REVIEW: Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes

The writer explores some of the most famous Greek myths – but from the female characters perspectives to offer an engaging contemporary insight.

Who knew Beyonce, Star Trek and Orange is the New Black could have relevance to Greek mythology? But with strong knowledge, research and humour, Natalie Haynes examines not only how the female characters have been mistreated in them but also how mythology continues to influence the world of art, film and beyond.

Selecting ten strong female personalities including Pandora, Jocasta and Medea, Natalie Haynes explores the myths with great detail – through the art and plays that they have inspired. While using the way in which the myth is how we all recognise it as a starting point, Haynes effectively dissects every element of it to offer a new perspective – particularly for the female characters.

While some of the stories that she has selected are more interesting than others and it is possible to get lost in the detail of the description of pottery and artworks (which it would have been lovely to have images of that we could refer to), Pandora’s Jar is a refreshing way to examine these well known myths.

In particular, the way in which she re-examines the character of Medea who is traditionally seen as a monster or insane, Haynes offers a new interpretation of a woman who was so in despair that the terrible deeds that she did was the only she could see rectifying the situation. She was clever and manipulative – but also a very complex character emotionally. Meanwhile, the chapter focusing on Medusa, known as a monster with snakes for hair is rather sombre as Haynes shows how interpretations reveal that she was raped but punished by the gods for it. Throughout, Haynes captures the idea that many myths have contemporary ideas behind them that make them still relatable today.

By including contemporary references including Beyonce, Clash of the Titans and Star Trek to illustrate her points, Haynes asks why it is characters such as Jason, Hippolytus and Orpheus who at the centre of attention when it is the female characters who are actually the stronger characters as seen in the chapter relating to The Amazons.

It is a book that has been deeply researched and it is clear that Haynes was determined to cover every angle of these myths in detail But, there are occasions that she focuses too much on the detail of the pottery or art work she is describing and takes away from the interest in the myth she is analysing.

This aside, it is an engaging and fascinating read that really does change your perceptive on these particular female characters. It is worth a read particularly if you already have a strong knowledge of Greek mythology and these characters.

By Emma Clarendon

Pandora’s Jar is available to buy now.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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