The women who wander with light step along the paths of the garden of poetry and mythology seem to be as old as the songs sung around the first hearth. They reflect primitive models lost in the mists of epochs much older than the age of Greek rationalism.

The roots of some of the characters of mythology probably began to spread from the moment that the pantheon of Olympus was grafted on to the cult of the Earth, the worship of the stars, and the human fears and aspirations surrounding fertility, life and death. The dim outline of these female figures of myth can be traced in the Orphic, Eleusinian and other mysteries, in which some elements of the cult of the Great Goddess are preserved, and can also be discemed in the creation myths. Early, primitive cults, moreover, seem to have been channelled through the female power of inspiration and prophecy, which invariably evokes respect and fear.

As time passed, as the distance between gods and mortals diminished, and as humans moved to the centre of the universe, mythology was called upon to describe the archetypal models. Goddesses were transformed into heroines, the attributes of Gaia were detached from her body and became nymphs, and the nymphs in their turn became queens, standing at the head of the genealogies of cities, their origins lost amongst a host of variations of the legend, so that frequently only their names, or a few forgotten local cults bear witness to the fact that Ariadne was once the moon, or Helen the goddess of vegetation and the regeneration of nature.

Poetry and myth frequently drew its symbols from the early cults and created idealised figures which it clothed with human qualities and incorporated into an imagined 'historical' reality. These figures may wander above actual History, but a vast number of memories were distilled around them. These 'matriarchal' traditions were enriched as time passed with a variety of elements: motifs drawn from fairy tales, aetiological myths, local legends, historical memories and also, when they came down to historical times, with elements that served artistic or political ends.

Woman the beginning of misfortunes

Many years after the creation, the gods made Pandora to punish mortals. She was created of marriageable age and endowed with all the graces of the heaven, the fascination of the earth and the wealth of the immortals. In order to serve the purposes of the Olympian gods, however, Pandora had to be superficial, curious, disobedient, and lacking in prudence and judgement. This is why she opened the jar containing the misfortunes that immediately attacked mortals and have been attacking them ever since.

Through this first act of rebellion Pandora, as a sister of Eve, brought upon herself and her sex the responsibility and guilt for the lost paradise of the human race.

At the bottom of the box there remained only one consolation: Hope.

Woman the beginning of the universe

In the beginning was the Goddess of All Things, Eurynome, who emerged naked from Chaos. She found nothing on which her feet could rest, however, and therefore divided the sea from the sky, dancing alone upon the waves. Eurynome danced towards the south, and the wind set in motion behind her caused something new and special to appear, something that would help the task of creation to begin...


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From Medea to Sappho - Radical Women in Ancient Greece
Athens, National Archaeological Museum - 20 March - 30 June 1995