Teaching Ancient History With Star Trek
If you think the idea of using Star Trek episodes to teach history sounds odd, you’re right. Let’s face it: while it is a fabulous genre, and one of my favorite TV shows of all time, it’s not exactly famous for its historical accuracy. But wait. How do you know that? I’ll tell you how. Because you’ve studied history and can pick out the flaws, and that’s a great skill to have, one that we need to pass on to our children. So, as you read these next few entries, you will come across times when I suggest challenging your youngsters to “find the mistake” which, let’s face it, kids love to do.
Then again, there are certain episodes that challenge our thinking about historical events. There make for great conversation starters and can even lead to more research, debate, etc. How great is that?
Best of all, some episodes are just plain fun and make great introductions into period, event, or series of events. With history, getting the student interested is often half the battle.
So, lock your phasers on stun, prepare to beam up…
To Boldly Go…Into Ancient History
One of the unique things about “Star Trek: The Original Series,” is that it takes much of its inspiration from the ancient world, and particularly mythology. Hands down the best of the three episodes we are looking at today is “Bread and Circuses”: “not the sun up in the sky; the Son of God.” One of the best lines ever. “Plato’s Stepchildren” is interesting because it makes a great introduction to the ego-centric view of ancient Greece and challenges us to consider what it was like for Christians in a world where handicapped infants were left to die and conquered people became slaves. Of course, “Who Mourns for Adonais” is a nice little introduction to the world of the Greek myth, including how capricious the gods were portrayed to be.
Who Mourns for Adonais
Episode Summary: Kirk and a landing party beam down to a planet inhabited by the Greek God Adonis.
When to Watch: Before beginning a study of mythology.
- Golden Age of Greece
Questions and Activities
- Read up about one of the gods or goddesses mentioned.
- Kirk says, “We have no need for gods. We find the One quite adequate.” What would it be like to believe in multiple gods instead of one?
- How would worshipping a god who is no better behaved than you are affect your own sense of morality?
- Pretend you are a first century Christian and explain the differences between the God you worship and Apollo.
- What Apollo was able to do with his “powers,” Kirk and the crew was able to overcome with technology. How has the expansion of technology over the past 100 years changed man’s understanding of God?
Adonis is spelled differently in the title than in traditional spelling.
Episode Summary: Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a planet inhabited by telepathic followers of Plato.
When to Watch: Sometime during your study of Plato.
Questions and Activities
- Who was Plato? Was Spock right when he said, “Plato wanted truth, and beauty, and above all, justice.”? Elaborate.
- What would have happened to someone like Alexander born in the real Ancient Greece?
- Who was Pericles? Was his shield an appropriate gift for Kirk?
- Who was Hippocrates? What were some of his cures?
- Is justice as the will of a stronger mind any better than justice as the will of a stronger body?
- Where did Kirk’s quote that begins “Being your slave what should I do” come from? Find the rest of it and copy it.
The kiss between Kirk and Uhura was the first inter-racial kiss on television and caused quite a stir at the time.
Bread and Circuses
Episode Summary: Kirk and Spock beam down to a planet that is just like 1st century Rome, except with 20th century technology.
When to Watch: Anytime during a study of the First Century Church.
Questions and Activities
Note: Whenever appropriate, back up your answers with Scripture.
- If you’ve never seen the episode before now, when did you come to realize which “Son” they meant? What tipped you off?
- How are modern reality shows or boxing and wrestling matches similar to the gladiator matches portrayed? How are they different? What can this tell us about ourselves compared to those who sat in the collegiums?
- Was it OK for Sextus to fight to defend himself? Why or why not?
- Do you think the way the Romans and the Christians each treated the crew is indicative of how each might have received strangers in their mindset?
- Was there an office of First Citizen in first century Rome? What about Pro-counsel? Who held the office?
- “Death becomes a familiar pattern.” How does this explain the barbaric behavior of the ancient Romans toward the people they conquered?
- How were the weapons used by Spock and McCoy similar to those actually used in ancient Rome? How were they different?
- Spock speculates that Christianity will replace the Roman Empire on this planet, too. How did that happen on earth?
Trivia: The destroyed ship, the S. S. Beagle would have been named for Darwin’s ship. Don’t miss Flavius’ sundial wristwatch.
Written by guest poster, Susan Mathis. Susan is proud to be the homeschooling mom of three and wife of one. One of her favorite resources is paperstarter.com.