Out of Pandora’s Box, Recovering Hope

On the Season 1 finale we talk with Dr. Deborah Lyons about ancient Greek myths, breaking cultural boxes, and why we should all strive to be killjoys. Pandora’s box, Penelope’s gifts, Helen’s beauty in Sappho’s poetry, and more.

Why does it matter that Pandora didn’t actually have a box in the earliest versions of the myth? How were objects and the practice of gift-giving gendered in Classical Greece? What rituals did Ancient Greek women participate in, and what did they produce? As we study ancient women, what strategies can we turn to for unearthing hope?

I often read the Pandora story along with the story of Eve in my myth classes, and I make a similar argument there which is that without women men would never enter into history. They would just continue to live kind of undifferentiated life where they have a cozy relationship with divinity but nothing ever happens.

Dr. Deborah Lyons


Dr. Deborah Lyons is an Associate Professor of Classics at Miami University (Oxford, OH). Deborah holds degrees from Wesleyan University and Princeton University, where she earned a PhD in Classics. She has also studied at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and the University of Heidelberg. 

Deborah works on gender in antiquity—especially in myth and literature. She also brings her expertise to Greek archaic and classical poetry, religion, and anthropological approaches to the study of antiquity. She has published extensively and won fellowships from the National Humanities Center and Harvard’s The Center for Hellenic Studies. Some of her books include: Gender and Immortality: Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult (1997), Women and Property in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Societies with Raymond Westbrook (2005), and Dangerous Gifts: Gender and Exchange in Ancient Greece (2013)


[The podcast’s theme music begins, an upbeat detective sound with a Mediterranean vibe]

Emily Chesley: Welcome to Women Who Went Before, a gynocentric quest into the ancient world! I’m Emily Chesley

Rebekah Haigh: …and I’m Rebekah Haigh…

Emily: …scholars, friends, and fellow text-raiders!

[theme music continues, then pops out]

Rebekah: On the season 1 finale, “Out of Pandora’s Box, Recovering Hope,” we talk with Dr. Deborah Lyons about ancient Greek myths, cultural boxes, and why we should all strive to be killjoys. 

[theme music interludes]

Emily: First thing’s first. It’s not a box. We know….everyone calls it “Pandora’s Box.” But in Greek, it’s a pithos (πίθου; see Hesiod, Works and Days 94). A huge clay jar. You’ve probably seen images of them or maybe even seen them yourselves in museums: tall, narrow, often painted with black or red designs.[1] And as scholars like Natalie Haynes, among others, have pointed out: top heavy jars are prone to falling over on their own.[2] No human assistance required. Perhaps it wasn’t really Pandora’s fault. Like many myths, the meaning of the story is unstable; it depends, in part, on the reader. 

Rebekah: The myth of Pandora’s box has been told and retold in multiple fashions.[3] Two early versions were written by Hesiod, an ancient Greek poet who lived sometime between 750 and 650 BCE. In his lengthy poem Works and Days, Hesiod describes how Pandora was created by Zeus and the other Olympian gods. Externally, they made her beautiful, and clothed her in golden jewelry, striking clothes, and garlands of flowers. Internally, however, they made her deceitful and a thief. At the command of Zeus, Pandora was delivered to the human world, which up until that time had existed in utopian perfection, free from evils.

Emily: As many listeners will know, Pandora took off the lid from a large pithos that had kept the evils contained. With her own hands—Hesiod takes pains to emphasize—she removed its lid and cast its contents across the earth. She unlocked the fortress, so to speak, allowing sickness, misery, and other evils to invade. Hesiod accuses, “She wrought baneful evils for human beings” (Hes. WD 95, trans. Most, 2018).[4]

Rebekah: In this telling of Pandora’s myth, nothing she does had been expressly forbidden. In some ways, blame for disseminating evils is implicitly placed upon her male partner Epimetheus, because he accepted the gods’ gift of Pandora, whose name literally means “all gifts” (παν-δώρα) even though he had been warned to never trust Zeus.[5] A warning Pandora never got. She quickly snapped the lid back on the jar, and inadvertently trapped one thing inside: hope. The one spirit that would have helped humans endure their new afflictions.[6]

Emily: Hesiod also wrote about Pandora in another poem, probably written earlier, called the Theogony.[7] In this version, he omits the storage jar and scattering-evils part of the story. Instead he describes Pandora’s creation by the gods and how they taught her positively-veiled skills like weaving as well as negatively-charged skills like deception. Hesiod then launches into a warning: she was the origin of the race of human women, whom he views as “deadly” creatures. He goes on a screed: 

“[Women are] a great woe for mortals, dwelling with men…. Zeus set up women as an evil for mortal men, as partners in distressful works. And he bestowed another evil thing in exchange for that good one: whoever flees marriage and the dire works of women and chooses not to marry arrives at deadly old age deprived of eldercare; while he lives he does not lack the means of sustenance, but when he has died his distant relatives divide up his substance.” (Hes. Th. 592–593, 600–607, trans. Most, 2018)[8]

In other words, if a man doesn’t marry, he’ll lose his in-home nurse and his nephews will inherit his fortune. Yet the man who does take a wife, although fed and physically cared for, will suffer “with incessant woe in his breast, in his spirit and heart, and his evil is incurable” (Hes. Th. 611–612, trans. Most).[9] It’s a lose-lose scenario for Hesiod’s men. This stance on Pandora–and through her, all human women–reads pretty harsh. 

Rebekah: Much like Eve’s apple, Pandora’s box has been used as an explanatory myth enforcing male superiority and women’s frailty and disaster-bringing nature. An example of how weak-willed and unreliable women were at their core. Because myths present heightened versions of humans—in a highly literary and highly symbolic genre–they can serve as a cipher for the communities that produced these texts: how they understood their world and how they understood women and their role in it. 

Let’s go back to that idea of the box. Yes, it was a jar, but everybody calls it a box, and in so doing we ascribe Pandora more culpability than she may have deserved.[10] Which is kind of the point. There are literal boxes and then there are metaphorical ones, ones women have encountered for thousands of years, spoken into existence by society around us. Like the “devil’s gateway and bride of Christ” stereotypes we explored in Episode 3 or the Orientalizing narratives we talked about in Episode 6. And new ones crop up all the time. What if removing the lid off these boxes wasn’t a fault like in the myth? What if it’s exactly what we need to do to set the hope free? And what if we smashed the boxes’ walls altogether?

Emily: A prime contemporary example of just such an overturned box is the “feminist killjoy.”[11] It was originally a derogatory diss leveled against feminists by opponents, claiming they sucked all the joy out of life with their equalizing campaigns. But Sara Ahmed reclaimed the phrase and adopted it as a badge of honor.[12] “Why yes, we do stand up to sexism and racism. We do speak out for equality at work. If ending injustice and calling out oppressive systems means making some people unhappy, so be it.” The box has become a battle cry.

Rebekah: Myths are also stories. And stories are not fixed things; they change over time. We can intentionally choose to read these texts in negative and positive ways. Hope may not be entirely shut out of Pandora’s story; it doesn’t need to stay trapped in that box. Our guest today argues that behind the Theogony lie the traces of a more positive story. 

An alternative way to read the myth focuses on Pandora, and through her all women, as gift-givers.[13] Women were artisans and entrepreneurs, manufacturers and healers. They created, they wove, they produced wares to be used by their families or sold. They helped till the fields, provided for and managed their households, and kept their children alive despite low infant mortality rates. They taught their sons and daughters, recounting fables meant to teach truths, like the stories of Aesop or even Pandora’s own. 

Emily: Just as myths about women can be read with hope, so too can we read between the lines to recover women as participants in and producers of culture in their own right. Our final guest of the season, Dr. Deborah Lyons, has modeled this approach in her study of women in ancient Greece. She is an Associate Professor of Classics at Miami University in Ohio. Deborah holds degrees from Wesleyan University and Princeton University, where she earned a PhD in Classics, and she has also studied at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and the University of Heidelberg. 

Deborah works on gender in antiquity—especially in myth and literature. She also brings her expertise to Greek archaic and classical poetry, religion, and anthropological approaches to the study of antiquity. She has published extensively. Some of her books include: Gender and Immortality: Heroines in Ancient Greek Myth and Cult (1997), Women and Property in Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Societies with Raymond Westbrook (2005), and Dangerous Gifts: Gender and Exchange in Ancient Greece (2013)What a privilege for us to welcome her to the podcast!

[theme music builds anticipation}

Rebekah: When historians focus on texts, it can sometimes seem like women were rare in the ancient world. Because they’re fairly sparse in the textual record. 

But women nonetheless did things. You’ve written about women’s ritual and work and gift-giving, women as “producers and exchangers.”[14] Because women were out and about, walking to the markets, participating in religious rituals, or working as midwives. They were physically there. What were women doing in the public sphere? And if we want to recover the ritual practices of women, what is the difference between starting with, say, Homer versus examining the archaeological evidence?

Deborah Lyons:  Okay, well Homer isn’t going to give you a lot of women performing ritual. In fact, there’s hardly any. Ritual in Homer is almost exclusively performed by men. They are the sacrificers, the ones who pray, etcetera, etcetera. 

The one exception, I suppose, would be when the Trojan women go with a peplos, a roll, to Athena and ask for her protection, and she denies it to them. But other than that, women play very little role in ritual life in Homer. 

Whereas we have a lot of evidence for women’s ritual activities. Especially in Athens, which is of course where most of our evidence comes from anyway. But also if we look at later texts like Plutarch, Pausanias, both of them give us a lot of information about rituals that involved women. So the picture looks quite different.

The problem with archaeology is that the objects rarely tell us who owned them, who held them, who did what with them. In one of my articles I talk about—well, this does not have to do with ritual per se—but I talk about a loom weight which has a woman’s name on it. And it basically says Ισοδικης εμμι (Isodikēs emmi) “I belong to—” And I love that because it’s the rare time that you have a talking object that says “I belong to a women.”  There’s more than one of these, but there aren’t too many. But we assume that women owned their own loom weights. 

When it comes to trying to figure out women’s role in ritual, we’re often reduced to sort of oblique kinds of information. We can look at Aristophanes and his send up of the Women at the Thesmophoria. And we can glean some things from that. We can look at his, again, send up of women making an oath sacrifice, in which he has them substituting a sack of wine for the animal victim that you would normally expect—playing on the notion of women as frequent tipplers. [Rebekah and Emily chuckle] 

And even when the account is more straightforward, we’re always having to sift. How much of this is fantasy? How much of it is projection? How much satire? And the actual objects can be very elusive. Now we do know that girls dedicated toys and dolls to Artemis on the eve of their marriage, but I don’t know that we’ve ever found a cache of these. Another thing we know is that records from the Temple of Artemis Brauronia list garments that women dedicated to Artemis. And they’re described, sometimes very nicely. But again, the objects have long since rotted away and disappeared.

Rebekah: It’s really interesting too, thinking about talking objects. I was reading an article about inscriptions on weapons. You have a different assumption, right? Oh ,weapons they must belong to men; and sort of things related to textiles, they must belong to women. And when you find inscriptions that might confirm that maybe-not-unjustified assumption about the public roles of these two different genders, is that necessarily always true? Do we know?

Deborah:  No. I use a case–it’s Etruscan and not Greek–a tomb with two burials and two bodies. And one of them had weapons next to it, and the other had a sort of a pin box or something like that. And so the assumption was that the one with weapons was male and the one with the pin box was female. And then they did some genetic analysis and it seems it was the other way around.

Emily: That’s amazing.

Deborah: The recent excavations or research on excavations of Scythian culture have also found burials of women warriors clearly marked with weapons. Now for Greece, you don’t really find that at all as far as I know. But certainly it’s risky to make those kinds of assumptions. 

Emily: Yeah.

Rebekah: And risky to make those kinds of assumptions, I assume, from our literary texts. Not that the literary texts are necessarily presenting a false picture.

Deborah: Right.

Rebekah: When is this satire? When is this a rhetorical device? How can we get at what women and men are actually like and what their gendered roles are?

Deborah: Well, you know something I’m always trying to get my students to consider (and it’s surprisingly difficult) is just to understand that every telling is a motivated telling, and you have to try to figure out what the motivations are behind the text that you’re reading. And that’s not to say that these authors are dishonest or sneaky. It’s just that everybody has a reason for writing the way they do or telling the tale the way they do. And if you make the mistake of thinking. “Well, this tells us what the Greeks thought….” You’re falling into error. In fact, I often think that any sentence that begins “The Greeks” is probably a lie. [Emily and Rebekah laugh] 

Yeah. Well, I mean we’re closer to being right because when you say “The Greeks,” you’re talking about, what, 1500, 2000 thousand years at least, maybe 2000 thousand years of culture. 

Emily: Yeah.

Deborah: People who lived in different places, spoke different dialects, had different systems of social organization and government, different gender roles. So it’s really hard to generalize. And yet also when we say “The Greeks,” so often we simply mean the Athenians of the 5th or the 4th century. And that’s especially problematic for the history of women, since that seems to have been a particularly restrictive environment for women.

Emily: Yeah I would like to come back to that. But first I wonder if we can circle back a little bit to the ritual piece. Could you give us some examples of some of these rituals that women performed? You mentioned offering dolls prior to the marriage, the dresses. What are some other things that you’ve discovered or that you know scholars have uncovered?

Deborah: One of the points that I wanted to make strongly in the piece I did on the scandal of women’s ritual is how essential women’s role in ritual was. And how, as I said in that piece, even if men entertained suspicions about women’s behavior when there were no men around, they would have been very upset if the woman had said, “All right, in that case we just won’t perform these rituals.” Because that would have been far worse for the culture. They were relying on women to stay on the right side of the gods, perform rituals for fertility [and] for the health of the city, and so forth.

Emily: As we said in the introduction, you specialize in gender in ancient myth and literature, among many other things. But when we talk about Greek antiquity, what is the time frame we’re talking about? You’ve already alluded to the fact that there is a 1500 to 2000 years that could be encompassed in that, potentially. So what is your research focus on specifically? And then to generalize a bit more how did women’s positions and roles differ between the Greek contexts and the later Roman ones? What are some of the differences we see between these two societies? 

Deborah: So the texts that I work with the most go from Homer through tragedy. But then I also look at some later texts. Especially in my work on religion, I look at texts like Plutarch and Pausanias who are antiquarians and preserve information about customs that may no longer be actually be practiced. I’m also very fond of the Homeric hymns which are not by Homer, whoever they were, but are, use the language of Homer. And they were written over a period of probably several hundred years after the Homeric epics.  

So as far as changes in women’s lives and women’s status, Homer gives us a world in which women have a certain—that is to say elite women—have a certain status that they seem to lack in later periods, especially in the Classical period in Athens. But we also know that in Sparta at the same time, that upper- lass elite Athenian women were not supposed to leave the house without a chaperone and had very low profile in public life. We have lots of stories about Spartan women playing a much larger role. And in fact that’s often used for ideological purposes. For instance, Aristotle claimed that because Spartan women could own their own wealth, that that’s what ruined Sparta.

Rebekah:  A classic instance of blame it on the woman. [chuckles]

Deborah: Well, yeah. Roman women—and again, we’re talking about elite women for the most part—had a bit more autonomy and that increased over time. Early Roman marriage was often with manusManus meant the kind of control or tutelage of a male family member, so traditionally it passed from the father to the new husband. And then over time manus marriage became much less popular. So that meant that officially the manus resided still with the father, but of course fathers get old and die. And women are much more likely to become emancipated, that is to be without manus, and at younger ages. And over time, that’s the form of marriage that comes to be preferred, which suggests that Roman fathers wanted their daughters to have autonomy from their husbands.

Now in both societies divorce was pretty common. It wasn’t terribly difficult. It was probably always a little bit easier for the husband to divorce his wife, but wives could divorce husbands. Now that was a double-edged sword because especially, as we know in Rome in the Late Republic and later, women became pawns, often of their fathers. Father makes a new alliance. He says, “Get rid of that old husband. I want you to marry my new ally So-and-So.” So the situation of women in marriage is complicated. 

As I say, the marriage could be a path to greater autonomy and widowhood was often an even better path to autonomy. But women were traded by their fathers, often in these kinds of political arrangements.   

But we know from many, many accounts that women had a certain amount of moral authority in the family and sometimes they were able to mobilize to claim a kind of moral authority in the society. And one example is when many of the wealthiest Roman women gave their jewels to help support the Punic Wars. Later on, when they felt that their rights were being infringed on, they went en masse and said “Look, we did this for the state, and now we want our rights.” I don’t remember exactly what the rights were in this case, but they demanded recognition for their services to the state.

Rebekah: Which is interesting because in previous conversations we’ve talked about one of the ways we think about personhood, or maybe not even personhood; one of the ways we think about being a member of the state and why that’s a masculine role and not a feminine role is because women couldn’t hold public offices. But I guess in some ways, despite that, in this instance they are. “Yes, we are members of the state. We’re contributing members in different ways and….”

Deborah: Of course women’s main contribution is men, is children.

Rebekah: Right! Of course! [laughing]

Deborah: The soldiers and Roman law definitely recognized that. So a women who had a certain number of children could receive emancipation.

Rebekah You mentioned, as we’re comparing Greek and Roman civilizations—we’re speaking specifically of elites, elite women—do we have any sense whether or not women who are not members of the elites would have had different levels of autonomy? Maybe they don’t live somewhere where there’s enough wealth for them to be sequestered at home. Maybe they need to work outside of the home. What does that that picture look like?

Deborah: Yes, in Greece to some extent, and definitely in Rome, women of lower status ran their own businesses. I mean, one of the obvious examples that we have in Athenian literature, we have have a lot of information about women who acted as madams and had, you know, sort of stables of young female prostitutes that they worked. So that’s one way that women could achieve some wealth, although probably not much in the way of status. But there are other examples of women who ran their own businesses, especially Roman women. We have a lot of evidence of Roman women who carried on crafts or midwives or had their own taverns and that sort of thing. 

In Athens we’re told women didn’t go out on their own, but if you were a woman of low status and not much money, you might be selling your vegetables in the agora [marketplace] all by yourself. And this I think is true in so many different societies. That the sequestered, sheltered, stay-at-home wife is a form of conspicuous consumption only available to the wealthiest.

Rebekah: Well picking up on a couple of the threads we’ve been teasing out, and this is a speculative question, but do you think that women would have seemed as marginal to Greek society as they might appear in the textual record to us today? Did it make a difference or not make a difference that they weren’t as literarily there, given that they were obviously physically there, and especially given how low literacy rates were in antiquity?

Deborah: Yeah. Which is something that’s actually not that easy to tease out, literacy rates. 

Yeah women were all over the place. All those elite Athenian men would have lived mostly with their mothers and various nurses for the first five or six years of their lives. They had sisters. They had, you know, in some cases aunts and grandmothers. Slaves who were female. Even though we get the impression of Athens as a world that’s a public world that’s inhabited solely by men–you know, something like Raphael’s “School of Athens, I don’t think there are any women in that picture at all—there would have been women all over the place! Selling the vegetables. Going for water from the fountain house. Taking care of the kids. I mean, you know, women were approximately half of the population. 

So I think that’s a really good question to ask, just to remind ourselves. That even if men wrote 98% of all of the surviving literature, they were still only approximately 50% of the population. 

Now whether they were listened to, that’s a different question. 

Emily: You’ve written about objects and actions becoming gendered: practices like gift-giving, ritual practices that we’ve talked about. So for someone with no background, what do we mean when we say that gift-giving can be construed as a feminine thing or that ritual practice could be a masculine versus a feminine thing?

Deborah: I really draw on the anthropological notion of male wealth and female wealth. And I’ve done a cross-cultural study. And with some exceptions, throughout most cultures in most periods that I know of, women’s wealth is textile wealth and men’s wealth is usually durable. So it could be shell, metal, sometimes…ceramics occupy a kind of intermediate position. But mostly the distinction is between the textiles, which can be valuable but are somewhat ephemeral, compared to mostly metal objects. 

And you can see that in the Iliad, for instance, when Telemachus visits Helen and Menelaus. When he’s leaving, they give him guest gifts. Helen gives him a robe that she has woven with her own hands, and Menelaus gives him a beautiful silver bull, which was made by a, you know, a skilled craftsman not by Menelaus himself. So that introduces one element of ambiguity in the concept of engendered wealth: which is that women’s wealth is usually produced by women. Men’s wealth may be produced by men, but not every man is usually a specialist, an occupation to create these objects. So a goldsmith or an armorer or someone like that. So that creates a certain kind of asymmetry. 

Almost every woman and goddess in Homer is shown weaving. And this seems to actually reflect some kind of reality that even in much later periods women either wove (they produce the textiles to clothe the members of the household) or an elite woman might simply supervise her slave women in spinning and weaving and producing garments. So that’s one way that objects can be gendered, and that’s the way that I mostly talk about it. 

But from anthropology we can see that sometimes objects are gendered according to who will use them, or they can also have symbolic gender. And this can get very complicated, where an object that might be made by a man nonetheless comes to be associated with women for some symbolic reason or vice versa. But in the Greek case it’s usually more straightforward. As it seems to me, most of what I would consider female wealth are objects that are produced by women and can be disposed of by women, be exchanged or given away. 

What I argue in my book on Dangerous Gifts is that male wealth, which is also usually of higher value, can very easily take on a sinister cast when it’s given or received by a woman from the wrong party. So for instance, the scene in the Odyssey where Penelope is showing herself to the suitors and they all start giving her gifts and each one is competing to give her better gifts. Odysseus is standing by, and he’s very pleased because she’s helping to replenish the wealth of the household. But Marylin Katz argued in her book Penelope’s Renown that the poet is also activating a whole set of other expectations which could lead one to fear that Penelope will end up being unfaithful because she’s receiving inappropriate gifts from men who are not her husband.[15]

Emily: Ahhh. Male suitors.

Deborah: So that’s the kind of thing I was looking at.

And then also in a lot of the myths, valuable objects only start circulating because of a woman usually either accepting or giving away something that she should not, and very often in the context of marital infidelity. 

So a story that I really love: when Paris takes Helen from Spart,a he also takes a lot of valuable objects. And they’re on shipboard, and there’s a tripod—which was an object of great cultural value—and she looks at it, and she says, “people will fight over this.” And she throws it into the sea. And then as the story goes on, in fact, it washes up somewhere and people do end up fighting over it. But the other thing that’s so wonderful about it is that it seems that Helen recognizes in the object something that’s also true of herself, which is that she’s an object that men will fight over.

Emily: You’ve already, I think, actually kind of answered my follow-up question, which was if gendering is always a negative thing and something that needs to be resisted. How do we thread the needle as readers, simultaneously avoiding assuming that gendering is always present in an action or object (like an object shows up in the story and is it automatically going to be gendered?) But also avoiding perpetuating essentialist ideas about what it meant to be a woman?

Deborah: Yeah, you know, when I was working on this, it never occurred to me to resist! [all laugh] I was so taken by the patterns I was seeing and how persuaded I was by them. But it’s a good question to which I don’t have a good answer.

Emily: I mean, I think you’ve presented a great explanation of how these genderings can be a good thing, or how at least in texts and narratives they can be spun to show both the power and leverage of women as characters.

Deborah:  Yeah, I guess I somewhat want to push back on the concept of negative or positive. 

Emily: Mmhmm.

Deborah: And just say that they seem to be there. 

And one of the difficulties for a feminist critic dealing with ancient—not only ancient—literature is this strong strain of misogyny that runs through so much of our material. Misogyny outright as you find in especially in someone like Hesiod or Simonides but also the kind of misogyny that just makes women much less visible. 

And one way to deal with that is just to try to get a sense of how it operates, but also to look for the contradictions. And I think, Emily, you pointed to that when you talked about women’s power. One of the things that I talk about in my Dangerous Gifts book is this question of whether women can be trusted to enter into relations of exchange. And how there’s always potential for that to go wrong. 

And this I take to be yet another manifestation of a kind of anxiety about women’s power, very often expressed in Greek myths as an anxiety about women’s reproductive power and the tendency to find ways to appropriate that. So for instance, Zeus gives birth to Athena through his head. He gives birth to Dionysius through his thigh. Even goddesses who are closely associated with childbirth are often limited.  Leto, for instance, who’s associated with childbirth, only has two children, Apollo and Artemis. The myths of succession in the Theogony, in which in each case the mother conspires with one of her sons to defeat the father. And this fear that the mother will side with the son against the father, that the mother will be the conduit or at least the origin of a next generation that has the power to defeat and overthrow and replace the father. 

So this seems like a really clear fear of female power that runs throughout Greek literature, Greek culture. And you see it in figures like Medea or Clytemnestra who are extremely powerful in their tragic context. And sometimes really quite magnificent. I think especially Clytemnestra. And yet almost always need to be vanquished. And that’s more true of Clytemnestra than Medea, who seems to get away with almost everything. 

But this problem keeps coming up: that we keep our women at home. We keep them out of the public sphere for the most part. But we know what they’re— or we fear what they might be capable of. And so we have these fantasies of being overcome by women, unmanned by women, overthrown by women. 

Rebekah: It can be easy to notice sort of these troubling–I’ll avoid the word negative!–portrayals of women, but there are lots of them in antiquity. Yet as you’re kind of hinting at, there are also positive ones if we know where to look for them. 

You’ve described how in certain tellings Pandora’s gifts allowed human creativity to flourish, and ultimately enabled men to become fully human.[16] So that’s a positive sort of reading of the Pandora story. What do those “traces of a more positive valuation,” as you’ve called them, look like?[17]

Deborah: Well, you know my reading of Pandora requires excavating below the surface and pulling out threats that certainly Hesiod had never had in mind. But I often read the Pandora story along with the story of Eve in my myth classes, and I make a similar argument there which is that without women, men would never enter into history. They would just continue to live kind of undifferentiated life where they have a cozy relationship with divinity but nothing ever happens, right? It’s like heaven is a place where nothing ever happens.

Emily:  [Emily and Rebekah laugh] I want to be giving you snaps fingers right now! “Without women, men would never come into history.”

Deborah: I’m not sure that that’s– I don’t think that interpretation of Eve is original with me. But at some point it struck me that the two sets of myths had a lot in common. That there’s a reason why women– Well obviously, the people who came up with these myths were well aware that people come in at least two genders, and women were a fact of life. 

But it’s also interesting that in both these sets of myths, women need to be explained. Now, of course, in Genesis the creation of man is also explained. But in the Theogony, for instance, there’s no explanation for men; they just are. And Pandora is created, or woman is created, as a punishment for man. Whereas in Genesis, woman is created as a helpmeet or a companion for man. So that actually seems a more positive valuation of woman. And yet some of that is taken away in the way that all the blame is put on her for the eating of the apple, even though Adam was the one who was explicitly told not to eat it if I remember correctly. 

Rebekah: Yeah. Mmhmm. And we’ve actually talked about Eve, the fall legend, with Elaine Pagels earlier in the season. So I love the, these connections are fabulous to think about, Eve and Pandora!

So could you maybe tease out for our audience the flip side of the Pandora story? Like how you exhume, you know, a positive reading of Pandora’s story?

Deborah: Yes. Well, we’ll start with the name Pandora, which she only is given in Works and Days. In Theogony she doesn’t have a name. Pandora, “all gifts.” But as with most compound nouns and adjectives in Greek, you don’t get a strong sense of whether it’s active or passive. So the poet says she’s called this because all the gods gave her gifts. She received gifts. 

But you can flip it around and compare it to an epithet of Gaia the Earth, which is Pandotera, “giver of all gifts.” And if you think of it in that way, you can see this female figure as a kind of hypostasis of Gaia the Earth. And that’s a much more positive valuation of feminine qualities. There is at least one vase image showing Pandora rather than just being created, which is what Hesiod tells us, she is actually emerging. She’s sort of halfway out of the earth. As if she were being pushed out by, I don’t know, by Gaia? Or she is Gaia? It’s really unclear how far we can take that association. 

But several scholars have made this point before me, that you could imagine that there was an earlier version of this story in which the first woman was a much more positive figure.

Rebekah: Yeah, and myths change and evolve; and that makes a lot of sense that you might have had a positive story that was used to make a claim about who women are and what they mean for men in a different way.

Emily: This question flows very directly from this conversation, and that’s about knowing as a writer and a teacher when to focus on the dark versus the light. As historians we want to get at true history. What happened? How do we know? What do we know? And as feminists who care about the present lives of women Rebekah and I would also like to get a history that can serve women in positive ways, hopefully. 

And throughout the season we’ve explored some of the roadblocks that we can encounter when recovering women in ancient literary texts. Whether that be grammatical gendering of language, male authors who cared mostly about men, scholarly bias even. There is some dark there. Women were victims. There was misogyny. As we’ve said, women did go unnamed. But we don’t want to always and only tell a narrative of victimhood or silence or absence because there was also light in the midst of the dark, as we’ve been talking about already. And I think of your work on Homeric literature, how it lacks a word for “heroine” but we can still recover female counterparts to heroes like Herakles.[18]

So how do you decide when to focus on the positive aspects in the historical record versus the negative ones? How do you make those decisions in your writing, in your teaching? 

Deborah: Yeah, I find this is an issue especially in my teaching, because I will often find students in their essays just talk about how poorly treated Greek women were, or how little respect there was for them, or how much misogyny. And it’s tricky. Among the things I want to say to them is: Greek women’s lives were certainly no worse and were probably much better than the lives of some women in certain societies today, where women are treated with a great deal of cruelty, or at least are oppressed and excluded from public life. So that’s one thing I always like to point out. 

And then I really do make a distinction between what I see as the extreme misogyny of, say, the author of the Theogony or the Works and Days. The author of the Works and Days goes out of his way to devalue any possible female contribution, including reproduction. It’s better not to marry. If you have to marry only have one son, otherwise your property is gonna be split up. Of course it’s bad if you don’t marry because then you know, strangers will end up inheriting your land. But it’s basically a bad deal either way. 

One of the things I found extremely interesting is that in Hesiod the phrase erga gunaikōn (ἔργα γυναικῶν), I think it is, “the works of women,” is used to mean sort of feminine wiles or things that women do that get men all worked up and sexually frustrated or make them do stupid things. Whereas everywhere else, in Homer that phrase always means production by women: weaving, mostly, spinning and weaving. So everything that women do that can be seen as positive becomes negative. 

So I always try to make a really strong distinction between that level of misogyny and then someone like Homer, who I think—I mean, not that I think there was an actual Homer—but the Homeric poems show a much higher level of respect for women. There’s a really interesting book on Helen by Ruby Blondell, and she takes all the different ancient Greek treatments of Helen and shows that of all of them, Homer is the one who gives her the most subjectivity. Who takes her seriously. Who shows her as both an extremely valuable object of great beauty but also someone who has her own sort of moral existence, doesn’t try to write her out of the story, doesn’t deprive her of agency. If you look at the Homeric treatment of Penelope, [it] is very compassionate and respectful. So I always try to make sure that my students see that it’s not a simple picture; it’s not a monolith. That there is a wide range.

But as far as coming down on the question of dark and light, I think it’s really important not to exaggerate in either direction. Which means teasing out the strengths, the places where women are admired. I mean even a terrified figure like Clytemnestra is quite majestic in the first play in the trilogy, in the Agamemnon. You kind of have to admire her even as you realize that she’s doing terrible things. But over the course of the trilogy she’s reduced. So in the second play she is no longer queenly. She is a mother baring her breast and begging for her life. And then in the third play she is nothing more than a ghost. 

Then you have the Furies, who become the kindly ones and who are enticed into a subterranean existence where they will supposedly have all kinds of honors in the city. But really what’s happening, I think, is that they’re being domesticated. 

So one way of teasing that out is simply to say, “Look, this looks like a great triumph of civilization at the end of the trilogy. And we’ve moved from vendetta to law courts. No longer will people just murder one another in succession; but we’ll have a peaceful and nonviolent resolution.” And I think that’s really central, and that’s probably what Aeschelus had in mind. 

But I think it’s also really important to look at what happens to the Furies (the Erinyes/Eumenides) and how they are, I think, kind of tricked into giving up their power by none other than Athena. This is an extremely complicated figure from a gender perspective. Female. Beautiful. Wants nothing to do with a husband. But as she says in the play, “I am for the male in all things but marriage.” Only born from a father because her mother has, you know, also like the Furies has been obscured, has been swallowed up. And light and dark play a huge role in in that play, which is part of why I thought of it because those are the terms that Emily posed. 

I guess I’d just say try to be true to the evidence as you see it. It’s, I don’t think it’s my job to make things… to show things as worse than they are or better than they are. I think, what I like to do is to tease out the ambiguities and show how the two strands can be tightly interwoven and very hard to pull apart. 

Rebekah: So for your students who are turning in essays that are really seeing the negative, how do you counter that in your teaching practically? What kinds of texts or projects do you assign to your students? So students can hear and learn about women in maybe a more ambiguous way. Not light, not dark, but how they are? 

Emily: More shadow-filled.

Deborah: I mean what I’m always trying to do with them is [to] try to see texts as motivated by certain interests and concerns. So for instance in Odyssey 4, when Telemachus goes to visit Helen and Menelaus, it seems pretty clear that they’re living in a kind of uneasy situation. She’s been reclaimed after running off with a lover, Paris, and then marrying another Trojan before she finally comes back to Menelaus. 

And they tell two stories, the ostensible topic of which is Odysseus. So Helen tells the story of how Odysseus was so crafty that he was able to sneak into Troy, and she was the only one who recognized him, and she was happy because she missed her husband Menelaus and wanted the Greeks to win and wanted to go back to Greece. So sort of manifest content, “Odysseus was an amazing guy.” Subtext: “I was really loyal to the Greeks.” 

And then Menelaus responds with another story—again manifest content—how great Odysseus is. And this is one in which he and the other warriors are inside the Trojan Horse, and Helen comes along and starts mimicking the voices of all of the men’s wives. And Odysseus is the only one who keeps his head. They all are wanting to go out and find their wives, and he clamps his hand over somebody’s mouth and prevents them from making a scene. And then eventually the goddess leads Helen away, and this scene is saved. So she’s saying, “Look, I was still always loyal to the Greeks” and he was saying, “No, you were always a faithless bitch.” [Rebekah chuckles]

I tried to the point where I think I have to rethink the assignment. I asked them What do you think about these two stories? What do they say about the marriage or the relationship between these two people? And it’s really hard for them to get beyond the level of manifest content. I’m sure this is not answering your question, but it’s such an interesting example. I think if it were something that were happening with them and their friends, they would get it right away. You know mutatis mutandis, but I think it’s really sometimes a struggle to get past the… I don’t know what it is, the sort of canonization of the great literature. And get students to simply see it as people talking about people.

Emily: I guess I’ll speak personally. As someone who spends her life reading ancient texts, constantly reading stories about men, occasionally texts about women but usually those were written by men. Sometimes I get really discouraged, just as a human in the world, not as a scholar with a brain but as a woman with a body and feelings. So I wonder, as someone who’s been doing this longer, have you come up with any strategies for unearthing the hope? Maybe to circle us back to Pandora? Perhaps to let the hope out of the jar?

Deborah: [chuckles] That is depending on whether we think hope is a good thing or a bad thing![19]

I guess if I didn’t love these texts as much as I do, it might be harder. And of course one could ask, “Well, if these texts obscure and devalue women why do you love them so much?” But I think it’s the richness and the complexity and the ambiguity. So I’m always drawn to the ambiguities. 

But I think a lot of what I’ve said today probably points to that. That you have a figure like Clytemnestra, who was a byword throughout ancient Greek culture for the worst that a woman can be. And yet one of the greatest Greek poets gives her magnificent language to speak and makes her into just a really marvelous creation. I’m thinking here mainly of the Agamemnon. She loses stature later in the trilogy. But there are moments like that that I simply take as men recognizing the power of women. And the abilities of women. And one could say, “Well yes, but this is a terrible woman.” And I think part of the answer to that is that on some level men understood that they were keeping women down and limiting their options, and that they were afraid of this repressed power and what it could mean. 

So I think some of that misogyny comes not from a lack of appreciation for women’s power, but in fact an appreciation of it that led to these kinds of limiting and restricting behaviors. 

Now is that a reason to feel hopeful? I don’t know. I mean you can only get so far by reading Sappho, but at least there is Sappho! And she turns so much of this on its head. In the poem about Helen she turns the tables by saying, “What is beautiful is the thing that you love the most; and some people think it’s armies or ships or whatever, but I think it’s the thing one loves. And the proof of this is Helen, because she left her husband and daughter and family to go off with Paris.” 

And a lot of male writers have misread that poem and thought that because Helen was the most beautiful that somehow explained her flipping the subject and object and seeing her almost as the proof of what is most beautiful. But the point isn’t that Helen is the most beautiful. It’s that Helen, who is the most beautiful, understands or proves that love is what matters. That love is what makes something or someone beautiful. And so Sappho has a way of reclaiming female agency. But she does it—I don’t know whether this was deliberate or not—but it looks pretty sly, in that it has caused so much misdirection. It’s, you know, so easy even for contemporary male critics to just assume that Helen has to be the object of desire rather than the desiring subject.

I think we look for those moments and we take pleasure in them. But we also have to take pleasure in many other moments in Greek poetry that may not tell us something that we want to know about Greek women, but nonetheless open up a door to a different world.

Rebekah: Our podcast has implicitly claimed the importance of studying women’s history, but like most things that matter in the world, there can be a myriad of reasons for that, depending on the person and the moment and the goal. So can you give us your elevator pitch? Why does women’s history matter?

Deborah: Well, I’m in a little bit of a disadvantage because I wouldn’t really claim to be a historian. I mean I was trained in historical method, but I’m probably you know more of a literary critic/anthropologist than I am historian. [laughs] But I do think that it’s really important to understand that this culture—which is so famous for its playwrights, its philosophers, its men, right?—could not have managed, could not have survived without the contributions of women. 

And to find a way to tease out what those were I think helps to counter this really very artificial narrative, Great Man Narrative, that we tend to have about history in general and especially about ancient Greece. If we don’t at least look for the women we will really make a lot of mistakes about the men as well.

Emily: How can listening for women in the past change us, as modern readers? 

Deborah: I think for women scholars it’s almost a given that we want to find some way of seeing something of ourselves in the past. But maybe even more important is simply finding a way to come to terms with this heritage of Western civilization with all of its problems. And I mean, for so long it was simply lionized, and I think in recent years we’ve become much more critical of it and I think looking for the women probably helps to open up for us both the strengths and the weaknesses of these cultures. To see them in a more realistic light and to break down some of that idealizing that seems to be so much part of the male reading of Western culture. Does that make sense? 

Rebekah: Yeah.

Emily: Absolutely, and that’s beautiful. 

[podcast musical interlude]

Rebekah: In ancient Greek culture, men were thought of as the producers of permanent things and, consequently, the things that mattered to the human race. Things carved into stone like the Venus de Milo or forged out of metal like imperial coins.[20] Works of literature recopied by generations of students. Those massive marble temples that still dominate acropoleis across the Mediterranean. Women, on the other hand, were considered as producers of ephemeral things: bread eaten the next day, children who might not survive the year, clothing that would not last the test of time.[21]

Likely for this reason, historians over the centuries tended to focus on men as the forgers of culture. If you listen to Hesiod, the only lasting thing women created was everything wrong with the world! But as Deborah underscored in a recent chapter about his Pandora myths, “Without the gift of woman (and the gifts of women), man cannot go forward, cannot fully experience what it is to be human.”[22]

Emily: Pandora’s story reminds us that in fact women were producers too. And their influences could be long-lasting. Around 345 BCE an Athenian man Euxitheus found himself in court defending charges that he was a foreigner and not a free-born citizen.[23] In his transcript, he tells us about his mother Nicarete, daughter of Damostratus of Melite, and the sacrifices she willingly bore to give life and hope to her family (67–68). 

Despite being born to the Athenian civic class, Nicarete humbly took work as a wet nurse during a time of crushing family poverty (Demosthenes, Against Eubulides, 35, 43) and sold ribbons in the public marketplace (Against Eubulides31, 33–34). Euxitheus’ father, her second husband, had gone away to war; she was evidently desperate for income to feed her two children (Against Eubulides, 18–19, 42).[24] Though a well-born woman and socially prescribed to stay in the privacy of her home, she went to work. Euxitheus defends his mother’s actions with the words, “in view of the poverty with which she had to cope she did what was perhaps both necessary and fitting” (Against Eubulides, 42, trans. Murray, 1939).[25] Indeed, many free-born Athenian women were forced to take on lowly labor as nurses, weavers, and vineyard workers during those wartime days (45).[26] Their sacrifices kept their families alive and ensured a generation of Athenians survived.

Rebekah: This season we’ve seen moments where women seemingly broke out of boxes: killed their enemies, influenced laws, and founded an emerging religion. But we’ve also talked about the prostitutes, the wives, and the mothers. Roles that in our contemporary world sometimes take on negative connotations and sometimes are undervalued or overlooked. Ironically, in an age of female prime ministers and CEOs, motherhood can be perceived as antithetical to the feminist project. Ahmed’s idea of the “feminist killjoy” encourages us to identify the boxes that culture would put women in and turn them on their head. 

Emily: In ancient societies like Rome and Meroe, by contrast, women’s ability to bear children was a crucial civic contribution. In an agricultural society, people were required to work the fields. Dynasties needed heirs. Armies needed soldiers. Bodies were vital to the lifeblood of the empire. 

And if we’re only interested in the writers and lawgivers, we as scholars risk reifying the traditional boxes of male-centered history. Overlooking women’s intangible and supposedly insignificant products like giving life to human beings, but also weaving blankets to protect against the winter nights,[27] dressing the goddess’s statue in the local temple to ensure the city’s protection,[28] taking gifts to their ancestors’ graves to support them in the afterlife,[29] and providing clothing and food to the needy (Acts 9:36). Women are woven into the fabric of society and simultaneously weave that fabric. 

Rebekah: If you’ve spent any time studying women’s history, you’ve likely heard the phrase “reading against the grain.” What that means in practice can vary. We hope throughout this season to have given at least ten different examples of what reading against the grain can look like as we work to recover women from the past. Putting texts in conversation with material evidence. Noticing how laws for women could parallel laws for men.[30] Observing how tropes and stereotypes shape women’s characterization.[31] Remembering that texts authored by women can be as profoundly layered and socially-constructed as ones written by men.[32] We’ve tried this season to offer suggestions for working our way out of the boxes.

Emily: Studying women’s history can open a misogynistic and patriarchal can of worms—or jar of evils, if you will. It can be discouraging and exhausting to constantly study myths and stories like Pandora’s that blame women as the source of all evil. Perhaps if we can resist the temptation to snap the lid back on the jar—maybe even dash the jar wide open—we can finally allow the hope therein to escape. 

The history of women in the ancient Mediterranean is both more challenging to uncover and more hopeful in the finding than you might have guessed at the outset of our journey. Perpetua’s diary was such a rare sampling of a woman’s own voice. But even in complex literary narratives, both positively and negatively charged; in writing poetry and painting art—though their names may have been left off; in working to change laws; in defending their kingdoms against colonial aggressors; in finding ways to make a living under oppressive economic systems; and in the private, overlooked spaces of the home raising their children—women were there.

[podcast theme music play]

Emily: If you enjoyed our show, please rate and review us on Apple PodcastsSpotifyAudible, or wherever you get your podcasts. Check out our website, womenwhowentbefore.com or find us on Twitter @womenbefore

This podcast is written and produced and edited by us, Emily Chesley and Rebekah Haigh. Our music is composed and produced by Moses Sun. This podcast is sponsored by the Center for Culture, Society and Religion, the Program in Judaic Studies, and the Stanley J. Seeger Center for Hellenic Studies all at Princeton University.

Rebekah: Thanks for listening to Women Who Went Before. And don’t forget: women were there!

[podcast theme music sweeps to its final end]

[1] Iza, “Pithos Garden of Troy,” Turkish Archaeological News, September 3, 2020, quoting Izabela Miszczak, The Secrets of Troy (TAN Travel Guide) (ASLAN Publishing House: 2020).

[2] See Natalie Haynes, Pandora’s Jar: Women In Greek Myths, audio book, narrated by Natalie Haynes (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2022). 

[3] On Homeric parallels to Hesiod’s Pandora myths, see A. S. Brown, “Aphrodite and the Pandora Complex,” The Classical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1997): 26–47.

[4] Hesiod, Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia, ed. and tran. Glenn W. Most, Loeb Classical Library 57 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018), 95.

[5] On the multivalent meaning of πανδώρα, see Deborah Lyons, “Pandora and the Ambiguous Works of Women: All-Taking or All-Giving?” Women and the Gift: Beyond the Given and All-Giving, edited by Morny Joy (Indiana University Press, 2013), esp. 56–57.

[6] While hope as a positive thing is the common assumption in modern general culture, scholars like Jonathan P. Zarecki have argued that ἐλπίς is at best “fundamentally neutral” in Hesiod’s telling, if not outright negative. See Jonathan P. Zarecki, “Pandora and the Good Eris in Hesiod,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 47 (2007): 22–24, quotation at 23; and Lilah-Grace Fraser, “A Woman of Consequence: Pandora in Hesiod’s ‘Works and Days’,” The Cambridge Classical Journal 57 (2011), 21–24.

[7] Fraser, “A Woman of Consequence,” 12.

[8] Hesiod, Theogony, 51. 

[9] Hesiod, Theogony, 53.

[10] Dora and Erwin Panofsky argued that Erasmus of Rotterdam was the person primarily responsible for shifting the word choice about Pandora’s vessel from a jar to a box, by changing the word pithos into pyxisPandora’s Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol,  Mythos: The Princeton/Bollingen Series in World Mythology 737 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1962), 15–18.

[11] The application of the killjoy gets in-depth treatment by Drs. Megan Goodwin and Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst throughout their podcast Keeping It 101: a killjoy’s introduction to religion.

[12] See The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); and Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). Feminists “disturb the very fantasy that happiness can be found in certain places” (Ahmed, Promise of Happiness, 66).

[13] Lyons, “Pandora and the Ambiguous Works,” 53–71. On the complexities of Hesiod’s Pandora myths, see also Deborah Lyons, Dangerous Gifts: Gender and Exchange in Ancient Greece (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2012), 37–47.

[14] Lyons, “Pandora and the Ambiguous Works,” 55. See also, Deborah Lyons, “The Scandal of Women’s Ritual,” in Finding PersephoneWomen’s Rituals in the Ancient Mediterranean, ed. A. Tzanetou and M. Parca (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007): 29–51.

[15] Marylin A. Katz, Penelope’s Renown:  Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991).

[16] Lyons, “Pandora and the Ambiguous Works,” 66–67.

[17] Lyons, “Pandora and the Ambiguous Works,” 55.

[18] Deborah Lyons, “Heroines, Heroes, and Apotheosis: Where the Bodies are Buried.” in Übermensch – Vorbild – Kultfigur in der griechischen Antike, ed. Marion Meyer and Ralf von den Hoff. Vienna: Rombach, 2010: 71–84.

[19] See discussion in footnote 6.

[20] “Ideal Greek Beauty: Venus de Milo and the Galerie des Antiques,” The Louvre.

[21] Referencing the work of Annette Weiner and Jane Schneider, Deborah Lyons reminds that: “Greek culture is similar to many others in which wealth is seen as gendered, male wealth consisting of durable objects of metal or stone, while female wealth is more ephemeral, made of cloth, leaves, or other flexible materials that may be woven or plaited.” Lyons, “Pandora and the Ambiguous Works,” 57, referencing Weiner and Schneider, eds, Cloth and Human Experience (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989).

[22] Lyons, Dangerous Gifts, 44–45.

[23] Victor Bers, “Appeal Against Eubulides,” in Demosthenes, Speeches 50-59, trans. Victor Bers (University of Texas, 2003), 108; and A. T. Murray, “Introduction,” in Demosthenes. Orations, Volume VI: Orations 50-59: Private Cases. In Neaeram, transA. T. Murray, Loeb Classical Library 351 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), 230. 

[24] She had first married a man named Protomachus and bore him a daughter. But then the opportunity to marry a wealthy heiress came along, and so Protomachus divorced Nicarete and married her off to his “acquaintance” Thucritus (57.40–41).

[25] In Demosthenes. Orations, Volume VI: Orations 50-59: Private Cases. In Neaeram, transA. T. Murray, Loeb Classical Library 351 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939), 263.

[26] Other Attic women earned money picking grapes; selling vegetables, bread, or flower garlands; and washing laundry to help provide for their households (See David M. Pritchard, “The Position of Women in Democratic Athens,” Greece & Rome 61, no. 2 [2014], 186). See also Angeliki Kosmopoulou, “’Working Women’: Female Professionals on Classical Attic Gravestones,” The Annual of the British School at Athens 96 (2001): 281–319.

[27] Ancient Greek women’s graves depict a kalathos (a weaving basket), so frequently that scholars use that design to identify women’s graves. Elizabeth Trinkl, “The Wool Basket: function, depiction and meaning of the kalathos,” in Greek and Roman Textiles and Dress, eds. Mary Harlow and Marie-Louise Nosch (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014), 200.

[28] Pritchard, “The Position of Attic Women,” 190. On Greek women’s religious rituals, see also Lyons, “The Scandal of Women’s Ritual,” 29–51.

[29] Pritchard, “The Position of Attic Women,” 191.

[30] “Suffering Witches to Live: Jewish Women and the Legacies of Religious Law,” Women Who Went Before, Season 1 Episode 8.

[31] Fall Girl: Theology, Gender, and How Eve Ruined Us All,” Women Who Went Before, Season 1 Episode 3.

[32] “In Her Own Words: Ancient Women Authors,” Women Who Went Before, Season 1 Episode 9.

  • Sara Ahmed. Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.
  • ———. The Promise of Happiness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
  • Victor Bers. “Appeal Against Eubulides.” In Demosthenes, Speeches 50-59. Translated by Victor Bers. Austin: University of Texas, 2003.
  • A. S. Brown. “Aphrodite and the Pandora Complex.” The Classical Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1997): 26–47. 
  • Demosthenes. Orations, Volume VI: Orations 50-59: Private Cases. In Neaeram. Translated by A. T. Murray. Loeb Classical Library 351. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939.
  • Megan Goodwin and Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst. Keeping It 101: a killjoy’s introduction to religion. Podcast. 15 January 2020—Present. 
  • Lilah-Grace Fraser. “A Woman of Consequence: Pandora in Hesiod’s ‘Works and Days’.” The Cambridge Classical Journal 57 (2011): 9–28. 
  • Natalie Haynes. Pandora’s Jar: Women In Greek Myths. Audio book. Narrated by Natalie Haynes. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2022.
  • Hesiod. Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia. Edited and Translated by Glenn W. Most. Loeb Classical Library 57. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.
  • “Ideal Greek Beauty: Venus de Milo and the Galerie des Antiques.” The Louvre.
  • Iza. “Pithos Garden of Troy.” Turkish Archaeological News. September 3, 2020.
  • Marylin A. Katz. Penelope’s Renown:  Meaning and Indeterminacy in the Odyssey. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
  • Angeliki Kosmopoulou, “’Working Women’: Female Professionals on Classical Attic Gravestones,” The Annual of the British School at Athens 96 (2001): 281–319.
  • Deborah Lyons. Dangerous Gifts: Gender and Exchange in Ancient Greece. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2012.
  • ———. “Female Goods in the Ancient Greek Domestic and Symbolic Economies.” Pp. 93–98 in The Material Sides Of Marriage: Women And Domestic Economies In Antiquity. Edited by Rita Berg.Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae 43. Rome: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, 2016.
  • ———. “Heroines, Heroes, and Apotheosis: Where the Bodies are Buried.” Pp. 71–84 in Übermensch – Vorbild – Kultfigur in der griechischen Antike. Edited by Marion Meyer and Ralf von den Hoff. Vienna: Rombach, 2010.
  • ———. “Pandora and the Ambiguous Works of Women: All-Taking or All-Giving?” Pp. 53–71 in Women and the Gift: Beyond the Given and All-Giving. Edited by Morny Joy. Indiana University Press, 2013.
  • ———. “The Scandal of Women’s Ritual.” Pp. 29–51 in Finding Persephone: Women’s Rituals in the Ancient Mediterranean. Edited by Maryline Parca and Angeliki Tzanetou. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.
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