Book Review: "Pandora's Jar" by Natalie Haynes
5/5 - a fantastic book of the terrors of being female in the Ancient Greek World...
There is a really odd story to how I came across Natalie Haynes’ “Pandora’s Jar” and it is something that I found incredibly wholesome. When I went to the shopping centre of my hometown, I was not really looking for anything in particular and had just gone to pick up some reading for my journeys ahead. A woman in the store came up to me and asked me if I had heard of this particular book and after I had said I had not, she persuaded me to read it. Speaking with a lot of passion about the novel, she got me very excited to see what it was all about and I can honestly say that it does not disappoint whatsoever. A brilliant mixture of Ancient Greek Myth and modernist writing styles, we get to examine the major women of the greek literary tradition through new and wider perspectives. We get to examine each character for who they are and not based on their connection to anyone else. Many of these times, women were treated terribly for things they could not control. For example: the fact that Poseidon raped Medusa in Athena’s temple meant that Medusa would be transformed into a very ugly woman whose look would turn men to stone. Another one is about Jocasta and how her fate was sealed by everyone around her but she did not really have a say in what was happening to her. Instead, she went along with it for years and years. It was absolutely horrifying the read, but it does teach you a lot about the sidelined narrative of women. When I got to the end of the book, I noticed how a lot of things I thought I knew about the politics of greek myths and gender were pretty much world known. Now that I have seen that brilliant book I can say that I really don’t but
I think my personal favourite chapter was on the character of Jocasta she had so much inflicted upon her in terms of bad prophecy and yet never did anything actually wrong. The prophecy was never hers, it was never her idea to kill the child, just lose it somehow, it was also not her idea to get together with Oedipus once she promised a man her hand for the defeat of the Sphinx. Jocasta represents the opposite to Medusa - which is the prize.
Another one of my favourites was Medusa (obviously) but then there is also a woman I have revered as a character from literature since her character has always been so well written into the story - that character is Clytemnestra. So unfairly treated by many scholars as the ‘evil’ or ‘scheming’ almost Lady Macbeth character, Clytemnestra is actually massively complex in the way she handles herself and the house in the return of Agamemnon from battle. It is a massively complex story since there is a question of the fact that it has been a decade since their last meeting and therefore, things have most definitely changed. However, the writers often go through the character development only to have her do something completely out of character (no spoilers here, go and read the plays by Aeschylus).
In conclusion, I think that this book definitely clears up many unfair arguments and characteristics placed on the heads of these women who, like the men, were out to protect their names, their land and their dignity - but differently to the men, they were nearly always ridiculed and punished for doing so. From Medusa, to Clytemnestra, from Persephone to Jocasta and the Amazonian, this book covers all of that injustice and so much more in grand and splendid detail.