As ancient Greek poet Euphorion of Chalcis once wrote, “Pandora, donor of evil, [is] man’s sorrow self-imposed.”
On Wednesday, Feb. 10, at Claremont McKenna College's Marian Cook Miner Athenaeum, professor of classics Ruby Blondell from the University of Washington, Seattle, spoke on the implications of Pandora in Greek mythology. Blondell also holds the title of Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities at the University of Washington. She has published widely on Greek literature and philosophy, in addition to the reception of myth in popular culture.
Modern culture perpetuates the strict dichotomy between good and evil, yet this phenomenon is notably absent in many ancient texts, particularly in the Greek myth about Pandora and her box. In the story, Pandora, the first woman, opened a box that released all the sufferings and evils that plague man. However, Pandora was not completely evil since the gods had bestowed upon her the gifts of a functioning mind, voice, and sexual desire. Through this myth, Blondell examined the gender roles, rules, and stereotypes imposed on women in ancient Greece. She then examined how this myth has affected modern views towards gender and femininity.
“It has certainly caused me to think about the gender biases that have resulted because of stories depicting women as a cause of misfortune,” Julian Hernandez CM '19 said. “Most of our teachings have grown from ancient stories such as Pandora, and I believe that misinterpretation of women has had disastrous effects leading to women being seen as inferior in modern society. In these myths, you hear how women are meant to take care of a household because that is what the 'gods' have dictated, yet this has led to stereotypes that persist even today about how women should behave.”
In her talk, Blondell used humor and witty remarks to explain the social norms of Classical Greece in a modern context. She also discussed how beauty—especially in a woman's eyes—was often thought of as one of the most destructive tools of power. As Hernandez put it, “You don't necessarily think of eyes as being the most attractive feature in a person, but as they say, the eyes are the window to the soul. This is true since the eyes allow you to see a person for who they are while creating an emotional bond.”
As Blondell elaborated on Greek history and ancient myths, she remained cognizant of the effect these tales have on people today. Although many centuries have passed since these stories were first told, they still have a message regarding the deeper truth about human comprehension.
“It's important to understand the thoughts and beliefs of people in the past mainly so we can learn from them,” Luke Radice CM '19 said. “A lot of people are eager to condemn the ancient Greeks for their treatment of women, but it is intriguing that it was accepted then. I am certain such things exist in our society today; things that will be seen as deplorable in the future that we accept now because that's just the way it is.”
Hernandez also mentioned, “There are certain people in this world who believe they completely understand what is going on and why, but if they took the time to stop and look at past beliefs, they would see that they are not all-knowing. Understanding how those in the past thought is crucial for determining how to progress in the future and act as a community. Just because these people lived in the past doesn't mean they don't have knowledge relevant to us in the present.”
All in all, beauty seems to be a paradox. We love to hate beauty and we hate to love it as we blame beauty for the evil and wicked ways of man. However, through understanding the ancient Greeks' projected ideals of female beauty, this paradox in all its contradictions was accepted and seen as the nature of a woman. [awkward and confusing sentence?]