One Appeal of Teaching is Learning from your Students

One of the appeals of teaching, at least for me, is the opportunity it gives me to learn from my students.

Take today for instance.

Students Presentations About Ancient Greece

My last class of the day was a “World History” class for a small group of 3rd year GSE (Global Studies in English) students who are the “elite” students at the women’s university where I teach all day on Fridays.

Today’s class was the last of three consecutive classes on the Ancient Greeks. All seven students had prepared Powerpoint presentations on different aspects of Ancient Greek culture which they were to present to the class in English.

Topics covered were:

  1. Greek Pottery
  2. Plato’s Cave
  3. Greek Theatre
  4. 3 Greek Goddesses (Hera, Athena, Aphrodite)
  5. Greek columns and the temples of the Acropolis
  6. The frescoes of Knossos
  7. Greek Myths and the Zodiac

I found all those topics, and the presentations the students gave, to be highly appealing. I was pleased with the effort they all put in to create interesting talks.

The Jealousy of Hera, Queen of the Gods

I especially enjoyed the presentations about the three Greek goddesses, and the myths of the zodiac. Both of those presentations touched upon the jealousy of the goddess Hera and her hatred for Hercules.

As I had never taught a class about Hercules or studied his labours, I was suddenly metamorphosized into a student and my students into teachers.

Here’s what I learned [NOTE: the bold text is what I learnt directly from the students, the rest comes from my own researches this evening.]:

The Birth of Hercules

Zeus, the king of the gods was married to Hera, the queen of the gods and goddess of marriage, family life and all that sort of thing.

Old Zeus, however, rather enjoyed illicit dalliances with the daughters of men, also known in some disreputable circles as “a bit on the side.” (This point was something I neglected to mention in the class.)

One such mortal who Zeus fancied was Alcmene, wife of some benighted bloke called Amphitryon.

Zeus appeared before Alcmene in the guise of her hubby and hopped into her unsuspecting bed.

Out of that union sprang our hero, Hercules, the heroic demi-god.

So, as the student who was giving a presentation about the three goddesses put it,

“Zeus has two wives” [Ahem, well, not quite, but let us gloss over that minor inaccuracy…]

and his (real) wife Hera, queen of the freaking gods, was not chuffed about his sleeping with this Alcmene bint, and tried to prevent the offspring from being born by getting one of her minions, Lucina the goddess of childbirth to keep Alcmene’s legs tightly together.

That ruse was foiled by a fib told by Alcmene’s maid Galanthis. The gallant Galanthis reported that the baby had already been born and Lucina let go of the legs in surprise, and what do you know, Hercules sprang out. Hera turned Galanthis into a weasil as punishment.

But the focus of Hera’s spite was really Hercules himself.

How Cancer the Crab Became a Constellation

In the presentation about the constellations, the student mentioned the labours of Hercules and how the constellation of Cancer is connected to the second labour of Hercules:

Hercules was sent to kill Hydra, but Hera, hating Hercules, called on a giant crab that lived nearby to attack Hercules as he was attempting to kill Hydra.

Hercules thought the best approach to getting the job done would be to lop off Hydra’s heads. But each time he lopped off a head two more would sprout from the gaping neck.

Meanwhile, the crab arrived on the scene and began to make merry with Hercules’ legs – I’m not sure how high up the legs the play of the crab’s pincers went, but I did wonder whether that could be the origin of the term “crabs” that designates an urgent irritation of the nether regions. It was not a question that I thought meet to put to the class, however.

Anyway, Hercules clobbered the crab and Hera rewarded it for its pains by putting it in the sky (as the constellation Cancer) next to the Nemian lion (Leo) which Hercules had strangled in his first labour.

So that is what I learnt from my students today, and padded out with some further research of my own over a refreshing beer or two this evening.

Cheers for now!

David Hurley



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