Today we are going to talk about the most famous woman in Western History after Eve: Helen of Troy. The fact is, Eve and Helen have a lot in common. The first mother, Eve, seems to have acquired a bad reputation because of Helen.
Helen: the face that launched a thousand ships and brought about the war that killed the greatest heroes of myth and legend. Helen is undoubtedly the most notorious woman in Western Culture and yet, we have no idea of what she really may have looked like.
For three thousand or more years, woman has been the “doormat-pedestal.” Women have been idolized and demonized, adored and degraded, relieved of working for a living, and denied the advocacy of the courts. Women have been the last to be inducted as soldiers, and the first to suffer from wars. Women are said to bring bliss in one moment, and misery and suffering in the next. Women have been described as divinities and beasts, or some ambiguous state in between. “Humanity” is generally meant to refer to men, and women are “other.” This “otherness” of women is still dominant in our culture.
The story of women is a story of misogyny – hatred of woman. What’s even worse is that this culture of ours has also instilled women’s self-hatred.
We are compelled to ask: how did this come to be? What happened in our remote past that transformed woman from the Virgin mother of God into Eve, the downfall of humanity?
There is no need to define or to document further the existence of misogyny. Like racism, it is a reality as undeniable and irrational as the weather. […]
One of the most remarkable characteristiscs of misogyny is its doctrinal integrity. No blind belief, no creed has remained so incorrupt for so long. Nietzsche and Hesiod, Aeschylus and John Pull II, Gorgias and Clarence Thomas, for all of their differences, recite the same lines with respect to women. It is as if they went to the same school, studied the same text, entitled Helen.
If the long history of misogyny is one of rote learning and monotonous repetition, it is not for that reason inevitable. It had a beginning… [Meagher, Robert E.: Helen, Myth, Legend, and the Culture of Misogyny; 1995, Continuum, New York]
The story of Helen seems to be the story of the shift to misogyny. The legends say that Helen was responsible for a “war to end all wars,” an Armageddon, Gog and Magog, the final battle of Troy. After the war was over, the victors wrote the history. Hesiodwas a propagandist of this shift in his story of the first woman, Pandora.
Supposedly Hesiodcomposed his Theogonyand Works and Dayssometime around the 8th or early 7th century BC, just a bit earlier than the time during which the Bible was assembled. The same stories that Hesiod drew on were being circulated throughout the Mediterannean and clear traces of them can be found in the Bible. It is thought that the works of Hesiod, like the works of Homer, represented the terminus of a vast oral tradition of anonymous voices of uncertain origin and age.
The Theogony is an account of origins of those divine beings who created and preside over the cosmos; a Divine history, tracing a succession of regimes culminating in the reign of Olympian Zeus. The narratives contain many elements of an array of succession myths that circulated throughout the ancient Near East. Interestingly, experts say that the likeliest principal influence on Hesiod’s account would seem to be the Hittiteversions of the HurrianKumarbi and Ullikummi mythsas well as the BabylonianEnuma Elish.
The Theogony – like the Bible- is not metaphysics; it is, plainly and simply, a political tool. In the Theogony, the regime of Zeus and the reign of Olympian justice are celebrated as the achievement of the aeons just as Yahweh is celebrated in the Torah. In the Theogony, Hesiod recounts his new version of the beginnings of Creation, making certain to regularly propagandize in favor of Zeus who is as “just as he is terrible.” Many passages in the Theogony can be compared to the hymns to Yahwehsupposedly composed by David, or to the Enuma Elishwhich sings the praises of the warrior king, Marduk. In each case, there is a fusion of military might with absolute authority, glory and promised justice to the exiled and enslaved. We remember, of course, that the Trojans were the “exiled and enslaved.” In each instance there is the complete subordination of the female to the male, presented as a philosophical achievement, an evolution from the old, savage, order to the new, glorious world of male theriomorphism.
In the Theogony, the first woman is the “kalon kakon.” Kalonmeans “beautiful” andkakonmeans “evil.” In other words, the first woman is a living oxymoron. Now, of course, this term could mean either “beautiful evil” or “evil beauty.” That is to say, is woman essentially beautiful and qualifiedly evil, or essentially evil though qualifiedly beautiful, or both essentially evil and beautiful?
Hesiod doesn’t leave us in suspense because he clarifies this point for us by telling us that it is kakon that defines the substance, or essence or woman. Woman is revealed as unambiguously evil.
Thunderous Zeus made women to be a kakon for mortal men  he fashioned this kakon for men to make them pay for the theft of fire. [Meagher]
Prometheuswas provoked by Zeus’ withdrawal of fire from mankind in retaliation for Prometheus’ earlier theft of the finest sacrificial portions. Prometheus had proven himself more clever than Zeus, outwitting the king of the gods. In the first instance, Prometheus wrapped the meat and fatty portions of the sacrificial ox in the victim’s inedible hide and stomach and then wrapped the bare bones in glistening fat, knowing that Zeus would mistakenly insist on the latter as his prerogative. In the second instance, prometheus concealed living embers in a hollow fennel stalk, enabling him to elude Zeus’ embargo and to return fire to mankind.
The theme is “skill” or “craft” that is used to create a “ruse” or dolon. The words techne,dolie, and dolon occur repeatedly in Hesiod’s account of Prometheus’s offenses which lead up to Zeus’s retaliation in kind. Of course we notice immediately that this story of “skill or craft” and “creating a ruse” is quite similar to the theme of the Trojan Horse. The Trojan Horse dynamic is represented in the Bible in the story of Rahab, the harlot and in another important story that we will discuss in the next chapter. (See Joshua, chapter 2 for the story of Rahab).
It is the word dolon that describes woman: once she is dressed, veiled and crowned, she is called a dolon, a trick, a baited trap. Woman, fashioned and dressed up by the gods is a fitting retort for the glistening bag of bonesfoisted on Zeusby Prometheus.
According to Hesiod, the difference between woman’s beauty and her evil is the difference between surface appearances and reality. Decked out in flowers and gold, woman is a thauma, a “wonder to behold”, and men and gods alike are filled with awe at the sight of her. However, it is only men who are defenseless against her charms. Woman is a “lure” and men have no “resistance” and it was designed that way by the gods. A man is unable to resist the irresistible bridewho, after they get her home and exhaust her superficial charms, will find that they are stuck with a great misery, a bottomless pit into which they will pour all their goods and efforts and life force.
And so it is, the moment of woman’s creation is the moment of man’s destruction. In other words, the sacrifice to the gods that went wrong – a brief insubordination – ends in humanity’s endless misery with a vengeance. This makes us think, of course, that the stories of Adam and Even and Cain and Abel were not originally linear in time, but elements of the same conceptualization that have been separated into unique events in the Biblical rendition.
What is not initially seen is that the issue is actually sovereignty. Prometheushas issued two stunning challenges to Zeus’ wit and rule in the name of humankind. It could also be said that Cain and Eve issued similar challenges in that they eschewed the taking of life as a sacrifice to the god. Cain, of course, is depicted as a murderer due to his jealousy that his brothers sacrifice was accepted and his was not. Eve was cursed as well.
The fact is, the four sons of Iapetusand Clymene- Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus- were trouble to Zeus from the start because they represent a rival line of descentfrom Ouranosand Gaia, which, if allied with unruly mankind, could mean trouble for the gods! We are reminded of the passage in the Bible where words are put into the mouth of the serpent saying to Eve: For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing the difference between good and evil and blessing and calamity.
The most troublesome of the four was Prometheus. His name means “forethought,” and his knowledge of what was to come – that is, the difference between good and evil, blessing and calamity – is what inspired him to try to help mankind. He was an arch-rebel and champion of mankind who was determined to elevate the status of humanity by giving them creative imagination, defiant wit, and divine fire – all that is needed to make them like gods.
The story suggests to us a “contest” between humankind and the gods that was to be decided in the act of animal sacrifice. The humiliation of Zeusprompted him to take the extreme measure of withholding fire from mankind, without which they would soon be little more than animals. Humiliated the second time, Zeus formulated the Final Solution: Woman.
In Hesiod’s Works and Days, Four ages of manhave now come and gone, each one worse than the one before. Strife defines every relationship, virtue (as well as everything else) is rewarded with misery, and Hesiod recounts with great longing how men once lived without toil and without pain. Why so much pain and suffering?
Hesiod’s account of the Fall of mananswers that question with one word: Woman.
The “first woman” in Works and Days, Pandora, is again, bait set by the gods to trap men. She is given the appearance of a goddess, the character of a hyena, and the heart and mind of a jackal.
Woman, adorned by the gods, brings to man all that is hideous and devouring.
Woman, who takes all that is bright and beautiful from man, gives back only that which is dark and filthy.
Her name, Pandora, means both “All Giver” and “All Gifted.” Hesiodtells us that she is called Pandora because “all those who dwell on Olympus gave each one to her a gift, a grief for men who strive and toil.”
She has only one reason for her existence: to produce human misery.
The gifts Pandora receives from the gods – the contents of Pandora’s Jar- are intended to produce endless torment for man. It is only in later centuries that a “box” was substituted for a “jar.” This change of imagery was attributed to the sixteenth century monk Erasmuswho mistranslated the original Greek word pithoswith the Latin pyxis. A pithos is a jar that is womb-like in shape and is a symbol for the earth, the mother of all.
The implications of the pithos to the story of Pandora are obvious. Pandora’s gifts are released from her own womb. Her fault lies not in her curiosity, but in her being. She is constitutionally deceptive and lethal because she draws men into her pithos, and brings new men forth for a life of misery. She further perpetuates the misery of man by bringing forth female babies.
The image of Woman as a pithos is extremely ancient. In many ancient Helladic burials, the pithos was used as a coffin. The deceased was placed inside in a fetal position, covered with honey, and buried in the hope of new life and regeneration. [Meagher]
Hesiod records for us ideas that were, apparently, spreading like wildfire in his time: the profound estrangement of one half of humanity from the other. We should like to know why? In the story of Helen of Troy, we may find the answer.
In Hesiod’s re-writing of the ancient myths, man has somehow come into being without being born of woman and contrary to the most ancient depictions, it is woman who is derivative. This is the Biblical view as well. Both stories were drawn from the same sources.
Certainly, the emergence of the first human being presents a challenge to any thinking person; the existence of women before men is a mystery, but the existence of men before women is absurd.
Hesiod presents the view that woman is a disruption to nature. Because of woman, man can no longer appear and disappear by his own will. Because of woman, man must be born in suffering, and then man must die in suffering. What Hesiod fails to notice is that, if men were suffering in that time, women were suffering also – and probably a lot more.
Hesiod’s account of woman is a conscious denial and a deliberate misogynistic propaganda. We see Hesiod’s line of argument reflected in the J Documentaccount of creation. In Genesis, man is created and lives in a deathless, god-like existence, and woman is the “second” creation, the “afterthought.” She soon brings death and destruction on mankind by “eating of the fruit of the tree of good and evil.”
In these accounts, we perceive a common thread of woman as an “interloper” into the original scheme of things, bringing sex, strife, misery and death. Hesiod works with the ancient images of the all-giving mother, twisting and disfiguring them until they reflect only shame and degradation of the creatress of life. Woman, created from clay according to Hesiod, is not only not semi-divine as is man, she is something less than human. “The sons of God looked upon the daughters of men and saw that they were fair and took them wives…” This was followed by evil and corruption and the Deluge.
Zeus, with timely advice from Ouranosand Gaia, appropriates his own wife’s powers. He marries and swallows Metisand is thus able to give birth to his daughter, Athena. In swallowing Metis, he reverses the succession and the primacy of female fecundity, and thus becomes sovereignty itself. Hesiod’s insistence that Zeus does so with the consent of both Ouranos and Gaia is little more thant the ritual charadein which consent is elicited from sacrificial animalsjust prior to their deaths. This claim to the agreement of the older gods is designed to give this most radical of reversions a certain “legitimacy” and “continuity” with the past. With the parthenogenetic birth of Athena from the head of Zeus, history has a new beginning in which woman will play no role.
The entire theme of Theogony is – as Hesiod would have it – a triumphal ascent from the female womb of Gaia to the male womb of Zeus, from savage nature, to Olympian civilization.
These were the ideas making their way around the Eastern Mediterranean during the time in which the Bible was being written. Yahweh, like Mardukand Zeus sweeps the field of rivals, making his power incontestable. We would like to know how this state of affairs came to be. As I wrote in the previous chapter:
In fact, when you think about it, the stories in the Bible are remarkably similar to the Greek myths with most of the fantastic elements removed, names changed, and genealogies inserted to give the impression of a long history. One could say that the “history” of the Old Testament is merely “historicized myth.” And of course, the myths that it was historicized from may have belonged to an entirely different people.
Again we remember that the winners (or the survivors) write the history, and we have a very strange story to tell… about Helen and the Exodus Conspiracy: the face that launched a Thousand Wars.