Sunday, 26 January 2014

Pandora and the Fear of Beauty

This week I had to do a class presentation on the myth of Prometheus and Pandora as it features in the writings of the Greek poet Hesiod. The myth is quite difficult to grasp and has been interpreted in various different ways. I would suggest reading the writings of the Greek poet Hesiod (Theogony and Works and Days) as it is also important to consider it within the context of the entire work. I have only read the English translation, which limits my ability to accurately render the poet’s intent. Nevertheless, I would like to offer my own interpretation, supplemented by class discussions as well as secondary literature by the hands of Dr L.G. Canevaro and S. Nelson. The translation I worked from is by M.L. West. My interpretation goes hand in hand with my personal experiences, which is perhaps most important to get any value from the mythology that I study.

Prometheus is a character that represents foresight. He has a brother, Epimetheus, who represents hindsight. From what I understand, they were not mortals but represented mankind. Prometheus tried to trick Zeus through unfair division of portions of a slaughtered animal. This angered Zeus, which caused him to take away “untiring fire” from mankind. Prometheus stole back a “far-beaconing flare” of untiring fire for mankind, which he hid in a fennel stalk. As punishment, Zeus gave mankind Pandora, who represents women. She was adorned by all the gifts from the various gods but had a thievish nature. Epimetheus was stupid enough to accept the gift of Pandora.

This let out all the evils in the world because Pandora unstopped the jar. However, she closed the lid on “elpis” (usually interpreted as hope but more accurately translated as expectation) which remained in the jar by the providence of Zeus. In the work of Hesiod, men of the Iron Age have to work for a living because of the progressive deterioration of mankind. (Read more on the mythology of the ages here.) In this context, women are not to be trusted; they might deceive you through their appearances but only be interested in your wealth. The best way to deal with them is to keep them close, control them, or alternatively make a good choice. A good woman can be worth gold.
Image by André Koekemoer
The myth has been interpreted along the lines of hope as something positive to help us deal with all the evils in the world. The poet has also been described as a misogynist. However, I think that there is much more to the myth of Pandora. I cannot disregard the Freudian association of Pandora’s jar. She hypnotises men but the desire to have her can never be fulfilled. Looking at it that way, expectation remains safe in the jar because man doesn’t have access to it. Pandora is a trick in response to Prometheus’ trick of unfair division of portions. Because of expectation or hope of fulfilment that is beyond man’s reach, the evils have flown out into the world, out of control. The punishment of the gods is due to Pandora consuming the wealth of man while he has to work for a living.

The portion of fire stolen back by Prometheus could shed some light on what this myth means. Untiring fire belonged to mankind to start with, but after the trickery man only acquired a far-beaconing flare of it. This represents the advent of ego consciousness, which explains the need to control and possess what is a gift that can never belong to us anyway. The illusion lies in the fact that we are lured to what we desire but we cannot have it. Because of the continual expectation that having something would mean fulfilment of the desire, living is hard work. The world is a place filled with evils because everyone has to fight to get a portion of the value that deceives us. The story of Pandora is not only man’s dilemma, but the world we have created together where fulfilment is always on the horizon. The more we try to acquire what we value, the more it consumes us. Man might think himself to be cunning, but only in looking back do we see the chaos we have created by our short-sightedness.

After the class presentation and completing my week’s worth of planned studies, I had an empty space of a couple of hours’ time while waiting for my partner to arrive home. As the world moves at an ever faster pace, I become increasingly aware of the need to use every spare moment to create something valuable. I never seem to have enough time, and yet this empty stretch felt threatening. I have had something in mind that I wanted to draw but I couldn’t bring myself to use this space to work on the project. I was tired but that wasn’t what prevented me from getting to work since creative expression usually gives me energy. It was fear that stood in my way.

I have worked hard to move past my fear of failure. Since I wouldn’t be doing it to achieve anything I had trouble understanding what I was afraid of. I realised that it was the fear of beauty which stood in my way. Mankind’s response to Pandora, the gift from the gods, was not only the tension experienced by men in response to what they desire. She represents the beauty in everything that is God given and our own fear that we might not live up to what we appreciate in something outside of ourselves. I felt afraid of drawing something because I wanted it to represent the beautiful image in my mind’s eye and was afraid that it wouldn’t. The fear is of not being worthy of the beauty in creation that has been given to me for free as an act of love. It is because of beauty that we fear being inadequate, in response to which we continually need to prove ourselves through being better or having more.

Maybe if we learn to accept the gifts from the gods without allowing the perception of only being a far-beaconing flare of untiring fire to stand in our way, we could start reversing the trick of unfair divisions of portions.