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The Movement Of Liminal Women And Its Consequences In Early Greek Myth

5992 words - 24 pages

The Movement of Liminal Women and its Consequences in Early Greek Myth

The title of this paper takes as its cue Blondell et al's Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides, [1] which argues in its introduction that "[w]omen in tragedy often disrupt 'normal' life by their words and actions: they speak out boldly, tell lies, cause public unrest, violate custom, defy orders, even kill." (Blondell, Gamel, Rabinowitz, Sorkin and Zweig. 1999, x) The four plays selected by the editors - Alcestis, Medea, Helen and Iphigenia at Aulis offer "examples of women who support the status quo and women who oppose and disrupt it." (Blondell, Gamel, Rabinowitz, Sorkin and Zweig. 1999, x) Sometimes, ...view middle of the document...

Rites of transition may be interpreted in the corresponding change of status that these women undergo - from daughters, virgins and legitimate spouses, to brides, wives and consorts. Finally, rites of incorporation occur once Pandora, Persephone and Helen are reintegrated into what the myths depict as a new world. This is achieved through aetiological explanations for the state of the cosmos and/or the institution of a new era of the human condition. Through the prism of these myths, it is therefore possible to understand the interaction between the mortal and the divine as metamorphosing into an increasingly complex, and finally fragmented, relationship.

I commence with Pandora, who we may interpret as the first human woman. [2] In both Works and Days and the Theogony, Hesiod describes Pandora as being formed after Prometheus twice transgresses against Zeus; first through deceitful sacrifice and secondly through the theft of fire. As a consequence of these actions, Zeus decrees that he "shall give them [men] an affliction in which they will all delight as they embrace their own misfortune." (West 1988, 57-8) And now Pandora is created, Hephaistos making "from earth the likeness of a modest virgin," (Caldwell, 571-2) and Athena dressing her in silver clothes, giving her a veil and garlands in her hair as well as a "golden diadem" (Hesiod. Theogony. West trans. 577). made by Hephaistos. In Works and Days, the Graces, hallowed Persuasion, the Seasons and Hermes are also involved in this undertaking, the latter naming her Pandora, "All gift, because all the dwellers on Olympus made her their gift - a calamity for men who live by bread." (Hesiod. Works and Days. West trans. 81-3) Importantly, Hermes places in her heart "lies and wily pretences and a knavish nature." (Hesiod. Works and Days. West trans. 68). The introduction of Pandora into the mortal realm may be viewed as a continuation of the civilising of mankind. Through the duplicitous actions of Prometheus, a precedent has been set regarding sacrificial ritual, and the use of fire further elevates humans above the other beasts inhabiting the earth. Pandora's presence will continue this trend through the institution of the marriage rite; or as Vernant writes, "the female creature fashioned by the gods for the human beings is described as a parthenos [virgin] adorned to celebrate her marriage." (Vernant190-1). Thus from the first, she appears as daughter, virgin and bride; this intimates not only her future role in procreation, but also the need for women to enter unions both sanctioned and legitimised by men - be they mortal or otherwise. This theme will also recur in the discussion of Persephone and Helen.

Although Pandora may not be the actual 'daughter' of any one god, she - the "molded woman" - has been touched, in her creation, by many. As with the deceitful sacrifice of Prometheus, she appears as a gift to "set against the fire," (Hesiod. Works and Days. West trans. 57). though...

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