Children are fascinated by the Latin language. It helps them to understand where English words come from. Often, when introducing new vocabulary, the exclamation “That’s so cool!” can be heard. It’s heart-warming for a teacher to know that their pupils are interested and are enjoying their subject. What’s even better, though, is stunned silence. It’s the moment when children are so utterly spellbound and amazed that it takes a little while for the children to voice their astonishment. What do children find so amazing? Ancient Art.
When I introduced the Pylos Combat Agate (below) to a Ones class, it was met with a true sense of wonder and disbelief. The intricacy of the detail is extraordinary. We can see the muscles and veins of the warriors, and the detail of the cloth and weapons. Most amazingly, the stone is only 3.4cm in length. How could a human create this without specialised magnification equipment? The punch-line is, however, its date. Archaeologists believe that the engraving was created in approximately 1450 BCE, 1000 years before this type of art appears again, in Classical Greece. Consequently, this little stone has greatly influenced our understanding of the history and development of art.
The Pylos Combat Agate
A second piece which was met by a stunned audience, is the ancient statue of Laocoon and his two sons, in the process of being devoured by Poseidon’s sea serpents. This was his punishment for attempting to expose the ruse of the Trojan Horse. The statue is, like the Pylos Combat Agate, a masterpiece. Not only can we see, in intricate detail, the muscles, veins, and the look of horror upon the faces of the flailing trio, we can hear them, too. The contorted, twisted, writhing figures emanate desperate cries, as they are constricted and poisoned by the unrelenting force of the serpents. It is ironic that, while the father and sons are at the moment of their death, the sculptor has succeeded in bringing stone to life.
Laocoon and his two sons – dated to the early Roman Imperial period (27BC – AD70)
These two pieces highlight what human beings can do with very simple tools. They instil a sense of awe and wonder in whoever appreciates them, but especially children. It opens their eyes to what is possible, and gives them an insight into true human potential.