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.’

1 comment:

  1. An interesting start. Looking forward to reading about Eve in the final draft.


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