Pandora’s Jar Review

After reading A Thousand Ships and not finding it as brilliant as I had hoped, I was not planning to read Pandora’s Jar, but it came up in a discussion for a book club, so I decided to read it ahead of the next meeting. I am so glad I did.

Natalie Haynes’ nonfiction writing style is informative, but not long-winded. Haynes gives the women in the famous Greek myths the attention and nuance they have always deserved while keeping a sense of humor. There were several passages that were funny and I appreciated the humor in the often bleak subject matter. This is a nonfiction companion to the fiction trend in recent years to give the women of the Greek myths retellings featuring them and giving them their due.

The ultimate bad wife.

My favorite chapter of this book was the one on Clytemnestra. The sister of the famous Helen, she is often overlooked in the drama of the Illiad. Haynes calls her the “ultimate bad wife,” in Greek tales of women who reflect male anxieties about gender and power. Since she rules Mycenae in her husband, Agamemnon’s, absence, she is too masculine to be a real woman, and therefore must be a monster. She proves her monstrous status by murdering Agamemnon upon his return, and his kidnapped war bride, Cassandra. Clytemnestra’s revenge is understandable, however, when one factors in the wrongs Agamemnon had done her: murdering their daughter, Iphigenia, before leaving for the Trojan War. Haynes also mentions that Clytemnestra had been married before Agamemnon and that Agamemnon also murdered her first husband and their child. By giving Clytemnestra the attention in this book, we gain deeper understandings of these classic stories.

I am now looking forward to reading more of Natalie Haynes’ work in fiction and am excited for any upcoming nonfiction she might release.

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