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Pandora and Male Attitudes

October 6, 2013

Hesiod is the only author to recount, in any detail, the creation of Pandora the first woman. Pandora’s myth may be seen by some as misogynistic, for example, Pomeroy who (1994:1) states ‘Hesiod was a dour, bitter poet’ whose ‘views of gods and humankind not only shaped but probably corresponded to the ideas held by the population as a whole’. On the other hand, Dowden (1995:56) considers that the study of mythical women, such as Pandora, benefits the study of mythology greater than the study of women. The study of mythical women is not straightforward as texts such as Theogony and Works and Days offer a number of interpretations. In order to address these the myth of Pandora will be considered in light of current research.

Pandora is described in Theogony (570 and 589) as ‘an evil thing’ with ‘sheer guile, not to be withstood by men’. Other negative attributes are described in Works and Days (79) ‘crafty words and a deceitful nature’. Hesiod provides evidence that men can cause bad things to happen through their actions such as those ‘who practice violence and cruel deeds’ (Hesiod Works and Days 238-9). However, the behaviours of men are not attributes given by the gods they are simply bad men. Hesiod’s view, that all women are bad or evil might be thought of as a commonly held attitude of men. There are alternative views such as Semonides who compares a good wife to:

a bee…Only she deserves to be exempt from stinging blame. The household that she manages will thrive; a loving wife beside her loving man, she’ll grow old, having borne illustrious and handsome children; she herself shines bright among all women.

(Semonides Women 84 – 91)

However, the preceding eighty-three lines of Semonides poem paints a generally negative portrayal of women comparing them to various different types of livestock and elemental forces. Out of the ten types of women described by Semonides only one is good. Both Pomeroy (1994:49) and Blundell (1995:78) consider the poem as hostile towards women. On the other hand, Lefkowitz (2007:143–144) acknowledges that the low number of ‘good women’ might suggest misogyny but notes that the context of the poem must be remembered. Lefkowitz’s conclusion that the types of women are likely intended as exaggerations warrants due consideration. It is probable that Semonides poem was intended to be humorous and may not necessarily have represented his or the audiences view.

Zeitlin (1995:58) considers that women are usually an afterthought of creation and secondary to men. The myth of Pandora certainly appears to fit into this category of creation. Hesiod details how men suffer because of Pandora (illness, misery and toil) but there is no explanation of the suffering of women; relegating them to a secondary position in society. This interpretation is reinforced through Pandora’s creation. Pandora is not born she is made by a male god without the need of a woman (Theogony 570 and Works and Days 60). Through the creation of Pandora Zeus usurps women’s role in childbirth, claiming dominion over this ability and validating male authority (Pomeroy, 1994:2 and Blundell 1995:22). Brown (1997:28) suggests that Hesiod ‘systematically downgrades any function women might have in his world’. Women, therefore, become more inferior women because a male god can perform the function of childbirth.

Zeus intended through the creation of Pandora to produce a ‘race of women and female kind’ to bring ‘an evil to mortal men [and] with a nature to do evil’. The descendents of Pandora inherit all of the evil attributes that she possessed, as she is the mother of the race of women (Hesiod Theogony 590-601). It can be inferred that Hesiod considers women useless as he compares them to a drone that stays at home all day living off the work of other bees (Theogony 598-9). Pandora’s beauty operates as a veil to men concealing ‘her unreliability, her greediness, and her uselessness’ (Fantham et al 1994:39). Men have to put up with these negatives in order to have the child they need to continue their bloodline (Blundell, 1995:24). However, Fantham et al (1994:39) consider that ‘in contrast to other Archaic poetry, Hesiod mentions no contributions by wives to the economy of the household’. Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey (19.137-47) provides an example of a woman who undertakes domestic work such as needlecraft. There is an indication here that Hesiod has chosen to represent a certain viewpoint of women that, in all likelihood, was not an accurate portrayal.

Pandora’s beauty is likened to the ‘immortal goddesses’ (Hesiod Works and Days 60). Enhanced through the adornment of beautiful drapery such as ‘an embroidered veil…a crown of gold’ (Hesiod Theogony 575-9). The description in Hesiod Works and Days (84-5) is very similar to that of a bride given away by her father. It might be inferred that Hesiod is presenting a thinly veiled warning to would be husbands, the dowry might be attractive but there is strife hidden within. Men who do not marry cannot escape Zeus’ punishment as they endure suffering in old age having had no children to look after them or inherit their estate (Hesiod Theogony 603-7). There is no reference to what happens to an unmarried woman or how she suffers in marriage.

The myth of Pandora in Theogony and Works and Days demonstrates one man’s perspective of women, Hesiod’s. Pomeroy concludes that Hesiod is making public his ‘unsympathetic view of women’. The particularly negative attitude towards women expressed by Hesiod does not necessarily represent the view of all men and it is questionable how seriously they may have taken the myth. It is clear that other men may have thought women were different and inferior such as Semonides. However, it cannot be known whether such works expressed the author’s opinion or were in fact intended as humorous caricatures; much like some modern comedians. Other than Hesiod there are few references to the mythical creation of Pandora in other texts. There is a mention of the worship of Pandora in Aristophanes Birds (971) which Marquardt (1982:286) believes is ‘an instruction about sacrificing a white-fleeced lamb to Pandora’. However, the comic context of Aristophanes work must be noted when considering these sources and as such they may not be wholly reliable. I do not necessarily agree with Dowden’s (1995:56) view that the study of mythical women benefits the study of mythology greater than the study of women. There are elements that can be drawn from sources such as Theogony and Works and Days but they must be assessed within a wider context in order to draw sound conclusions.


Primary Sources

Hesiod Theogony in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica Translated by H.G. Evelyn-White London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1914. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed 6 October 2013]

Hesiod Works and Days in The Homeric Hymns and Homerica Translated by H.G. Evelyn-White London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1914. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed 6 October 2013]

Homer The Odyssey Translated by A.T. Murray London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1919. Perseus Digital Library [Accessed 6 October 2013]

Semonides Women Poem 7 Translated by D. A. Svarlien, 1995. Diotima [Accessed 6 October 2013]

Secondary Sources

Brown, A.S. Aphrodite and the Pandora complex, Classical Quarterly 47, 26-47, 1997.

Dowden, K. ‘Approaching women through myth: vital tool or self-delusion?’ in R. Hawley and B. Levick (eds.), Women in Antiquity: New Assessments Routledge: London, 1995, pp. 44-57.

Blundell, S. Women in Ancient GreeceCambridge: HarvardUniversity Press, 1995.

Fantham, E. et al Women in the Classical WorldOxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Lefkowitz, M. Women in Greek Myth London: Duckworth, 2007.

Pomeroy, S. Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves Women in Classical Antiquity London: Pimlico, 1994.

Marquardt, P.A. Hesiod’s ambiguous view of woman Classical Philology 77, 283-291, 1982.

Zeitlin, F.I. ‘Signifying difference: the myth of Pandora’ in R. Hawley & B. Levick (eds.), Women in Antiquity: New Assessments Routledge: London, 1995, pp. 58-74.


From → Women in Myth

  1. Ian Spoor permalink

    Semonides poem paints a generally negative portrayal of women – too right he does!! Strong words indeed- but I never know if such views are tongue in cheek or have more than a kernel of truth in them

    • Hello Ian, I had that thought whilst reading the poem. I did not feel entirely satisfied drawing a conclusion either way. Much of the literature I read considers him a misogynist. However, I wondered whether the poem was intended for an entirely male audience and is meant more in jest. On the other hand, to have the desired comic effect there may have needed to be some commonly held views of women. It is difficult to assess as modern values and attitudes are ever present whilst reading ancient texts.

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