.