Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mingling the Muses with the Graces

I shall not stop

mingling the Muses with the Graces -

sweetest of connections.

I could not live without music,

I could not be without crowns of praise.

Yes I am old

but I'll sing forth Memory,

sing forth Herakles' beautiful victory

with wine and lyres and flutes and song -

I will not stop singing

the Muses who set me dancing.

from Euripides' Herakles as translated by Ann Carson

Last Tuesday we visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art to explore the intriguing stories of Greek Mythology through sculpture, tapestry, artifact and painting. After the last fiasco and an email from our guide, asking if we would perhaps prefer the Exploring Art tour instead, I was very leery. Would this be another lazy, unfocused wandering through history?

My reservations were happily dashed when we arrived at the newly completed Ruth and Harold Uris Center for Education. They celebrated the opening only a week before and it is wonderful. This place is highly organized. We were greeted by our two docents, a sign language interpreter and the museum/school coordinator and after a few do's and dont's were on our way.

As we walked through the labyrinth of statues the children pointed and giggled at the naked men and women carved out of marble and stone. This happens every year and to be honest I have to chuckle at their reactions. At this point our guide usually explains that long ago clothes weren't the fashion and that the body was considered a thing of beauty which keeps the giggles to a minimum, somewhat.

My memories can't help but take me back to my last first grade class and how they simply devoured the stories from Greek mythology. As we began this tour I felt the loss of those kids and their unbridled enthusiasm. My present class in general is very young (sweet, naive) and my initial feeling was that these stories, with their tales of murder, temptation and revenge, would be too much for them to handle. But as the tour progressed I got the sense that these little darlings had a taste for dramatic encounters with beasts and otherworldly shenanigans.

The big draw this time was the story of Hercules with his many trials and near impossible tasks to complete. Our guide was most impressed with her young charges - the connections they made, their capacity to remember all that she explained and their on target questions.

This continued as she spun the tale of Diana and Actaeon from the late 17th-early 18th century wool and silk tapestry, and molded the story of Perseus, Medusa and Andromeda through the glorious sculptures. It was these stories that captured the imaginations of our students last year and it seems to have done the trick again with my wide eyed students. I was somewhat jealous that they were getting to hear these stories for the first time, with all the inherent magic and awe inspiring details.

As our tour reached its conclusion our tour guide, Ina, once again congratulated the students on their enthusiasm and focus and bid us goodbye. And we were off to the playground at 84th and Fifth to eat lunch and run around.

Several days later I got a call from the office that we had a visitor - someone from the museum. Lauren and I were at a loss as to who this could be. As we were pondering this, our guide Ina came around the corner smiling and carrying a large envelope. We welcomed her into our classroom and introduced her once again to the children. She had come to give us some materials about interesting programs at the museum. This was so sweet as she had already given us a book on Greek Mythology and free family passes for every student. She also gave me a postcard showing the "Leon Levy and Shelby White Court with statue of youthful Hercules" and a handwritten note...

We have another tour scheduled for January 8, 2008 and I am hoping that Ina will once again show us around. On our next visit we will 'Explore Art' and sketch a variety of objects in the museum. For more information go to and scroll down to "Read All About It!" to view and print out family guides before you visit.


Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Great shots. It reminds me of the line in The Light in the Piazza: "That is a totally NAKED statue!"

ciara said...

shoot, i'm jealous, too! i would have loved to be on that field trip seeing all the statues, listening to the stories, and seeing the kids' faces. i've never been into an art museum before..sad, isn't it? but i sooo want to :)

MONA said...

what a wonderful trip that must have been.

The head of Medusa looks scary!

& suerly the kids love you a lot. Look at all those birthday cards! & hand drawn too!

kimy said...

crossing my fingers that ina is your guide in january....what a thoughtful and sweet docent!

wonderful to hear that you are making sure your class mingles with the muses!

lettuce said...

what a great visit. I bet Ina enjoys her work way more than your previous guide.

Dumdad said...


Thanks for your good spot on purple prose - I've answered your query.

Reya Mellicker said...

Sounds like a perfect outing! I find museums exhausting unless I somehow find the perfect balance between not enough and too much. And the Met is so packed full of so many things, it's always hard to err on the side of "not enough."

I wonder if this makes any sense?

Anyway I'm so happy you had such a great tour.

Gary said...

Ladron de Basura - Exactly. It had that same tone to it.

Ciara - Hey, it is never too late to experience an art museum - you have many wonders in store.

Mona - Yes, this trip was chock full o' fun. The second half, lunch in the park, is worthy of another blog post but enough is enough. I love the head of Medusa. She looks kinda shocked to me, which I find amusing.

Kimy - Isn't 'mingling with the muses' such a great image?

Lettuce - It really shows when folks enjoy what they are doing. And being a docent is done on a voluntary basis. Go figure.

Dumdad - Thanks for clearing that up. Now I'll know when I am being insulted.

Reya - I know you are not a big fan of The Metropolitan Museum of Art but it is okay for us to have differing opinions once in a while. As long as we agree on the big stuff, like how adorable Jake is.

WAT said...

Oh Greek mythology! I loved studying it so back in my elementary school days! Wait till these kiddies grow up and find out about the rampant pederasty and homosexuality that existed during those Greek days. WHOA!

If ya haven't shown them "Clash of the Titans" yet, that would be a great little movie to show them. One of my childhood favs!

Gary said...

WAT - Clash of the Titans rocks!!!!!!!! I love that movie. I did show parts of it to my students last year. They loved the whole Medusa scene and the skeleton fight. God, I love teaching.


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