Women Who Read are Dangerous

I’ve just begun reading an interesting book called, Women Who Read are Dangerous, by Stefan Bollman

Great title, right? And the cover image had me instantly engaged. It is a survey of the history of art depicting women reading. Who could resist?!

On the first page of the introduction I encountered the suggestion that Eve and Pandora may have been predecessors of women who read. Huh?

OK Wikipedia – what do you have to offer?

Each (Eve and Pandora) is the first woman in the world; and each is a central character in a story of transition from an original state of plenty and ease to one of suffering and death, a transition which is brought about as a punishment for transgression of divine law.

It has been argued that it was as a result of the Hellenisation of Western Asia that the misogyny in Hesiod’s account of Pandora began openly to influence both Jewish and then Christian interpretations of scripture. The doctrinal bias against women so initiated then continued into Renaissance times. Bishop Jean Olivier’s long Latin poem Pandora drew on the Classical account as well as the Biblical to demonstrate that woman is the means of drawing men to sin.

Pandora was a myth that pre-dates Eve. In that myth Pandora is held responsible for all of the sins of mankind, including the seduction of men. Isn’t that interesting? It reminds me of the deflection of male responsibility that we still hear today: “That girl was asking for it – look at the way she was dressed. What was he supposed to do?!” 

And what about Eve? I’ve never really taken a good look at Eve’s story. You know, Eve, from the Bible, mother of all humans.

I always thought of it as a myth, although I knew people who took the story literally. Before I was introduced to the work of Joseph Campbell*,  I didn’t really appreciate the importance of myth. To me, a myth was a fairy tale, and as such, the details, messages and symbolism were lost to me. Now, I see that fairy tales are also myths. They illustrate important teaching, principles, and values of a culture.  

Taking a fresh look at Eve’s story, in 2020, I wonder what principles it illustrates. 

Clearly Eve was a woman with an active, curious mind and she hungered after knowledge. When Eve went after the knowledge that was literally dangling from the Tree of Knowledge, in the form of an apple, she was being disobedient.  This disobedience made Eve responsible for the very first sin (Original Sin), making her the mother of all sin; AND leading Adam, and the rest of humankind astray. WHAT! How’s that for a misogynist message?!

*I was first introduced to Joseph Campbell’s work through a PBS series by Bill Moyers, called The Power of Myth. Here’s a snippet:

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