Diorama Ideas for Greek Mythology

Roine Magnusson/Photodisc/Getty Images

Greek mythology offers a wealth of scenes to choose from if you're making a diorama. Greek myths recount the complicated interpersonal relations of the gods, the interactions between gods and mortals, and the Greeks' own stories of their beginning and the beginning of the world. Understanding a culture's mythology helps you understand how its people conceptualized themselves and their place in the world, just as the stories we like to tell about our own past betray our aspirations and worldview.

The Myth of Sisyphus

According to legend, Sisyphus was the founder and first king of the city-state of Corinth. At the end of Sisyphus' life, Hades, the god of the underworld, came to Corinth personally to collect Sisyphus. Sisyphus tricked Hades, and trapped him in a closet. With Hades out of the way, no one could die anymore. Finally, Hades got out and brought Sisyphus down to the underworld. Sisyphus, however, asked his wife not to give him a funeral. Once in the underworld, Sisyphus complained that because he hadn't been given a proper burial, he couldn't enter the land of the dead. He got off on a technicality, and was allowed to return to the world to arrange his funeral. Sisyphus forgot all about the funeral and just went on living. When the gods caught up to him, they condemned him to an eternal punishment. Sisyphus was made to roll a massive boulder up a hill. But every time the boulder reaches the top, it rolls back down again.

In his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," Albert Camus took the Sisyphus story to be a metaphor for the human condition: an unending, futile struggle to come to terms with the incomprehensibility of the world. Camus claims that the struggle itself is the point, and ends with the lines: "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Try carving a hill out of packing foam, and making a papier-mâché boulder. Use an action figure or some other kind of doll for Sisyphus. Try showing him pushing the boulder up the hill, or walking back down after it, considering his fate.

Prometheus Bound

The story of Prometheus is most famously told in Aeschylus' tragedy "Prometheus Bound." Prometheus was a titan, a relative of the gods, who stole the secret of fire from the gods and gave it to man. Fire made men powerful and independent, so the jealous Zeus, king of the gods, ordered Prometheus to be chained to a boulder. Every day an eagle would eat Prometheus' liver, and every night his liver would grow back for the next day's feeding. Eventually, Hercules killed the eagle and freed Prometheus.

There are several scenes in the Prometheus story that would make a good diorama. Consider the scene of the eagle eating Prometheus' liver, or Prometheus giving man fire, which is symbolic of knowledge and civilization.

Leda and the Swan

According to the myth, Zeus came to Leda, queen of Sparta, in the form of a swan and seduced her. Zeus was constantly raping or seducing mortal women, as in the stories of Io, Europa or Hercules' mother Alcmene. After sleeping with both Zeus and her husband Tyndareus, Leda laid eggs from which her children hatched. From one of the eggs hatched the twins Castor and Pollux, who would go on to become mythological heroes in their own right, and from the other hatched Helen and Clytemnestra. Helen and Pollux were the children of Zeus, and Castor and Clytemnestra were the children of Tyndareus. Helen became queen of Sparta, and married her brother-in-law Menelaus. The Trojan War kicked off when Paris, prince of Troy, kidnapped Helen and brought her home to Troy. Clytemnestra married Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and high king of all the Greeks. When Agamemnon got home from the Trojan War, Clytemnestra killed him in the bath in revenge for Agamemnon sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia.

The scene of Leda and the swan appears on Greco-Roman art, and is a common theme in Western art, especially painting.