The national bestselling author of A Thousand Ships returns with a fascinating, eye-opening take on the remarkable women at the heart of classical stories Greek mythology from Helen of Troy to Pandora and the Amazons to Medea.
“Funny, sharp explications of what these sometimes not-very-nice women were up to, and how they sometimes made idiots of . . . but read on!”—Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale
The tellers of Greek myths—historically men—have routinely sidelined the female characters. When they do take a larger role, women are often portrayed as monstrous, vengeful or just plain evil—like Pandora, the woman of eternal scorn and damnation whose curiosity is tasked with causing all the world’s suffering and wickedness when she opened that forbidden box. But, as Natalie Hayes reveals, in early Greek myths there was no box. It was a jar . . . which is far more likely to tip over.
In Pandora’s Jar, the broadcaster, writer, stand-up comedian, and passionate classicist turns the tables, putting the women of the Greek myths on an equal footing with the men. With wit, humor, and savvy, Haynes revolutionizes our understanding of epic poems, stories, and plays, resurrecting them from a woman’s perspective and tracing the origins of their mythic female characters. She looks at women such as Jocasta, Oedipus’ mother-turned-lover (turned Freudian sticking point), who gouged out her eyes upon discovering the truth about her new relationship, and was less helpless than we have been led to believe. She considers Helen of Troy—whose face famously “launch’d a thousand ships,” but was decidedly more child than woman when she was accused of “causing” the Trojan war. She demonstrates how the vilified Medea was like an ancient Beyonce—getting her revenge on the men who hurt and betrayed her, perhaps justifiably so. And she turns her eye to Medusa—the serpent-like seductress whose stare turned men to stone—who wasn’t always a monster, and was far more victim than perpetrator.
Pandora’s Jar brings nuance and care to the centuries-old myths and legends and asks the question: Why we were so quick to villainize these women in the first place—and so eager to accept the stories we’ve been told?