Student Series! Power to the People

Ancient Greece brought us the idea of a historian, advancements in mathematics, philosophical thought, theater, a courtroom with juries, Greek salad, and the Olympic games, but, democracy also has its roots in Ancient Greece. In 500 BCE, the idea of citizenship started in Ancient Greece, specifically Athens. In this political system, “ordinary” people play a more significant role in their city-state/country.


The Start of Democracy

In a time where tyrannies and monarchies were common, the idea of democracy wasn’t thought of for a while. Who would want to lose total power over their subjects anyway? Philosophy brought up the ideas of democracy in the city-state of Athens. The famous philosophers of the time asked questions of who should rule, how, and why? They eventually came to the conclusion that man should have the ability to rule himself, not be ruled by another man.

The Greek word dēmos is what the word we know as democracy derives from. Just like the origin of the word, democracy also has its roots in Ancient Greece. Now, the common man had a much more influential role in his life and the life of those around him, through his government. This was the time of individualism.

Plaque of the Ergastines which is part of the AP Art History 250!

Democracy in Athens

In Athens, citizens could vote, but there were certain requirements to citizenship. To be a citizen, you had to be a:

  • Free,
  • Native-born,
  • Adult (eighteen or older)
  • Male
  • Or have had free, native-born parents.

On top of meeting these requirements, the men who became citizens also had to complete education and two years of military training! Women, slaves, freed slaves, citizens of other city states, and children could not vote or become citizens no matter what. As you can see we define the word “citizen” very differently than the Ancient Athenians. Thank goodness!


Ancient Greece Democracy vs Modern Democracy

Citizens of Ancient Greece would vote on all laws, not on representatives to vote for us like we do today. There were meetings, called assemblies, where citizens would come to discuss and vote on laws. 40,000 citizens would be eligible to attend meetings at the assemblies that occurred forty times a year. At least 6,000 citizens were necessary for the assembly to occur. At these assemblies, the citizens would discuss magistrates, maintaining food supplies, military matters, and any other significant political issues that arose. And, like our modern democracy, almost any citizen had the opportunity to become a political head; however, the wealthier usually would win the political positions and have the most control at the assemblies

In Athens, officials were chosen by lottery, a completely random process. These officials would be in one of the three bodies of Ancient Grecian government:

  1. The Council (made up of 500 elected citizens). They oversaw day-to-day operations of the government and served in their position for a year.
  2. The Assembly was made up of all the citizens who showed up to vote
  3. The Court handled lawsuits and trials and is similar to our court system today with a jury and judge. The Court would handle private and public cases; private would require a jury of at least 201 people and public would require a jury of at least 501 people.

This really reminds me of our three branches of government as well: legislative, judicial, & executive!

• Brigitta, Schwulst. “Ancient Greece Government: How They Formed the Basis of our Systems.” udemy blog (blog). Published on April 10, 2014.
• Carr, Karen. “Government in Ancient Greece.” Study Guides. Published April 2016.
• Cartwright, Mark. “Greek Government.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Published on March 17, 2013.
“Ancient Greek Government.” Ducksters. Accessed on December 14, 2016.

TEMPLATE- Student Series!


#25. Lamassu from the citadel of Sargon II

So literally the lamassu are some of my favorites to teach in the Ancient World – I just think they are incredibly adorable and they are so much fun to teach! I’ve seen two sets of lamassu, in the Pergamon Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, so you might see different backgrounds in the images.

Art Historical Background

In the most basic of terms the lamassu are guardian statues for the king right at the entrance his throne room; in fancy terms they were thought to be apotropaic (capable of warding off evil). So that is their function (if you are thinking in the FFCC way). Their function necessitates certain aspects of their form: they need to be intimidating. As you can see from the photo below they were quiet large and would have been flanking the doorways.

One thing incorrect about their placement here, is that the lamassu would have been facing out at visitors, not facing each other. The museum probably rotated them to ease the passage of museum goers.

There are a few more aspects of the lamassu that make them intimidating besides their size; if you look closely you can see that they are a conglomerate of fierce beasts: lion paws (sometimes bull hooves), large wings, and the head of a stern-looking man with a horned helmet/crown. This mythical creature combines the best qualities of each: wisdom of humans, strength of a lion, flight of a bird, and horns = divinity.

I made sure to take some good detail shots below so you can really see how intricate these creatures are. And there are incredibly impressive in person!


Lastly, I love to point of this funny little detail that students typically overlook the first (and second) time they gaze upon the lamas. Let’s see if you can figure it out: what is WRONG with the picture below?

Do you see it? The lamassu has FIVE LEGS! Why would the lamas have five? Here’s the idea: so when you are facing the lamassu head-on, how any visitor would have seen them in situ, the two legs in the front are at a hard stop. These legs are tense and firm; clearing sending a “you shall not pass” message. However, once you “speak friend and enter,” and presumably a guard lets you in, the lamassu is now symbolically walking besides you. There is no other way to show the two front legs standing firm and four legs walking unless you add a fifth.

P.S. Yes, I use those subtle Lord of the Rings quotes when I teach this image. And I silently wait for the chuckles slowly ripple through my classroom. 🙂


Next time: #26. Athenian agora. Archaic through Hellenistic Greek. 600 BCE-150 CE. Plan.

TEMPLATE- AP Art History 250

Fall & Winter Travel Plans

I’ve got 3 fabulous trips planned to finish out 2017! Three very different trips and some new ways of traveling for me. 🙂


Weekend in Washington, D.C.

This October I am taking a day off work to travel up to D.C. to see a Vermeer exhibit with an old student of mine (very weird, I know but she is awesome and was a student of mine for 2 years!). It’s going to be such an art-filled weekend! This will actually be my first long weekend trip during the school year (crazy enough) and I’ve been exploring the idea of adding more of these to our year schedule, but its so hard being a teacher to take the time to get away during the school year.


Thanksgiving in Southern California

Will and I have been incredibly blessed to be able to combine travel and family over our week-long Thanksgiving break. Last year, it was New York and Cape Cod and this year we are visiting my aunt and Will’s cousin (& new baby!) in SoCal. Thankfully, we are avoiding LA at all costs! In 2012, my family did the “LA scene” so I am looking forward to seeing some of the secretes of the other areas. Will is looking forward to the beaches…of course.

FYI: this is me on a beach in Costa Rica during my honeymoon, not Mexco…close enough 🙂

New Years in Mexico

My aunt has a house on the beach in Mexico nearby Mérida, and my parents, grandmother, Will and I are jumping on the chance to spend a week after Christmas just slowing down on the beach. I am not really “planning” this trip, just made sure to note a couple of things that I HAVE to see/do and letting my Aba lead us around. I’m happy to be able to change up the pace a bit during this hectic time of year.

Let’s see what’s coming up for 2018!!!!


Student Series! Life in Pompeii

Pompeii was a lost city for many years. The remains of the city were discovered by an architect, Domenico Fontana, in the 16th century. Later on in 1997, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remains of this city are located nearby Naples, Italy.

Note: It’s an EASY day trip from Naples! I’ve been to Pompeii twice, summer and winter, and it was increadible each time.


So, what’s so special about this city? Well, in 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, causing volcanic ash to cover the city of Pompeii. The ash covered up the whole city, and Pompeii was completely erased from the map for centuries. The ash also froze the town creating molds of the people in their final moments. These molds show us what Pompeii’s society and everyday life looked like.

The Pompeians went to work right when the sun rise. Farmers began farming, marketers started working, and all the shops were opened and the streets became very busy of citizens. In the afternoon, they might relax after a long meal, go to the amphitheater, or some other entertainment. As the sun started setting they start headed back to their houses to have supper which normally consisted of olives and eggs, and if they were upper class, meat and fish. Ancient people usually ended up going to bed pretty early, by out standards, because the streets weren’t safe at night and there were no artificial lights besides candles.

The wealthy houses in Pompeii were often arranged around a courtyard and in order to get to their house, they would have to walk through a narrow street façade that had no windows and was very ordinary. The inside of their houses were highly decorated with mosaics and fantastical frescoes covering the walls (guess it made up for the lack of windows!)

Almost all well-to-do houses included:

  • 2-3 rooms
  • Small kitchen
  • A Basin- a place to store water
  • They cooked their food by putting a pot on tripods over burning wood or charcoal
  • Very few citizens owned ovens at this time so they had to go to a Baker to bake their bread
  • A living/family room (they used this room when they would eat and/or host company)
  • A garden full of useful plants in their courtyard

TEMPLATE- Student Series!

In Praise of the Egyptian Gods

This past year I did a new Egyptian gods project, shared with me by my fab co-Humanities teacher. It was such a great way to combine art, mythology, creativity, writing, AND presentation skills! To teach the Egyptian gods, I put the students in partners and each group was assigned a god they had to research. With their research, they create an artistic representation of the god based the Egyptian canon then they had to write a hymn to the god and then present it to the class.



The Visual God

The students had to follow the canon of art from Ancient Egypt  and were given dimension guidelines that their gods that to meet. They had to created a gridded sheet and draw their god meeting those dimensions. For example, we told the students their gods had to be at least 9″ tall with their waist at 1.5″ and shoulders 2.5″. They had to make a grid which each square measuring ½”.

After they drew their god, it was time to decorate! They had to follow conventions for how that god actually looked in Ancient Egyptian art but any material not part of the god’s body had to be from a material different from the gridded paper (i.e glitter, feathers, construction paper, tissue paper, fabric, etc.). They students REALLY got into this part and some of their gods are exquisite!

Read more Student Series! Egyptian Goddesses


The Hymn

In addition to the visual god, the students had to create a hymn to the god that explained aspects of the god’s protection/jurisdiction/role in Ancient Egyptian religion. They had to make the hymn 3 stanzas with 5 lines each and (obviously) could not copy an already existing hymn. Some of my students were incredibly clever with their rhymes and their explanation of the gods. They even wrote in some bad mouthing of other gods that were in competition with their deity. 🙂 These were hilarious! Here’s a sample of a great one:

Hail to you Anubis,
God of the afterlife, 
protector of the dead
with the body of a man
and a jackal for a head.
Wearing black to symbolize decay
punished those who offended the gods, the ones who betray.


After we are finished with the visual god and the hymn (about three 50-minute class periods) they had to present their god to the class and read out the hymn as the students jot down important notes about them. I told the students that they would see some of the gods appear again in the Book of the Dead activity so they needed to pay close attention.



Puja at the Hindu Temple Society of North America

We took a bus from the Union Theological Seminary to the Hindu Temple Society of North America out in Flushing, Queens. I get super car sick so most of this ride was spent trying NOT to look out the window. When we arrived we got treated to a yummy (but spicy!) meal in their cafeteria. Here’s a photo of my plate, but I quiet honestly can’t tell you what we ate. lol


So after our lunch we walked to the main temple space, had an informative group discussion with a board member, then a private tour of the shrine. No photos are allowed inside the space so I took a few outside to get the feeling of the location. One of the funniest signs for were the “coconut breaking” signs. We learned that coconuts are a common item to offer in a puja (ritual worship) and there are specific places to break them open before entering into the shrine.


As you can see from this last photo, once inside all shoes come off (we also did this in the Buddhist Temple and both the traditional and sufi mosques – the idea of sacred ground is common to all these religious traditions). Personally I love taking my shoes off, maybe it’s because I’m a Florida girl, but I feel so much more connected to my surroundings barefoot.

Read more: Student Series! A Hindu Union

They even provide little cubbies downstairs for your shoes. My shoes are on the bottom right – flip-flops all the way!

As I mentioned, there are no photos allowed inside so that we can preserve the sacredness of the space and the rituals within it. In Hindu belief, the statues are inhabited with the spirits of the gods, so the are so much more than just visual representations of deities. They are bathed, clothed, and ritualistically fed by the priests. This temple has about 25 deities, each deity with a different specialty and some worshipers feel more akin to one deity over another at different times in their lives. Although, theologically speaking, not the same as Catholic saints, there is certainly some parallels to be drawn (see my post about the catholic shine of the Bronx Lourdes). This image below is outside the temple, so it does not have the significance of the ones I described above but you can see the clothing and style that is also on of the deities inside the shrine.


Unlike some other houses of worship, there is no prescribed communal worship time. The main action in a Hindu temple is individual prayer and puja. When needed, the practitioners will come to perform a specific action to a deity for something they are asking for or thankful for in their lives. Luckily we got to see two different pujas while  there. I cannot tell you anything that was going on but there was chanting, incense, ghee, and a little cone people kept putting on their heads. I was trying to watch without being intrusive to their worship.

I loved walking around the temple, and as an AP Art History teacher, it really brought to life the Hindu temple and Shiva statue I teach. I’ve never been to India and the Metropolitan Museum is the closest I’ve gotten to seeing a Hindu god in person, so having the ability to see them in situ, in a worship site, really made me understand the Shiva as Nataraja much better.

This is at the Met Museum, not the temple.

After our group departed, I hung around alone a bit to walk in solitude in the shrine. I spent more time looking at the priests doing their daily tasks and the beauty of all the statues. Personally, I loved Saraswati, the goddess of music & knowledge.

Then on my way to the train station to visit my aunts for dinner, I popped into any other sacred spaces that let me in! Here are a few I saw on my walk:



P.S. I am not an expert in Hindu theology or practice and the little I know comes from study in college and teaching high school. If you see something incorrect here, please message me so I can fix it!

The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Religious Worlds institute.  For detailed information about the institute, see

TEMPLATE- General (1)

Student Series! Sacred Prostitution


Introduction to the Near East

The Near East describes the land stretching from Northern Africa to the Middle East. Mesopotamia, is a specific a region within the Near East, encompassed the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The map below depicts the geography of the ancient Near East..

Mesopotamian religion followed a pantheon of gods and goddesses that reflected the forces of nature. Important deities included Ishtar (Inanna), the goddess of war, love, fertility, and lust. The importance of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent was represented by fertility gods/goddesses. Temple priestess and sacred prostitutes were emblematic of these deities.


Temple Prostitutes

Temple prostitution, or sacred prostitution, refers to ritual sex used for religious purposes. Temple prostitution was common in the Near East. Both male and female prostitutes were active participants of ritual sex. High priestesses were believed to be the physical manifest of Ishtar, the Mesopotamian fertility goddess. Sacred prostitutes engaging in fertility rites encouraged the agricultural prosperity of the land, as they had the blessing of Ishtar. Payment for ritual sex was ceremonial, and complementary to the intercourse.

Read more: Teaching the Epic of Gilgamesh

A notable record of temple prostitution is the Epic of Gilgamesh. The holy prostitute, Shamhat, is sent by the god Shamash to seduce the wild man Enkidu. The priestess’s intercourse with Enkidu is an effort to civilize him.

Take a priestess, child of pleasure –
When he goes to the wells
He will embrace the priestess
And the wild beasts will reject him.
(Tablet One, Epic of Gilgamesh)

The Sacred Marriage

“Sacred marriage” refers to the ritual union of the gods, with human participants symbolizing deities. Historians believe that sexual intercourse was involved in sacred marriages in the Near East. Kings, representing the might and justice of Mesopotamian gods, coupled with high priestesses. Often, these high-ranking priestesses were symbols of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of love, war, fertility, and lust. Kings could validate their rule by solidifying their bond with the physical representation of the fertility goddess. These sacred marriages sought the blessing and appeasement of Inanna. Ritual sex was believed to bring agricultural prosperity to the reigning king’s city.
Stone carvings of Inanna show a naked goddess with curved hips and breasts. The roundness of her body suggests fertility, and the ability to conceive.


Semitic people of the Near East engaged in ritual sex to appease Ba’al, the god of fertility, weather, seasons, and wind. Both male and female prostitutes were engaged in ritual sex to encourage Ba’al to ensure favorable weather conditions necessary for agriculture.
In the stone relief above, the Ba’al is shown with horns and holds a plant. The horns show the importance of the domesticity of animals, like cattle and goats. The propensity of agriculture is mirrored in the plant held in his hand. Mesopotamian people would have been eager to please a god they believed was dynamic to farming.


Human Sexuality Today

In today’s Western civilization, sex is overshadowed by negative stigmas and stereotypes. In particular, the concept of women and sex are frowned upon. Women are shamed for promiscuity, despite the prevalence of intercourse in popular media and advertising. Though the access to pornography, sexual education, and suggestive ads has increased with the advent of the internet, human sexuality is not often addressed in modern Western civilization. Today, sex workers and prostitutes are not guaranteed safety or workers’ rights by the law.

In recent years, sex workers’ rights groups, like Amnesty International, The World Health Organization, and the Global Alliance in Trafficking Against Women, have fought to ensure the basic human rights of disadvantaged sex workers. Prostitutes and adult entertainers are often victims of abuse and human trafficking. These interest groups seek the decriminalization of prostitution, in the effort to guarantee sex workers’ protection under the law, property rights, and health care. Too often, the negative connotations associated with sex jeopardize the welfare and health of women around the world. Modern society can learn from the ancient worship and acceptance of intercourse as a natural aspect of life.

pinterest image:–the-harem-western-art.jpg

TEMPLATE- Student Series! (1)