This activity requires no preparation other than attendance at the Live in HD transmission of Akhnaten.
- To review students’ understanding of Akhnaten
- To encourage students’ creative responses to the Live in HD transmission
- To foster students’ critical thinking about history and how we understand the past
COMMON CORE STANDARDS
Compare and contrast a fictional portrayal of a time, place, or character and a historical account of the same period as a means of understanding how authors of fiction use or alter history.
Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Students will enjoy starting the class with an open discussion of the Met performance. What did they like? What didn’t they like? Did anything surprise them? What would they like to see or hear again? This discussion should be an opportunity for students to review their performance activity sheets and express their thoughts about the visual design of the Met production, the singers’ performances, and Akhnaten’s music and story. The following questions may facilitate this discussion:
- Who (or what) do you think the jugglers represent? Are they characters who take part in the opera’s story? Are they external to the story? Something else?
- Did the production look old? Did it evoke an ancient world? Why or why not?
- What do you think it symbolizes when the jugglers all drop their balls in Act III?
- At the very end of the opera, as Akhnaten’s body is prepared for burial and his soul prepares to make its journey to the land of the dead, he gets dressed in a way that is reminiscent of how he got dressed for his coronation. Why do you think the director, Phelim McDermott, made this choice?
Akhnaten: Past, Present, and Future
Invite your students to engage in a thought experiment. Imagine that an archaeologist 3,500 years in the future is investigating the ruins of our society. Then ask your students to consider:
- What might this archaeologist find? What kinds of artifacts from our society would survive for several millennia?
- How might the archaeologist interpret these artifacts? For instance, if they found an iPhone, what might they think it was?
- What would these artifacts tell them about our society?
Now ask your students to think about a civilization that is 3,500 years old (like Akhnaten’s). Based on the brainstorming your students did above, do they think we can ever fully understand a culture that existed many millennia ago? What might make it hard for us to comprehend life in ancient Egypt?
For teachers who want to explore this thought experiment more fully, the list below includes three additional resources:
Macauley, David. Motel of the Mysteries. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.
Macauley’s satire tells the story of an archaeological study on the North American continent. As we read, we discover that the archaeologists are from the future, the civilization they are studying is our own, and the “tomb” they are eagerly excavating is nothing more than a sleezy motel room. The archaeologists’ analysis of the room’s contents is comical (a bathtub is interpreted as a sarcophagus, the water taps as ancient musical instruments), yet behind the humor is a cautionary message: Our interpretation of the past is always clouded by our own priorities and assumptions. Many of the plot points are modeled after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.
For an accessible analysis of the book’s satire by Alyssa Rosenberg, click here.
Mascort, Maite. “Close Call: How Howard Carter Almost Missed King Tut’s Tomb.” In National Geographic History Magazine, April 12, 2018.
For this accessible history, complete with excellent photographs, of the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, click here.
Mendelsohn, Daniel. “Deep Frieze: What does the Parthenon mean?” In The New Yorker, April 7, 2014.
An overview of how scholars and tourists have understood the Greek Parthenon over the years, this article begins by imagining how archaeologists 2500 years in the future might interpret the World Trade Center memorial and the new skyscraper (“One World Trade Center”) that towers over it. Click here to read more.