FICTION | GREEK MYTH
The Price for Fire
A re-imagining of the Pandora Myth
“But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing, in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.” Hesiod
You think you know me, but you do not.
I wear the tattered threads of a myth, frayed and tangled through the centuries. You think I represent the immutable curse of ignorant feminine curiosity. You think I released illness and death into the world because I couldn’t resist opening a box to see what was inside. You think I walked into this story as a hapless little girl.
A little girl, cast as the downfall of mankind: who would believe that? Not my daughter. Not Pyrrha. How she would throw her head back, and laugh.
Hidden behind countless, nameless tellings, beneath the bloom and wither of civilizations, there lie clues to my story. Clues, wedged between the bones of those silenced and those with power to speak. Excavate the old names for fragments of truth. Trace the slip of a pen, mistranslating a word. Those long-bearded poets, who were soon calling my jar a box; do you think they could be trusted in all details? How a story is told depends on who is doing the telling.
I was not a girl. I was a woman. The first woman.
Let me speak; let me untangle the thread.
I was the thing flesh-made that the world had yet no name for. I had a father, but no mother, and perhaps that’s where the trouble began. My father made me, only to betray me. The original Trojan horse; my body was a strategy for revenge.
I know that now.
Cast an eye to the sky on that long ago day, and you might say I fell from the heavens. I was made there, it’s true; fashioned from clay, face and form inspired by goddesses. But I did not fall. Hermes carried me in his golden-winged embrace, setting me down under an olive tree. In my arms, I clasped a large earthen jar, sealed with intricate designs. Sealed tight as a secret.
I step up to a house, knock upon the door. What else could I do?
The man’s eyes, as he opens the door, tell me I am beautiful. How could I not be? I am intended as a gift to this man, who has disappeared from many versions of my story; this man who accepted me greedily without asking my name. Despite warnings from Prometheus, his brother. Bright Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods to light the hearths of men. Prometheus, the fire-bringer. It was he who sought my name.
Have you guessed it yet?
Newly-made as I was, I did not know my name until it fell from my tongue.
His brother ogles me, while Prometheus stands, tasting my name in his mouth.
Your name means all-gifted, he says. He is wary. Who sent you?
I am the gift, but also the gift-bearer.
I hand his brother the jar. “A wedding gift, from my father, great Zeus himself. It’s not to be opened until we marry. When we are husband and wife,” I say. But my gaze is on Prometheus.
So many new words. I am giddy with them. Or is it the burn of Prometheus’ hand on my arm? The heat, imprinted on my skin, as he bids me sit, asks if I desire food and wine, as his brother Epimetheus licks his lips, dull eyes sliding from the jar to me, and back again?
Greedy, impatient Epimetheus.
He could not wait; for the wedding to open Zeus’ gift, for the wedding night to bed his bride. Sleeping but three nights under his roof, I wake, to find him trying to open the jar. I rise, protesting, to stop him. He pushes me down, body heavy on mine. Coarse hands, tearing my gown. I struggle, screaming, pushing him off me. The jar is the only heavy object in the room. The jar, breaking over his head, silences his roar of indignation.
There is a whirling and a screeching. Strange winged things with beaks like knives rise out of the jar. A torrent of darkness engulfs me.
Those that dwell in the house of Epimetheus, all those weighty, earth-bound men, are howling my father’s name when I wake again. There is only silence from the skies above in reply. Despite their warm hearths, they are afflicted now with disease and illness. With death. My father had forsaken them, as he’d forsaken his daughter, too.
Epimetheus points his finger towards me, away from his greed; my curiosity is blamed. Their eyes, as they avoid mine, still tell me I am beautiful. But I am a woman, bringer of evil things, and not to be trusted. Only one man’s eyes meet mine, only he acknowledges the truth, for he knows his brother’s true nature.
The myths say I was the price for fire. I could not change my fate, only what happened afterwards. The abandoned creation found a new purpose.
I married Epimetheus, but it was not he I ever loved.
Let me speak; let me untangle the thread.
Motherless though I was, I bore one daughter, Pyrrha. The first daughter, she would be mother to all future women. Pyrrha. Radiant, always laughing, with hair like flames. Her name meant fire.
Who do you think was her father?
With the slip of a pen, a jar becomes a box. A woman becomes a little girl. A perpetrator is erased from the story. Blame is shifted from a man to a woman. An entire gender, generation after generation, scapegoated for being too curious.
Look, but don’t touch. Don’t ask questions. Listen, don’t speak.
Men have always tried to take what was not given to them freely. Fire and treasure. Cities and queens. Entire countries. How a story is told depends on who is doing the telling.
I am Pandora. I was the first woman. Let me speak.
© Melissa Coffey 2019 — All rights reserved
Melissa Coffey is an Australian writer, poet & editor. Her print publications include memoir and creative non-fiction essays. Her short stories and poetry are published in numerous international and Australian anthologies (sometimes incognito), and explore desire, female sexuality and gender politics. She is intrigued by the potential for myth & fairytale to interrogate, subvert & re-imagine the feminine experience.
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