This is year one in our four year chronological history cycle. That means we just finished studying ancient history. My dialectic or middle grade students were assigned to write an historically based short story instead of a final exam. I don’t believe a multiple choice test accurately demonstrates understanding of history. But writing an essay or a detailed story using the information they have learned requires not only an understanding of what they read, but increases the chances that those parts of history they studied do not get dumped out of short term memory to be forever lost. And that is because the students will write about what interested them. My students wrote on Greece, Egypt, and Rome.
The results of the history assignment were charming. I have three different stories from three difficult cultures in ancient history, for you and your children to enjoy. If you have an elementary school student, assign them these fun historical fiction pieces to read. They will learn about the customs, food, dress, and culture of the ancient world, while being entertained!
Our first story is based upon a Greek myth. Before Helen of Troy (who was actually a Spartan) was lured away by Paris, and the Trojan War fought over her, she had been kidnapped by Theseus, the aging king of Athens, for a bride. This story, by Summer Kazim, is a re-telling of that myth. Let’s head to ancient Greece.
Muffled footsteps cut across the grass as two figures glided in the moonless night. If you looked closely you could see they had the frame of women, but were dressed in men’s tunics.
“Helen why are you doing this?!” questioned Phaedra.
You could clearly see they were women now, as they moved closer to the dimly light temple.
“Because,” Helen replied, “I can do whatever I want, and frankly, I’m bored.”
“No, you’re foolish! You receive a mysterious unmarked letter telling you to be at the Temple of Apollo at midnight, dressed in a man’s clothes by yourself, and you decide to go, not to mention you’re the most beautiful woman around, and the future queen! It’s just plain old foolish. ”
Helen sighed. “Please! Stop being so dramatic! I brought you, so I’m not alone, and who would want to harm two young women wandering at midnight on a completely moonless night?”
Phaedra just raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes. “We’re here.” She said nervously.
“So, the future queen decided to show up, did she?”
The girls whirled around to the direction of the voice, but they could see nothing. “Brought company have you?” It was the voice of a young man, but every syllable was painfully drawn out, so as to disguise the speaker’s voice.
“We’re n-not af-fraid of y-you” Phaedra said, voice trembling.
“Ha!” scoffed the man, with distain in his voice. “Oh, really, you’re not?” he laughed again.
Helen stepped forward, “Who are you? Why are we here? Why did you want to meet us?”
She questioned, as her eyes scanned the temple courtyard for the intruder.
“Well” began the voice “I know why you’re here, but as for your friend, I’m afraid she knows too much already, so she’ll have to come along.”
“Come where?” asked Phaedra nervously as she gripped tighter to the jet black tunic of Helen. Helen grabbed Phaedra’s hand and whispered something. They began backing away, when suddenly they bumped into something,
“What would two little pretties like you be doin’ wandering around the temple so late?”
Helen turned slowly around, and saw two enormous Spartan guards, looking down at her.
“Sorry boys, not tonight, I’ve got unfinished business with these two.”
It was the young man again, for the first time; he was in enough light to be seen clearly. He seemed about 25, with light red hair, and green eyes.
Helen spluttered, in utter shock.
“Oh yes, Helen it’s me.” The man, Theseus was wandering closer. “You know, I actually believed you loved me Helen. Of course I was a fool, but thought we might have a future Helen.”
Helen was silently sobbing. “You know I had no choice, Theseus.” She cried, through streams of tears. Theseus looked up to the Spartan guards who were watching, dumb founded. Theseus tossed them a few golden coins.
“Keep this quiet, would you boys?” He drawled, “Because if you don’t, I will find out, understand?”
He remarked, as he flashed a hidden dagger, from under his cloak. The guards nodded, and left swiftly, pocketing the coins as they turned.
He turned back to Helen. “Just tell me why I wasn’t good enough? Was it me? Or was it my city, Athens? Never mind that now though. Back to business. You girls can either come quietly.”
He motioned to the chariot that had pulled up a few moments before,” or you can come the hard way.” He held up two sacks and the hilt of his sword. Helen glanced at Phaedra, and then nodded, and they both climbed on to the chariot.
“Why are you doing this, Theseus?” Helen’s question was answered by silence. “Why?”
“Who’s the other one?” a gruff voice interjected. “You promised you wouldn’t ask questions, Pirithous.”
“Yes, but you promised we were only kidnapping one girl.”
“I had to improvise. Besides, its Helen’s fault. I told her to come alone.”
“You didn’t tell me anything!” interjected Helen.
“Quiet!” barked Theseus.
All was silent, except for the horses breathing, and galloping, and the two girls, being that it was after midnight, and they had had a long evening, soon drifted off to a light slumber.
Helen opened her eyes, and looked around. She poked Phaedra in the arm to rouse her. Phaedra opened her eyes and looked around confusedly. Suddenly she remembered. Last night. “Oh!’ Phaedra cried. “I had hoped it was all a bad dream”
“Good, you’re awake.” Helen turned to face Theseus, and smacked him in the face. Hard.
“Why did you come back?” yelled Helen angrily.
“Why did you leave?” he shot back.
“I had no choice.” She was close to crying, and wanted desperately to go home, and forget all of this.
“No choice? You, the daughter of Jupiter, had no choice?” he laughed bitterly.
“Please, Theseus, don’t pretend like you loved me for anything but my beauty, and heritage.” She shook her head and said, “I won’t be staying long, you’ll see” she said, thinking of her brothers, Castor and Pollux.
“You’ll be staying for as long as I want you to stay, Helen.” Theseus turned and walked up the ornate marble stair case, his footsteps resounding around him
“Well” Pirithous said, “I’ll get a maid to show you to your room.”
A few hours later, the girls heard a knock on the door, and a servant entered, handed them a note and exited, leaving them alone again. Helen read it aloud, “Dinner for women is at 6 o’clock, be in the banquet hall by 5:30. Signed, Theseus.”
A few minutes before the prescribed time, the girls set out to find the banquet hall, dressed in plain white robes that had been waiting in the room when they got there. Helen wore an ornate golden band around her head, which Theseus had left in the room for her. Helen was the divine picture of beauty, youth, and grace. Her soft golden hair had a slight curl that bounced lightly when she walked, and some people even said, that when she smiled everything got a shade lighter. She had a slender face, with defined cheek bones. Her eyes were radiant, almost the exact same color as the sky on a cloudless day.
When Helen and Phaedra reached the hall, Theseus was waiting.
“Helen,” he remarked, “Normally we would eat separately, but we have much to discuss, so you will eat with me to-night.”
Helen could smell roast pig and lots of herbs wafting from the kitchen. She nodded at Theseus and started towards the table which already had quail eggs, asparagus, honey cakes, legume soup, and a pitcher of aged wine, all set out so lavishly, it almost made her not want to eat it.
She sighed and sat down thinking about home, and how she missed it. Her daydreams were interrupted by Theseus clearing his throat and saying, “We will wed in a fortnight, Helen. But first I must journey to Hades for a short while. This is your home until then, so I suggest you make yourself as comfortable as possible.”
Adapted from the Helen of Troy myths. Read the original Helen and Theseus myth to find out what happened!
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