Author: Natalie Haynes
Publication: May 13th 2021 by Pan Macmillan
Genre: Nonfiction, Greek Mythology
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The Greek myths are among the world’s most important cultural building blocks and they have been retold many times, but rarely do they focus on the remarkable women at the heart of these ancient stories.
Stories of gods and monsters are the mainstay of epic poetry and Greek tragedy, from Homer to Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, from the Trojan War to Jason and the Argonauts. And still, today, a wealth of novels, plays and films draw their inspiration from stories first told almost three thousand years ago. But modern tellers of Greek myth have usually been men, and have routinely shown little interest in telling women’s stories. And when they do, those women are often painted as monstrous, vengeful or just plain evil. But Pandora – the first woman, who according to legend unloosed chaos upon the world – was not a villain, and even Medea and Phaedra have more nuanced stories than generations of retellings might indicate.
Now, in Pandora’s Jar, Natalie Haynes – broadcaster, writer and passionate classicist – redresses this imbalance. Taking Pandora and her jar (the box came later) as the starting point, she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk. After millennia of stories telling of gods and men, be they Zeus or Agamemnon, Paris or Odysseus, Oedipus or Jason, the voices that sing from these pages are those of Hera, Athena and Artemis, and of Clytemnestra, Jocasta, Eurydice and Penelope.
I’ve read Natalie Haynes’ fiction books A Thousand Ships and The Children of Jocasta before. I enjoyed both of these books, one more than the other, but I didn’t nearly love them as much as I did Pandora’s Jar, which is a nonfiction about women in the Greek myths. It was absolutely a brilliant read!
It’s no secret that I love Greek mythology (and literally anything about the ancient Mediterranean world). I also just feel so happy that in the past few years the whole topic of Greek mythology has become very popular and us who are obsessed with it all have gotten lots of content to devour. On the downside you start to think when there’s a new book related to Greek myth that you might not enjoy it as much since you’ve already read so much of it but that certainly wasn’t the case with this one.
Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myths has chapters about Pandora, Jocasta, Helen, Medusa, The Amazons, Clytemnestra, Eurydice, Phaedra, Medea and Penelope. Each and every chapter was really fascinating to read but I did have my favorites. I really loved the ones about Pandora, Medusa, The Amazons, Eurydice and Medea. I’m so glad they all got their chance to shine in this book! A rather unexpected part of the women’s stories and Natalie Haynes’ voice was the humor which was somewhat dry. I totally loved that because that’s exactly my type of humor too. It often made me go heh 🙂
So forget about Achilles, Theseus, Odysseus, Herakles, Jason and all those so-called heroes! Natalie Haynes is here to give the women in the Greek myths a voice, which is something they deserve after thousands and thousands of years of being silenced.
About the author:
Natalie Haynes is a writer and broadcaster and – according to the Washington Post – a rock star mythologist. Her first novel, The Amber Fury, was published to great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, as was The Ancient Guide to Modern Life, her previous book. Her second novel, The Children of Jocasta, was published in 2017. Her retelling of the Trojan War, A Thousand Ships, was published in 2019. It was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020. It has been translated into multiple languages. Her most recent non-fiction book, Pandora’s Jar: Women in the Greek Myth was published in Oct 2020, and Margaret Atwood liked it.
She has spoken on the modern relevance of the classical world on three continents, from Cambridge to Chicago to Auckland.
She writes for the Guardian. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4: reviewing for Front Row and Saturday Review, appearing as a team captain on three seasons of Wordaholics, and banging on about Juvenal whenever she gets the chance. Six series of her show, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics, have been broadcast on Radio 4: all series are available now on BBC Sounds.