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10 — A 21st-century adaptation of poetry from ancient Rome

The cover of 'Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses', retold by Adrian Mitchel and illustrated by Alan Lee, showing a minotaur leaning over a parapet

Cover of Shapeshifters: Tales From Ovid's Metamorphoses retold by Adrian Mitchell and illustrated by Alan Lee, Frances Lincoln Children's Books, London, 2009 reproduced with permission of Frances Lincoln Ltd © Frances Lincoln Ltd 2009.

This is the first of two sequences that explore the context of modern adaptations and representations of ancient Roman writing through the text Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

This sequence begins by focusing on an 18th-century translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and a 2008 adaptation of the same work, which students will use to discuss how translations of Ovid’s work are closely linked to the time in which they were produced.

Over the two learning sequences, students will then study the poems that comprise the four ages: gold, silver, bronze and iron, and reflect on the techniques the poet has used to appeal to his audience.

Introduction: What do you know about myths and legends; what do they look like today?

Ask the students to list creation stories, myths and legends they have heard of. What function do creation stories, myths and legends serve in society? Are they still relevant today? Why? How do we know about ancient creation stories, myths and legends? How are they handed down? Ask the students if they can think of a modern retelling of a creation story, myth or legend in the form of a book or film? (Suggestions include Troy, King Arthur, Thor, The Mummy, Aladdin and Whale Rider.) How did the author or film-maker make the story relevant for today’s audience? ACELA1528ACELT1619

Activity 1: How has ancient Roman poetry been translated and adapted for today's audience?

Tell the students that they will be studying a modern adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Metamorphoses is one of the most studied texts of all time and many famous authors (such as Shakespeare), artists and film-makers have been inspired by it in the production of their own works.

Read the Garth, Dryden et al. translation of ‘The golden age’ aloud to the students. Are they able to say what the poem is about? Why is it difficult to understand? What is strange or unusual about the language? Tell the students that this translation was made in 1717 and so represents language that is roughly 300 years old and, in some aspects, out of date. Read aloud Mitchell’s modern adaptation of ‘The golden age’. Ask the students to retell the poem in their own words. Was this translation easier to understand? Why? ACELA1528ACDSEH039ACDSEH131

Activity 2: Which poetic techniques have been used to appeal to today's audience?

Tell the students that the author re-wrote these poems to appeal to a young adult audience. Jointly or independently read the poem ‘Silver’ from Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ask the students to suggest what appealed to them. For example, which ideas and sounds had an effect on them. Next, ask the students to identify the techniques and poetry features the author has employed to appeal to his readership (for example, the use of modern terminology and language, comedy, rhyme, alliteration, assonance and imagery). Prompt the students if necessary, depending on the amount of experience students have with reading and interpreting poetry. Jointly highlight or underline the parts of the poem that demonstrate these techniques. Which techniques did the students find appealing and that made them want to read more? What was effective about these techniques? ACELT1623ACELT1805ACDSEH039

Activity 3: How do rhyme and rhythm affect a poem?

Read the last two poems in the series: ‘Bronze’ and ‘Iron’ from Shapeshifters: Tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Discuss how the rhyming scheme has changed in ‘Iron’. What effect does the use of rhyming couplets have? What effect does a stronger rhythmic structure have on the poem? Ask the students to read the couplets aloud in order to explore the poem’s sound effects. They may add some body percussion to emphasise the sound effects and enhance their performance. ACELT1623ACELT1805

Student reflective journal

Students should spend 5–10 minutes responding to the reflection questions for this sequence, either in written form or orally, and then assess their responses against the success criteria using the rubric provided.