For the past few years I’ve been having a wonderful time teaching drama at my kids’ elementary school. I am a big fan of exposing them to the best playwright out there, the Bard himself, so each year they’ve performed one or two Shakespeare plays, which I have abridged and edited to make them more kid-friendly. The kids have performed beautifully each year–and they love the stories the plays tell. This year they are studying ancient civilizations, and so it seemed appropriate to diverge from Shakespeare to do a little Greek Theater. I’ve been having such a blast re-writing The Iliad for the upper elementary class that I just had to share a little bit of it here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!
Homer’s The Iliad (abridged for 9-12 year olds)
Chorus: Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles, the murderous and doomed warrior who cost the Greeks countless deaths and losses. Begin our story not with the abduction of fair Helen from Menelaus, but in the middle of the war, with the clash of brilliant Achilles and strong Agamemnon, the leader of Greeks and men.
(The Greek army is lounging onstage.)
Achilles: We’ve been waiting in this cursed field for days, Patroklus, killed not in battle and with honor, but by the bright god Apollo’s arrows of sickness and death. Our campaign is lost, we should sail home if we can and escape this deathly plague.
Patroklus: Haven’t you heard, cousin Achilles? Agamemnon’s slave girl Chryseis is the daughter of a priest of Apollo. The bright god of the sun will not relent until she is returned to her father, but Agamemnon refuses.
Achilles: Agamemnon, why do you wait? Do you care about your warriors or only your prizes? Return this girl to her father so we may end this waiting and get back where we belong—onto the battlefield with the Trojans!
(The warriors cheer)
Agamemnon: Stop! I will not give up my prize! The girl is mine. Why should I alone have to give up my treasure? It would be a disgrace! What about you, brave Achilles? I will return my prize if you will you give me the treasures you have won in exchange.
Achilles: You greedy, grasping dog! You would take back the rewards you have already given out? You are shameless!
Agamemnon: Look who is selfish and greedy now! Look men, Achilles would keep his slave girl rather than protect his fellow warriors, follow his king, and fight the Trojans.
Achilles: (drawing his sword) You coward!
(Agamemnon draws his sword to fight, but Athena enters, freezing everyone where they stand. She touches Achilles and he unfreezes to talk to her.)
Athena: No Achilles, do not fight Agamemnon now. Hera, queen of the gods sent me to stop your fury. She loves you and Agamemnon both. Hold back your sword and someday we promise glittering gifts will be yours.
Achilles: I must obey the goddess, although my heart breaks with fury. (Athena leaves, the rest unfreeze.) Agamemnon, king who devours his own people, you are no king of mine. The Trojans have done nothing to me. You may take my treasures, but hear me now: I will fight for you no longer, you dog. Someday you will beg for brave Achilles in your army!
(Agamemnon gloats and all exit except Achilles.)
Achilles: (Crying with rage) Thetis! Mother goddess! I know my life is destined to be short, but am I to be without honor as well!
Thetis: My child, I saw it all from my seat on Mt. Olympus, what can I do?
Achilles: Mother, you alone of all the immortals have a claim on Zeus, the lord of the storm clouds, go to him now and ask him to avenge my disgrace. Ask him to help the Trojans defeat that pig Agamemnon.
Thetis: O my son, my sorrow, you who are doomed to a short life, and now filled with heartbreak too. I will go now to Zeus who loves the lightning and persuade him. But you, you stay here with your ships, away from the fighting where it is safe.
(They embrace and both exit)
(Zeus is onstage. Thetis enters)
Thetis: Zeus, great father Zeus! If ever I served you well in the past, please honor my son Achilles now. Agamemnon, the lord of men, has disgraced him. But you, you can exalt him, great Olympian, your urgings rule the world! Come, grant the Trojans victory after victory, until the Greek armies pay my son back, giving him the honor he deserves!
Zeus: O Thetis, this is disaster! You will drive me to war with my wife Hera, who loves the Greeks. She harries me perpetually with her shrill abuse. I cannot do as you ask.
Thetis: You know, Zeus, that I alone came to your aid when the Titans tried to chain you down. No other Olympian would risk the wrath of Cronus. But I came, I risked my immortal life to help you escape. Please, greatest and most honored of the gods, help me now.
Zeus: Very well. I will bring it all to pass as you have asked. I will help the Trojans defeat the Greeks. I say it and it shall be done! . . . But away with you now, or Hera might catch us here.
(Thetis exits. Hera enters.)
Hera: So, my treacherous husband, with which of the gods or goddesses were you hatching plans this time? You always settle things your own way when my back is turned, and never choose to share your plans with me. Oh no!
Zeus: Maddening wife, you and your eternal suspicions. I can never escape you. I will share my plans with you when I am ready. Just stay out of the fighting between the Greeks and the Trojans. Now do as I say and leave me alone!
Hera: Very well, I will leave you alone. But I am a goddess, and I will not follow anyone’s orders. I shall help my favorites as I please.
(End of Scene 2)