In ancient Greece, if you went to the gymnasium it wasn’t just for PE. You also practiced reading, writing, drawing and music. The gymnasium wasn’t what we think of today; it was the name for school, and it was just for boys.
The way kids learned in ancient Greece from 800 B.C. to 200 B.C. is one of the fascinating parts of “Gods, Myths and Mortals: Discover Ancient Greece,” an exhibition at Baltimore’s Port Discovery Children’s Museum through January 13.
The way mortals, or people, would live was pretty much determined when they were born. Boys who were born into wealthy families would go to the gymnasium. (Boys from poor families had to work.) At Port Discovery, boys and girls can practice drawing by tracing ancient Greek figures that appear on a light table. They can try the ancient sport of wrestling by arm-wrestling Greek athletes, whose wooden arms come out of a wall. (A series of lights goes on if you win.) And they can play a guessing game with a voice that’s supposed to be Aristotle, a famous Greek teacher.
Another area of the exhibition focuses on oikos (which means “home” in Greek), where girls learned different skills. Girls in wealthy families didn’t cook and clean — they had slaves for that — but they did make cloth. The exhibition has a replica of a loom, which was used to weave cloth. On a recent visit, Meredith Schatz, 7, from Baltimore, stayed at the loom for a half-hour, weaving pieces of material through the strings. There is also a video game in which the goddess Athena challenges visitors to a virtual weaving contest.
Life in ancient Greece also involved gods. The Greeks wrote stories to explain the world around them. These stories, or myths, often were about 12 characters with superhuman abilities. They became the gods of Mount Olympus. Zeus, for examples, was the god of the sky and the ruler of all the other gods. Poseidon, his brother, was the god of the sea. “Gods, Myths and Mortals” introduces visitors to these stories in a short History Channel video. You can then take a quiz with light-up pictures to test your knowledge.
One of the most fun aspects of the exhibition relates to a Greek myth in a story called “The Odyssey.” In the story, a carpenter builds a huge wooden horse for the Greeks, who were trying to conquer the city of Troy. Greek soldiers then climbed inside the hollowed-out horse, which was left outside the gates of Troy. The Trojans, unaware of the Greek plan, brought the massive statue into their city. At night, the Greek soldiers crawled out of the horse and unlocked the gates so the army could enter and take over the city.
Kids at Port Discovery get the chance to climb into a 13-foot tall model of the Trojan horse and peek out of its eyes. Unlike in ancient times, though, the museum has a heads-up if anyone tries to hide out overnight.