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Re-Presenting Woman: Pandora in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Alicia Matz

Boston University

Ioannis Ziogas has demonstrated the pervasive influence of Hesiod on Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Ziogas 2013). Yet, there is one Hesiodic myth that is surprisingly missing from Ovid’s epic, namely the myth of Pandora. This omission is all the more surprising given Ovid’s interest in the literary creation of women, or “womanufacture,” to use Sharrock’s term (1991). In this paper, I argue that Ovid does utilize Hesiod’s Pandora myth but in a subtle way: he conceives of his Pygmalion as a “latter day” Pandora story through which a new perception of woman is born.

In the Metamorphoses, the only implicit mention of Pandora is at Met. 1.390-1, where Pyrrha is called Epimethida—a patronymic that indirectly references Pandora’s role as Epimetheus’ wife. And yet, many resonances appear in the story of Pygmalion (Met. 10.243-97). In addition to the 12 words that reference gifts and giving, which could represent an etymological play on the name Pandora, Ovid pulls many elements from Hesiod. Pygmalion is celibate because he is “offended by [women’s] faults, most of which nature gave to the feminine mind” (offensus vitiis, quae plurima menti/ Femineae natura dedit, Met. 10.244-5), a clear reference to the race of wicked women that came from Pandora (Th. 585-616). When Pygmalion prays for a wife, he prays to the gods who are “able to give everything” (dare cuncta potestis, Met. 10.274)—another possible etymological play on Pandora (“all gifts”). This interpretation is further supported by the fact that Wickkiser has argued that the Pandora of the Theogony is more like a statue, while in the Works and Days she is a living woman. Just like Hesiod’s Pandora, Pygmalion’s statue transforms from a lifelike image of a woman to a living woman.

Alison Sharrock mentions in her 1991 article that “according to some ancient theories, the ideal of art is to surpass the model of nature and so to realize an ideal beauty… Art is pure and perfect; only art can produce the perfect woman.” (Sharrock 1991, 38). In the Pygmalion story, then, the statue-turned-woman, crafted by Pygmalion’s (and ultimately Ovid’s) art, is able to supplant the wicked nature Zeus gave to Pandora and her daughters, thus becoming an improved, ‘latter-day Pandora.’ This shift in the representation of women seems to suggest that after Pygmalion’s statue comes to life, the women who come after her are no longer the daughters of Pandora but descended from the new, ‘latter-day’ Pandora who is a true gift to mankind.

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