Sunday, 2 October 2011

Essay: The critical reception of Ursula K. Le Guin's "Left Hand of Darkness"


Whilst the literary history of science fiction (SF) has been marked primarily as a male domain, ‘women have been writing science fiction for as long as science fiction has been around’ (Larbalestier 2006:xviii). Indeed most commentators agree that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818), was the first genuine example of SF. Thus, it could be said that the genre of SF was inaugurated ‘with a woman’s critique of scientific or technological development within a patriarchal society’ (Mellor 1982:244). With the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, feminist SF emerged, which embraced ‘the political “sexual revolution”, uncovered the genre’s ingrained sexism, and challenged male supremacy through time and space’ (Jones 2009:485). In this essay I will be discussing the critical reception of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), one of the most read texts in the feminist SF canon, if not SF as a whole. In particular, I will be focusing on examples of the early criticism that arose, with particular attention on the supposed failures of Le Guin’s imagining of an androgynous society, and her widely criticised use of the male pronoun. 

The relationship between science fiction and feminism becomes apparent when you consider how both fields engage with discourses that repeatedly challenge ‘the stability of boundaries between categories and concepts’ (Seed 2005:n.p.). One of these concepts is gender. Feminist thinking which is inherently utopian, in seeking to eliminate discrimination on the basis of gender, ‘posits a gender-free alternative world that does not now exist but which is possible within historical time and space’ (Mellor 1982:243). In this way, feminist writers have turned to SF as a genre, which ‘provides the opportunity to test various hypotheses concerning societal organisation and ethical codes’ (Mellor 1982:244). As noted by Annas (1978:144; my emphasis) 
Implicit in science fiction literature is a non-ethnocentric and dialectical vision of society: non-ethnocentric in that a fundamental premise of the genre is that things-as-they-are should be questioned rather than merely accepted and described; dialectical in that alternate paradigms are played off against any given reality. Science fiction…is structurally suited to a role as revolutionary literature. 
According to Le Guin (1979:162), The Left Hand of Darkness, ‘is the record of my consciousness, the process of my thinking’. It is a ‘thought-experiment’ in the same way that Schr√∂dingers’ cat was in quantum physics. She notes that ‘one of the essential functions of [SF]…is this kind of question-asking: reversals of an habitual way of thinking, metaphors for what our language has no words for as yet, experiments in imagination’ (Le Guin 1979:163). The radical and revolutionary thought-experiment Le Guin was interested in posing was a society in which gender is eliminated ‘to find out what was left. Whatever was left would be, presumably, simply human. It would define the area that is shared by men and women alike’ (Le Guin 1979:163). However, she notes that, ‘as an experiment, it was messy.’ Regardless of how messy it was, The Left Hand of Darkness has been immensely important ‘for people writing from a feminine perspective or looking for ways to question discourses of gender and sexuality’ (Pearson 2010:139).

The winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, The Left Hand of Darkness not only established Le Guin as a major science fiction writer, but it also drew significant critical attention to her work, and indeed ‘[m]ore academic work has been written about Le Guin than about any other SF writer, including H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley’ (Pearson 2010:136). In November 1977, the academic journal Science Fiction Studies, dedicated its entire issue to “The Science Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin”. As a self-declared feminist, Le Guin has ‘influenced and inspired several generations of SF readers, writers, and critics…and is credited with being influential in showing that SF has literary merit’ (Pearson 2010:137). This has mostly been due to the attention that has been paid to her by critics outside SF. For example, in Robert Scholes’s essay, “The Good Witch of the West”, he asserted that Le Guin was ‘the best writer of speculative fabulation working in the country [at the time], and she deserve[d] a place among our major contemporary writers of fiction’ (cited in Bittner 1979:37).

In The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin imagines the possibility of biological androgyny; that is, a single reproductive sex fused with male and female characteristics’ (Mellor 1982:251). Set on the imaginary planet of Gethen, also called Winter, Gethenians are biologically neuter. In the chapter, “The Question of Sex”, the female narrator, in providing an ethnographer’s field report, theorises and describes Gethenian sexual physiology. Thinking the alien race ‘an experiment’, we are told that ‘the sexual cycle averages 26 to 28 days’, for which ‘21 or 22 days the individual is somer, sexually inactive, latent.’ On about the 18th day, the individual enters a period called kemmer. In this 6-day period of fertility,
the sexual impulse is tremendously strong…controlling the entire personality, subjecting all other drives to its imperative. When the individual finds a partner in kemmer, hormonal secretion is further stimulated…until in one partner either male or female hormonal dominance is established. The genitals engorge or shrink accordingly, foreplay intensifies, and the partner, triggered by the change, takes on the other sexual role…Normal individuals have no predisposition to either sexual role in kemmer; they do not know whether they will be male or female (96-97).
In regards to childbirth, ‘the mother of several children may be the father of several more’ (97). It is in this way that Le Guin is able to write one of the greatest sentences in the history of literature: ‘The king was pregnant’ (106).
The narrator of the chapter then looks at the social consequences of this biological androgyny. Given that any Gethenian is liable to be
tied down to childbearing…no one is quite so thoroughly “tied down” here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be – psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally…Therefore, nobody here is quite so free as a free male anywhere else (100).
On Gethen, ‘there is no unconsenting sex, no rape.’ There is ‘no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive’. In fact, there is ‘no tendency to dualism’ (101). Perhaps the most remarkable conclusion of this is ‘the elimination of war’. The narrator quotes an ancient source: “did they consider war to be a purely masculine displacement-activity, a vast Rape, and therefore in their experiment eliminate the masculinity that rapes and the femininity that is raped?” (102).

Critical reception of The Left Hand of Darkness has ‘displayed a tension of opposites appropriate to the novel’ (Spivack 1984:57). According to White (1999:47), when the novel first appeared, it did not garner completely favourable reviews.’ For example, Alexei Panshin, reviewing the book for Fantasy and Science Fiction, deemed it a ‘flat failure’, and was the first critic to object to Le Guin’s use of masculine pronouns when referring to the androgynes (cited in White 1999:47). The feminist scholar and science fiction writer, Joanna Russ, in her article, “The Image of Women in Science Fiction”, laments that whilst Le Guin was able to imagine how a people’s culture and institutions would be very different from ours, she fails in leaving out the family – ‘childrearing is left completely in the dark, although the human author herself is married and the mother of three children.’ Russ (1972:89-90) also criticises the use of the male protagonist, Genly Ai, a human anthropologist on Winter, and the fact that the Gethenian main character, Estraven, is represented primarily as masculine – ‘at least, “he” is masculine in gender, if not in sex.’ With regards to the use of the male pronoun, she concedes that due to ‘a deficiency in the English language…these people must be called “he” throughout’ (Russ 1972:90).

The controversy continued in 1971, when Australian science fiction magazine SF Commentary, published an article by Stanislaw Lem. In “Lost Opportunities”, Lem criticises the novel, noting that ‘[i]t carries an important message, but it does not develop the message.’ He notes, [a]lthough her anthropological understanding is very good, her psychological insight, on the other hand, is only sufficient and sometimes even insufficient’ (1971:22). Lem feels that the novel is ‘psychologically unsound because the Gethenians’ constant gender change should wreak havoc on relationships and personal identity’ (White 1999:47). He takes further umbrage at Le Guin’s failure to represent the Gethenians as anything other than wholly masculine – ‘because Karhider garments, manners of speech, mores and behaviour, are masculine. In the social realm, the male element has remained victorious over the female’ (Lem 1971:24).

In a later issue, Le Guin (1972:91; original emphasis) vigorously defends Lem’s challenges. She invites Lem, or anyone else, to ‘point out one passage or speech in which Estraven does or says something that only a man could or would say.’ Instead, she blames cultural conditioning, such that ‘we tend to insist that Estraven and the other Gethenians are men, because most of us are unwilling or unable to imagine women as scheming prime ministers, haulers of sledges across icy wastes, etc.’ As for Gethenian clothing, she notes that she modelled the garments on typical Eskimo attire (Le Guin 1972:92). In reply to the common argument over the use of the male pronoun, Le Guin (1972:91) acknowledges how the ‘use of the masculine pronoun influences the reader’s imagination’, but defends her use on the basis of the limitations of her medium, and not wanting to ‘deform English’. She even gives an example of the difficulty of deploying a neuter pronoun by re-writing a passage using se/sem/sen. It should be pointed out that the Australian SF author Greg Egan successfully used a neuter pronoun in the impressive post-human novel Diaspora (1988), where he used ve/vim/vis.

One of the most interesting aspects about Le Guin as a writer is that she is also a critic, and open to changing her mind. She says, ‘it is rather in the feminist mode to let one’s changes of mind, and the processes of change, stand as evidence – and perhaps to remind people that minds that don’t change are like clams that don’t open’ (Le Guin 1989:7). In response to her many critics who all brought her to task on her decision to use male pronouns, her unwillingness to allow Genly and Estraven to have sex, and the masculinity of her imagined world, she wrote two essays. In the first essay, “Is Gender Necessary?”, Le Guin (1979:163) identifies herself as a feminist, and explains the process by which she eliminated the Gethenians of gender to ‘find out what was left.’ The essay is mostly a defence of her decisions, including the use of the male pronoun, but she does admit that she might have been more clever in creating the Gethenians.

In the second essay, “Is Gender Necessary? Redux”, Le Guin (1989:15) notes that in the first essay, ‘I was feeling defensive, and resentful that critics of the book insisted upon talking only about its “gender problems”. She also changes her mind on the use of pronouns, noting the exclusionary effect of ‘the so-called generic pronoun he/him/his’, which ‘exclude[d] women from discourse’ (1989:15). Le Guin ultimately capitulates, accepting that ‘this is a real flaw in the book.’ She also gives in to the critics who noted that sexuality for Gethenians is necessarily heterosexual – ‘I quite unnecessarily locked the Gethenians into heterosexuality. It is a naively pragmatic view of sex that insists that sexual partners must be of the opposite sex!’ (Le Guin 1989:14). With regards to the male point of view, she notes that the book ‘allowed men a safe trip into androgyny and back, from a conventionally male viewpoint. But many women wanted it to go further, to dare more, to explore androgyny from a woman’s point of view as well as a man’s’ (Le Guin 1989:16).

In conclusion, this essay has provided a discussion on the critical reception of one of the most important and widely criticised texts in feminist SF, and SF in general. Examples were provided from critics who noted the limitations, gaps and problems in Le Guin’s imagining of a biologically androgynous society. Whilst many other examples could have been provided, the discussion has been limited to criticism situated around the early reception of the work. Understanding how The Left Hand of Darkness has been received critically also sheds light on how SF as a genre is received both within the genre, and outside it. Finally, as a canonical text, further enquiry into the history of the critical reception of the novel may also bring into question the processes of canonisation, and where SF stands in the literary firmament. 

References
Annas, P.J. (1978) “New Worlds, New Words: Androgyny in Feminist Science Fiction”, Science Fiction Studies, 5 (2): 143-156.

Bittner, J.W. (1979) “A Survey of Le Guin Criticism” in J. De Bolt (ed.) Ursula K. Le Guin: Voyages to Inner Lands and to Outer Space. New York and London: Kennikat Press: 31-49.

Egan, G. (1988) Diaspora. London: Millenium.

Jones, G. (2009) “Feminist SF” in The Routledge Guide to Science Fiction. e-book, accessed 21 September 2011, .

Larbelestier, J. (ed) (2006) Daughters of the Earth: feminist science fiction in the twentieth century. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Le Guin, U.K. (1969) The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace Books.

Le Guin, U.K. (1972) “Re: Lost Opportunities”, SF Commentary, 26: 90-93.

Le Guin, U.K. (1979) “Is Gender Necessary?” in The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons: 161-169.

Le Guin, U.K. (1989) “Is Gender Necessary? Redux” in Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places. New York: Grove Press: 7-16.

Lem, S. (1971) “Lost Opportunities”, SF Commentary, 24: 17-24.

Mellor, A.K. (1982) “On feminist utopias”, Women’s Studies, 9 (3): 241-262.

Pearson, W.G. (2010) “Ursula K[Roeber] Le Guin (1929-)” in M. Bould, A.M. Butler, A. Roberts and
S. Vint (eds.) Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction. London and New York: Routledge: 136-141.

Russ, J. (1972) “The Images of Women in Science Fiction” in S.K. Cornillon (ed.) Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives. Bowling Green: Bowling Green University Popular Press:79-94.

Seed, D. (ed.) (2005) “Introduction: Approaching Science Fiction” in A Companion to Science Fiction. e-book, accessed 21 September 2011, http://www.blackwellreference.com.ezproxy.lib.monash.edu.au/subscriber/book?id=g9781405112185_9781405112185.

Spivack, C. (1984) Ursula K. Le Guin. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Various contributors (1977) “The Science Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin”, Science Fiction Studies, 2 (3).

White, D.R. (1999) Dancing with Dragons: Ursula K. Le Guin and the Critics. Colombia: Camden House.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Essay: A critique of the morality of violent video games


What are the arguments that violent video games are immoral? Which arguments provide the strongest reasons for regulation? In recent times there has been a moral panic over violence in video games. Some media commentators have sought to link video game violence to the horrendous spate of school shootings which have become a sad reality in the USA and Europe. Whilst we should be concerned over the avid consumption of media which portrays violence and other immoral content, the arguments posed by such commentators tend to be overly emotive and simply based on rhetoric, rather than hard evidence of causation or real harm. This essay will discuss the questions first posed. This will be achieved by looking at the problem through the lens of three ethical approaches – consequentialist, deontological and virtue ethics. Ultimately, it will be shown that violent video games are immoral, not because of their effects, consequences, or failure of duty, but because of the impact they have on the virtue of the player.

The most vociferous argument from the moral panickers is that video games are immoral because exposure to so much simulated violence and death desensitises the player to violence and death; therefore, such exposure will make it easier to perpetrate real violence. It is within this context that violent video games are blamed by the media, or invoked in discussions about high school massacres (McCormick 2001, p. 277). To support this argument, empirical research which supposedly links violent video games and real world aggressive behaviour is raised in support of this position (Schulzke 2010, p. 127). The argument then follows that the distribution of these violent video games should be restricted through legislation (Sicart 2009, p. 3).

This is the most prevalent type of objection to violent video games, and comes from consequentialist moral reasoning. Such an approach is concerned with the way an ethical subject acts to produce the best consequences for all concerned. However, in taking the interests of others into account, a consequentialist must balance which consequences are considered and how much weight is applied to each. A utilitarian approach is often taken, which suggests the best course of action is that which maximises the ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’ (LaFollette 2002, p. 9). 

The act of playing computer games has many consequences, however, the moral implications of playing violent games is hard to determine (Reynolds 2002, p. 4). For example, whilst there are plenty of meta-studies of the literature which argue that simulated violence is harmful, there is also a significant amount of work on the contrary that shows bias among researchers critical of gaming (see Anderson and Dill 2000; Ferguson 2007). There may also be positive benefits which outweigh the potential harms of video games. These benefits include: entertainment value, increased dexterity and problem solving skills, economic advantages, and technological advancement (Schulzke 2010, p. 130; Reynolds 2002, p. 5). 

So, even if the empirical studies turned out to be true and there was a causal link between these games and violence, a consequentialist arguing for their immorality would have to prove that the costs outweigh the benefits. Furthermore, the cost of banning and/or censorship has to be considered as an imposition against free speech, which is essential to liberal democracy and carries a high priority as a right (Schulzke 2010, p. 135). If it is to be accepted that some games are banned (as some are in Australia), it follows that in order to be consistent, other media or activities which display similar or a greater amount of violence should also be restricted (Schulzke 2010:135; Fyfe 2011). This then, is the weakest of the moral positions that violent video games are immoral. 

The next argument comes from Kantian deontology, which is based on moral obligations to duties and rights, in which the rightness or wrongness of an act is judged according to its conformity with duty, and is to be considered removed from consequences (McCormick 2001, p. 282; LaFollette 2002, p. 10). From this perspective, the immorality of a violent video game should focus on how players act, with the morality of the act being determined by how others are treated within the game world (Schulzke 2010, p. 128). This approach starts with Kant’s (1996, p. 73, 80) second formulation of the categorical imperative which states:
  1. Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature.
  2. So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.
It is clear that real violence against another human violates the first statement. However, given the fictional nature of violent video games, the player is not committing violence against another human; rather it is violence against a representation of a human (or alien, animal, etc) character. Therefore, violent video games do not violate the first statement (Waddington 2007, p. 124). In the second statement, a player could be said to be violating this maxim if they were to behave with bad sportsmanship in a game against another player. This is because the player gives their personal interest priority over that of an opponent and treats them poorly in the interest of gratification (Schulzke 2010, p. 128). 

In focusing on respect for others, the deontologist could argue that as the game encourages using others to progress through the game, it encourages the player to treat others as mere means to an end (Gotterbarn 2010, p. 375). In destroying an avatar, the act is immoral only when there is an intention to actually harm someone (Schulzke 2010, p. 129). Where the deontologist does have an argument, is that there is clear justification for regulation based on the duty of governments to protect its citizens from harm. It is the responsibility of governments to protect minors from harm and inform consumers through suitable systems of content classification (Reynolds 2002, p. 7-8). Here we have John Stuart Mill’s famous harm principle – ‘[t]hat the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others’ (Mill 1971, p. 15; my emphasis).

The final ethical position is also the oldest and takes its cue from Aristotle, who defined ethics as ‘a practical science, as a practice of virtues oriented towards the achievement of a better life’ (cited in Sicart 2005, p. 15). This position is best explained by McCormick (2001, p. 284) who provides the example of holo-rape and holo-murder, in which a simulation allows a player to commit these heinous and grossly immoral acts in a virtual environment. He notes that there is something wrong with the activity without having to look outside for consequences or breaches of duty – ‘there is something wrong with the act solely with respect to the person who commits it’ (McCormick 2001, p. 285).

Returning to Aristotle, the question of a player’s character is ‘more fundamental and important than a person’s obedience to rules or conduct’ and exceeds the ‘implications of an act for other people’ (McCormick 2001, p. 285). Therefore, the virtue ethicist can provide a reasonable account for our strong moral intuition that games which involve extreme immorality such as holo-rape and holo-murder, and by extension, violent video games, are immoral. In participating in these ‘simulations of excessive, indulgent, and wrongful acts, we are cultivating the wrong sort of character’ (McCormick 2001, p. 285). In other words, the virtue of the player is eroded, and they are distanced from the chance to achieve eudaimonia – a deep and fulfilled happiness through the capacity to reason; that is, to be human (McCormick 2001, p. 285). 

However, whilst the virtue ethics approach provides the better insight into the immorality of violent video games, it can’t answer for their regulation. Simply being immoral is not reason enough to justify legislation for censorship or outright banning. To ban or restrict any type of media based on purely supposed immoral grounds is paternalistic and a form of legal moralism. In other words, it is the interference of the state with another person against their will, with the defence that they are being protected against harm; that is, ‘the idea that certain ways of acting are morally wrong or degraded and may be prohibited’ (Dworkin 2010).

In conclusion, this essay has sought to answer the questions first posed: What are the arguments that violent video games are immoral? Which arguments provide the strongest reasons for regulation? This was achieved by looking at the problem through the ethical approaches of consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics. It was found that the consequentialist position provides little support for regulation and is the weakest argument from a moral standpoint. The deontological response, whilst it struggled in condemning the immorality of violent video games, actually provides the strongest reason for regulation due to the duty of governments to inform consumers and protect minors from harm. Finally, the virtue ethics approach provided the strongest approach to understanding why such games could be considered immoral, but failed to provide an argument for regulation. 


References

Anderson, CA and Dill, KE 2000, ‘Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviour in the laboratory and in life’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 78, no. 4, pp: 772-790.

Dworkin, G 2010, ‘Paternalism’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 edition), viewed 17 May 2011, .

Ferguson, C 2007, ‘Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: a meta-analytic review’, Aggression and Violent Behaviour, vol. 12, no. 1, pp: 470-482.

Fyfe, M 2011, ‘Video games reform rebuffed over violent fears’, The Sydney Morning Herald, April 2, viewed 17 May 2011, .

Gotterbarn, D 2010, ‘The ethics of video games: mayhem, death, and the training of the next generation’, Information Systems Frontiers, vol. 12, pp. 369-377.

Kant, I 1996, ‘Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals’, in Practical Philosophy, trans. Mary Gregor (ed.), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 42-108.

LaFollette, H 2002, ‘Theorizing about ethics’, in H LaFollette (ed.), Ethics in Practice: An Anthology (2nd edition), Blackwell Publishing, Cambridge, pp. 3-11.

McCormick, M 2001, ‘Is it wrong to play violent video games?’, Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 3, pp. 277-287.

Mill, JS 1971, On liberty, representative government, the subjection of women: three essays. Penguin Books, London.

Reynolds, R 2002, Playing a “good” game: a philosophical approach to understanding the morality of games, International Game Developers Association, viewed 15 May 2011, .

Schulzke, M 2010, ‘Defending the morality of violent video games’, Ethics and Information Technology, vol. 12, pp. 127-138.

Sicart, M 2005, ‘Game, player, ethics: a virtue ethics approach to computer games’, International Review of Information Ethics, vol. 4, pp. 13-18.

Sicart, M 2009, The ethics of computer games, MIT Press, Cambridge and London.

Waddington, DI 2007, ‘Locating the wrongness in ultra-violent video games’, Ethics and Information 
Technology, vol. 9, pp. 121-128.

Monday, 2 May 2011

In search of an aetiology of evil - The Pandora Myth

Around the time I first started this blog I wrote a short piece regarding my desire to write on the Pandora and Eve myths, and how these narratives have worked to structure patriarchal views about women. At that time I was too busy to see the project through, but have now been fortunate to return to the idea as a serious research project for my Myth and Meaning in Ancient Worlds unit.

I thought I'd share my work in progress with you. Here is the first part of my essay. I will next move into a close reading of Genesis 1 and 3, and then return to look at how both these myths have worked to keep women subjected under patriarchy.

Essay (WIP)

The notion of an origin holds an important and powerful force in the human psyche. Such narratives can function to provide an explanation for where we have come from, where we currently are, and where we will be in the future. In particular, creation myths provide valuable ‘insights into a society’s ethos, its root beliefs, and provide the basis for many of its customs and even its legal system.’ This essay will seek to discuss the origin of evil. This will be achieved through an aetiological investigation and comparative analysis of two myths which describe the creation of the first woman: the Greek myth of Pandora and the Judeo-Christian myth of Eve. In examining these myths from a feminist perspective, it will be shown that blaming woman for the origin of evil is a patriarchal construction, which has had a negative and pervasive influence on Western society – in particular, on misogynist attitudes towards women, and their subjection and abjection as ‘second class creatures’.

Written towards the end of the eighth century, Hesiod chronicles the myth of Pandora across two poems, the first in the Theogony, and the second in Works and Days. In the Theogony, Hesiod characterises Pandora as a ‘beautiful evil’ – a ‘hopeless trap, deadly to men’. In another translation, she is a ‘lovely curse’, personified as ‘sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.’ Ordered by Zeus as a punishment for Prometheus’ trick of the sacrifice and subsequent theft of fire, Pandora is fashioned out of the earth in the ‘image of a girl’ and ‘a modest virgin’ by the craftsman of the gods, Hephaistos. She is then dressed by Athena in bridal ‘robes of silver’, with ‘a veil, and ‘a lovely wreath of blossoms’, and a ‘crown of gold’. Thus adorned, she is ‘an evil’ sent upon men as ‘a price…to pay for fire’. And ‘from her comes all the race of womankind, the deadly female race and tribe of wives who live with mortal men and bring them harm’.

Not only is Pandora the first woman, but she is also the first bride, and it is in marriage that the source of a second evil is to be found. Hesiod tells us that
if a man avoids marriage and the troubles women bring and never takes a wife, at last he comes to a miserable old age, and does not have anyone who will care for the old man. He has enough to live on, while he lives, but when he dies, his distant relatives divide his property.
The picture is also bleak for the man who marries a ‘good wife, suited to his taste’; this man gets ‘good and evil mixed’, and ‘lives all his life with never-ending pain inside his heart’.

The narrative of Pandora’s creation is repeated in Works and Days but this time with a more misogynist tone. It is also here that the full nature of the significance of her evil is revealed. In payment for the theft of fire she is ‘another gift to men, an evil thing for their delight, and all will love this ruin in their hearts.’ In the lines which document her creation, she is once again crafted by Hephaistos. This time she is given ‘a voice’ and ‘a face like an immortal goddess’, and the shape of a ‘lovely figure of a virgin girl.’ Athena teaches her to weave, and Aphrodite pours ‘charm upon her head, and painful, strong desire, and body-shattering cares. Hermes is ordered to give her ‘sly manners and the morals of a bitch’ and in her chest put ‘lies and persuasive words and cunning ways.’ It is in this passage that she is given her name Pandora – ‘all the gifts’ – and declared the ‘ruin of mankind’.

Thus adorned, ‘the deep and total trap was now complete’ and she is sent as a bride to Epimetheus who, although previously warned by his brother Prometheus (foresight) ‘to take no gift from Zeus’, in fulfilment of his name (hindsight), ‘he took the gift, and understood, too late.’ This is because Pandora ‘opened up the cask, and scattered pains and evils among men’, with only ‘hope’ remaining. We are also told that prior to the creation of Pandora, mankind lived ‘apart from sorrow and from painful work’ and were ‘free from disease’. Thus, not only do we have an aetiology of evil, but we also have the source of the human condition – that is, ‘bringing death and evil into the world along with laborious toil of human existence.’