Various Viewpoints of Humanity’s First Woman – Pandora

June 22, 2022 by Essay Writer

Introduction

The myth of Pandora, as seen in Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, has accumulated significant-interest for centuries, considering her infrequent appearances in Ancient Greece mythology. Pandora generates several questions regarding womankind, the identity of a woman, her impacts on society (both positive and negative) and the complexity of such a beautiful and dynamic creation. The way in which Pandora is analyzed and explained, illustrates an image of all women, thus revealing the importance of this discussion. To demonstrate this signifigance thoroughly, this essay will compare three different approaches from various sources, when looking at Pandora’s myth and how that approach impacts the perceptions of womankind.

Firstly, this essay will briefly review the story of Pandora to ensure that there is a consistent understanding of the myth itself. Following that, this essay will investigate Frederick J. Teggart’s more classical work, which is from a more surface-level, very explicit translations of Hesiod’s work. This analysis will discuss the punishment that Pandora is to mankind, while also considering what an interpretation such as this has on the image of women in society. Next, this essay will look at Jean-Pierre Vernant and Froma Zeitlin’s Semblances of Pandora: Imitation and Identity, which looks at the identity of Pandora and specifically her physical attributes that contribute to her character, which risks overlooking the value and importance of women in society. Lastly, this essay will look at Vered Lev Kenaan’s feminist take on Pandora’s narrative. Her book, Pandora’s Senses: The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text, looks at Pandora’s character through a feminist lens to convey an unconventional understanding of Pandora that goes beyond the simplistic and traditional views of the myth.

Summary of Pandora

Before this essay gets into the details of Pandora, it is vital that there is a brief summary, to ensure that the myth is understood at a common level. According to the Oxford Companion to World Mythology, the basis of the myth goes as follows: The Titan Prometheus stole fire to give to the human population against the orders of the high God Zeus (The Oxford Companion). The latter was angry by this act of disobedience and got revenge not only at Prometheus but also at mankind (The Oxford Companion). Through an extensive process of crafting and decorating, the Gods (including Hephaistos, Athena, Aphrodite and Hermes) with Zeus’s instructions, created Pandora. She was made out of clay, a beautiful creation to serve as the first woman, functioning as a ‘gift’ to avenge Zeus and his orders, that were disobeyed by Prometheus (The Oxford Companion). Zeus gave Pandora to Prometheus’s brother, Epimetheus, who accepted the gift against his brother’s orders, in which he explicitly said to not accept anything from the Gods (The Oxford Companion). The Gods gave Pandora a box, and her nature of curiosity led her to open it, releasing all the evils that have haunted humanity ever since that day, including disease, conflict, toil and hate, while the only thing that remained in the box was hope. (The Oxford Companion).

Classical Perspective

When looking at a more classical and straight-forward perspective of Pandora, this essay will examine Frederick J. Teggart’s The Argument of Hesiod’s Works and Days. The author explores a perspective that is a simple interpretation of Hesiod’s work, seeing Pandora, and ultimately womankind in a negative fashion. For instance, this article emphasizes how women are the “deadly race” and an “evil thing” for men because they bring grief and they make toil inevitable (Teggart 47-48). Essentially, in a very simplistic ‘cause and effect’ perspective, because Pandora opened her box and all the evils of the world were released, she, and women in general, are said to be the curse of mankind. Teggart displays this viewpoint by concluding that the “evil thing devised by Zeus, wherein men would rejoice, was the woman herself” and the result of the “action of the woman is the prevalence of countless ills, and especially of diseases” (49).

Additionally, Teggart emphasizes how men are now faced with the ultimate dilemma of life, they cannot live with women because of the hardship of toil and disease they bring, but they also cannot live without women because men do not want to be alone when they grow old (47). Teggart interprets Hesiod’s writings of Pandora in a way that illustrates women as the “drone of the hive,” essentially while the man puts himself through extreme labour, (brought on him by women), his wife stays home and simply reaps the benefits of the man’s struggles (Teggart 47); Teggart then emphasizes how with his wife, the man will find evil contenting with good (47). The ‘good’ being that he will not die “alone and helpless,” essentially giving women the role of keeping her husband company so he does not suffer in old age (Teggart, 47). Therefore, demonstrating the struggle that the man (representing the men of all society) faces because he cannot win, either way he will suffer with women in the world (Teggart, 48).

This specific aspect of Teggart’s interpretation is completely inaccurate and objectifying to women, as it essentially says that women are only in the world for the purpose of man, and even with that, they are considered an unnecessary curse (47). The man is selfish to say that women merely ‘sit at home and reap the benefits,’ as he does not know what the woman is doing at home with the children, as she is not only alive to simply keep him company in old age; she has her own life, her own desires, her own purpose on this earth, that is more than serving a man. According to Teggart’s interpretation of Hesiod, the world was peaceful and harmonious before women were introduced, and once women entered the narrative men were now caught in this constant struggle of losing (47). The problem with interpretations such as this, is that it reinforces an image of women that is troublesome, problematic and inferior to men. These are the type of narratives that reinforce stereotypes, and ultimately entrench a superior-inferior relationship between men and women.

Although this context is easily visible through Hesiod’s work, it overlooks the part that male characters has in the actual creation of Pandora: If Prometheus would not have stolen the fire, and if Zeus would not have retaliated, Pandora would not have been constructed, thus showing that it was man who sparked the creation of Pandora, and without that spark, the evils that Pandora brought would not have been triggered. The patriarchy runs through the veins of Teggart’s article and therefore the role man had, is of course overlooked, which again reiterates how this classical interpretation is only a vehicle to reinforce women in a negative context.

Identity Perspective

The second source this essay will look at is an article by Jean-Pierre Vernant and Froma Zeitlin, called Semblances of Pandora: Imitation and Identity. This article is mainly focused on the physical attribute that makes Pandora the character that she is, and it also looks at how her identity impacts the myth and the interpretation of women. For instance, the authors of this article capitalizes on the idea that she is intricately and beautifully constructed to be admired and gazed upon, for she is a creation of the Gods (Vernant, Zeitlin 407). Her beauty is infinite, as those who look at Pandora, whether mortal or immortal, see her as a marvel, “whose force of attraction stuns the spectator” (Vernant, Zeitlin 407). This idea also includes the physical qualities that covers her skin, including her white dress, her very-detailed veil, and jewelry, including her golden necklace and crown. These ‘accessories’ are an “extension of her body, they work in the same way she does,” the authors explain (Vernant, Zeitlin 411). This is a particularly interesting idea as these objects are demonstrating an attribute about human nature; thus, showing that fabricated objects with no real meaning are also seen as a source of beauty and worthiness. This is not a positive characteristic of human-nature, as society often values someone based off the things they own, rather than their beauty as a person. Pandora is seen as more valuable because of the accessories on her body (although this is not to undermine the beauty that Pandora actually does possess because of her Godly origin, as mentioned above).

This interpretation is much more thoughtful and attempts to see Pandora through a lens of grace and beauty (Vernant, Zeitlin 407). This is a considerable step towards a more accurate depiction of women, as there is an effort to read Hesiod’s work in a manner that does not offend women and equate them to disaster. Although, a critique of this work is that it discounts women to only their physical attributes. In other words, this article only sees Pandora and women in general, for their physical beauty rather than their inner beauty and concrete supplement they bring to the world of man. This interpretation is an improvement from the last source that this essay looked at, but it ultimately is still denying women of their full value.

Feminist Perspective

In Vered Lev Kenaan’s interpretation of Hesiod’s Pandora the reader gets an unconventional version of the myth, through the utilization of a feminist lens, in an attempt to see Pandora and women in society for their entire worth. One of the ways that Kenaan does this is by looking at Pandora’s importance through her relationship to the Goddess of love, sexuality, beauty, and femininity, Aphrodite. As the author explains, although Aphrodite did not have a direct role in the actual construction of Pandora (to be clear, she was apart of the process by showering her with grace, but she was not the God who physically constructed Pandora), there are significant similarities and a vital connection between the two impactful women (Kennan 30). Although many times overlooked, their “shared features show that, on a semantic level at least, Pandora is a direct descendant of Aphrodite” (Kennan 30). This is because they are both youthful and defined by their beauty, and most interestingly, they share a common characteristic of the sexuality of women, rather than the motherly figure (Kennan 30). As Kennan explains, Pandora acts as the link between the divinity herself, Aphrodite, and womankind, in two ways (30). The first way is through her entrance into the world, as a symbol of both sexuality and femininity; and second as a “model of all women, defining the essence of the feminine existence” which had not existed before Pandora (Kennan 30). This demonstrates the importance of Pandora in an unconventional way, as she can be interpreted as the human counterpart to the Goddess Aphrodite, who together, they establish the genealogy of the feminine race. Therefore, Pandora holds a vital role in the growth of the phenomenological world, which is much more significant and complex than her traditional depiction and her physical beauty (Kennan 30).

Another way that Kennan displays Pandora in a more enlightening and feminist sense is by representing her as the spark that initiated individuality and heterogeneity (17). As implied through Hesiod, Kennan says that the world was a “generic crowd of males [who] remained nameless and wholly unspecified” (17). Essentially, there was no differentiation among the humans that walked the earth, and therefore no specific definition of the creature of man, due to the evident lack of comparison (Kennan 17). Then with the introduction of Pandora, she not only introduced women to the world, she also brought with her a sense of what man is; or as Keenan explains, Pandora brought “the very dimension of difference into a homogeneous regime of sameness” (17). Thus, showing just how impactful women are to society in general, not only do they bring a definition of self, they bring a sense of clarity to others around them. Despite the image that is displayed by a classical interpretation, Pandora’s arrival plays an essential role in the creation of the universe as we know it today (Kennan 17). This role in the construction of heterogeneity creates a sense of individuality and diversity on the earth; it allows not only for a sense of physical identity for women (as Vernant and Zeitlin explained), it allows a strict polarization in the entities of man and women. Additionally, it is also vital to note the importance that individuality has on a micro-level, as this psychological feature brings a sense of purpose and worthiness to humankind on a person-to-person basis, that was presumably missing before Pandora arrived. This feminist interpretation comes from an in-depth and complex analysis of Hesiod’s work, with the ultimate purpose of seeing women for their genuine worth in the world.

Although this interpretation is appropriately displaying women for their proper worth, critics may argue that this is an unnatural extension of Hesiod’s work, implying that this was not the true intentions of his writing. This is a valid argument as during this era, women were not regarded with high value, thus it could be argued that Hesiod did not intentionally write Pandora with such significance. But Hesiod’s work is simple, yet remarkably complex, which allows for various perspectives of analysis (Kennan 21). Therefore, the feminist section above is not suggesting that the more classical and physical-identity perspectives be forgotten or disregarded, as they pose a valuable parallel between how women were viewed in Greek society and how Pandora was viewed as problematic and/or valuable only for her physical beauty. Though it is suggesting that interpretations, such as the feminist one given above, also be included in the narrative, to glorify the importance of Pandora, and more importantly of womankind altogether.

Impact on Society

The importance of analyzing different interpretations of a myth, are not only significant because they ultimately create a foundation for which the reader perceives the works of that particular author, but they also create an implicit outline for which the world functions. In other words, the narratives that are told, are not only based on societal norms that are present, (for example, men as the breadwinner of the household) but these societal norms are also reinforced and reproduced by these myths themselves, therefore their version of interpretation actually shape the world around us over time. When applying this to the story of Pandora, it is vital that several interpretations of the character be considered, to ensure her identity is shaped from all angles, but also to impose various narratives into society. If the classical interpretation was all the world knew, women would be, as they have been in the past (and in some instances, still are) neglected of their value; women would be seen for their flaws, only defined by their external worthiness and would be considered a curse to the world of man because of her complexity and curiosity. But this is not the case, as this essay has portrayed, there are other ways to see Pandora and this allows all women to be illustrated differently and ultimately more accurately.

Conclusion

This essay displayed three different perspectives on Hesiod’s writing on Pandora: The first interpretation comes from a more classical viewpoint, which highlights the terrible things that Pandora brought with her, including disease, hate, toil and conflict- things that would haunt humanity until this very day. The author of this section, Teggart also emphasized that with the arrival of Pandora, men where now faced with an ultimate predicament because with women, they will always lose. Following that, this essay discussed an interpretation by Vernant and Zeitlin, who produced a perspective of Pandora that is based on her physical attributes. This discussion is surrounding her external beauty as the first woman on earth, as well as her accessories (for example her gown and jewelry) that are considered an extension of her as a woman. Finally, looking at Kennan’s feminist interpretation of the myth, by interpreting Pandora as a bridge between the Goddess Aphrodite and women-kind, revealing femininity, beauty and sexuality to the world. In this interpretation, Pandora is also credited with bringing individuality and a sense of heterogeneity to a world where humans were essentially indistinguishable from one another due to their lack of diversity; women brought this valuable diversity.

Although each interpretation faces their critiques, all show a version of Pandora that is valuable to consider when investigating her character. Each demonstrating the complexity behind Hesiod’s famous work, and also portraying womankind on a spectrum of viewpoints. The purpose of this essay was not only to convey the variation in Pandora’s portrayal, but also to understand the kind of messages that are translated from Pandora to the definition of women in general. Women possess a magnitude of characteristics, involving both flaws and greatness; it is vital to grasp both ends of the spectrum, to better understand the idea of women as a collective, but also, to consider the radiance, the complexity, the magnificence and the unknown that is each and every individual woman.

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