'Funny, sharp explications of what these sometimes not-very-nice women were up to!' – Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale
The Greek myths are among the world's most important cultural building blocks and they have been retold many times, but rarely do they focus on the remarkable women at the heart of these ancient stories.
Now, in Pandora's Jar: Women in the Greek Myths, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk.
Stories of gods and monsters are the mainstay of epic poetry and Greek tragedy, from Homer to Aeschylus. But modern tellers of Greek myth have usually been men, and have routinely shown little interest in telling women’s stories. And when they do, those women are often painted as monstrous, vengeful or just plain evil. But Pandora – the first woman, who according to legend unloosed chaos upon the world – was not a villain, and even Medea and Phaedra have more nuanced stories than generations of retellings might indicate.
After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Odysseus, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.
'A treasure box of classical delights. Never has ancient misogyny been presented with so much wit and style' - historian Amanda Foreman
Classicist Haynes (A Thousand Ships) challenges common ideas about Greek mythology in this sharp corrective. To show "how differently were viewed in the ancient world," she closely reads the tales of 10 mythological women. Medusa, for example, was more than just a serpent-haired villain, but was transformed into a "monster" after being raped by Poseidon. In the tale of Jocasta written by Sophocles, she and Oedipus did not realize the nature of their relationship (and readers often overlook her "terrible fate," Haynes writes). Medea, meanwhile, was a clever woman whose choice between "jealous or crazy" mirrors Beyonc 's, and Pandora didn't unleash evils onto the world out of vengeance her vessel was originally a jar, not a box, and one easily tipped over. Haynes also offers a fascinating study of renderings of mythological figures in art as they changed over time, including on ancient water jars, in Italian bowls from 400 BCE, and as 16th-century statues. While in some sections Haynes assumes too much knowledge on the part of the reader, when she hits her stride and seamlessly blends historical, textual, and artistic analysis, her survey sings. Even those casually familiar with Greek mythology will find this enriching.