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Pandora's Senses

The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text

Vered Lev Kenaan

Publication Year: 2008

The notorious image of Pandora haunts mythology: a woman created as punishment for the crimes of man, she is the bearer of hope yet also responsible for the Earth’s desolation. She binds together perpetuating dichotomies that underlie the most fundamental aspects of the Western canon:  beauty and evil, body and soul, depth and superficiality, truth and lie. Speaking in multiplicity, Pandora emerges as the first sign of female complexity.
     In this compelling study, Vered Lev Kenaan offers a radical revision of the Greek myth of the first woman. She argues that Pandora leaves a decisive mark on ancient poetics and shows that we can unravel the profound impact of Pandora’s image once we recognize that Pandora embodies the very idea of the ancient literary text. Locating the myth of the first woman right at the heart of feminist interrogation of gender and textuality, Pandora’s Senses moves beyond a feminist critique of masculine hegemony by challenging the reading of Pandora as a one-dimensional embodiment of the misogynist vision of the feminine. Uncovering Pandora as a textual principle operating outside of the feminine, Lev Kenaan shows the centrality of this iconic figure among the poetics of such central genres as the cosmological and didactic epic, the Platonic dialogue, the love elegy, and the ancient novel. Pandora’s Senses innovates our understanding of gender as a critical lens through which to view ancient literature.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

“Throughout history people have knocked their heads against the riddle of femininity.” Thus Freud introduced the subject of his famous lecture of 1932. He turned to the audience and distinguished between the meanings of this riddle for his male and female listeners: “Nor will you have escaped worrying over this problem—those of you who are men; to those of you who are women this will not apply—you are yourselves the problem.” ...

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pp. 3-16

The title Pandora’s Senses: The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text follows a well-known convention in academic writing. This is a study that presents itself under a double title: a main title and a subtitle. What is the connection between Pandora and “the feminine character of the ancient text”? How can the particularity of a specific mythical figure bear on our understanding of the ancient text? ...

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1. Pandora’s Light

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pp. 17-47

In the beginning there were only men. Then came one woman. That is how Hesiod, epic poet of the eighth century BCE, conceived of the creation of humanity. In introducing Pandora, the first woman, Hesiod grounds his history of humanity in the distinction between the one and the many. Before Pandora the world is inhabited by a generic crowd of males who remain nameless and wholly unspecified. ...

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2. Pandora and the Myth of Otherness

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pp. 48-75

In the beginning there were only men. Then came the first woman and disrupted the self-sameness that grounded the harmonious condition of humanity.1 Pandora appears in the world and immediately takes the form of the ultimate Other. But the fact that she bears the mark of otherness is due not only to her femininity or to her sexuality as such. ...

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3. The Socratic Pandora

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pp. 76-102

Pandora is at the center of an otherness that is omnipresent in the literary text.1 In Hesiod’s Works and Days her otherness is, first and foremost, a sign of a poetics that recognizes its finitude and embraces its human origins. Pandora marks the unbridgeable distance that separates the human language from a pure language of sameness, the language of the gods. ...

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4. Pandora’s Voice and the Emergence of Ovid’s Poetic Persona

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pp. 103-130

Hesiod’s version of the myth of the first woman locates the origin of language in Zeus’s deceitful gift to men. Pandora, the archetypal woman, is known for her gift of seduction and her ability to manipulate her beholders. She is the first human being to be characterized by language. She is, in fact, a master of rhetoric whose divine patron is the god Hermes himself (W&D 59–82). ...

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5. Feminine Subjectivity and the Self-Contradicting Text

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pp. 131-160

In chapter 4 I examine the emergence of Ovid’s unique authority within the tradition of Roman love elegy. My reading of his singularity as a love elegist focuses on his poetic persona, his adaptation of the feminine voice with its overtones of lasciviousness and transgression. The term Musa proterva marks Ovid’s understanding of the intimate relationship between poetry, eros, and the feminine. ...

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6. Pandora’s Tears

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pp. 161-186

Pandora is a work of art, molded by the divine hands of the god of artisanship, Hephaestus. She is a handmade figure. Pandora, the first work of art, signals the origin of art, and the origin of art as techne. However, she is more than an objet d’art serving as a model for the act of craftsmanship. She is herself a gifted artisan. As a seducer, she knows the art of love. ...

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pp. 187-189

“We remain the only samples of humankind,” says Deucalion to Pyrrha in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Yet in their very first step to restore the human race after the flood, the difference between man and woman manifests itself. When they turn to the oracle for advice, the goddess responds with an imperative: “Leave my temple, cover your heads, unfasten your girdled garments, and throw behind you the bones of your great mother.” ...


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pp. 191-221


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pp. 223-236


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pp. 237-253

E-ISBN-13: 9780299224134
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299224103

Publication Year: 2008