Poetry: Making Use of Classical Mythology

Pandora-1879 Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pandora, 1879. Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Classical mythology continues to fascinate us. It never seems to lose its relevance.

So many poems make use of classical mythology, it’s hard to choose examples. And, of course, the ancients themselves often wrote about their myths in poems.

One contemporary poet whose use of myth I very much admire is A.E. Stallings. She’s an American classics scholar who now lives in Athens, Greece. One of her poems centered on ancient Greek mythology is “Actaeon.” Her sonnet “Fairy Tale Logic,” which refers to more modern myths, is one of my favorites, but she’s written many, many fine poems.

Myths often explore the relationship between the individual and the larger community. And, they are often modulated to better fit changing times. The myth of Pandora, for example, is one that’s undergone changes.

Originally, the myth’s story was that Zeus gave a jar (later called a box) to Pandora and told her it was full of gifts for the humans she loved. But Zeus was lying — in fact, the jar was full of demons. Over the years, Pandora changed from a woman who’d been fooled by the ruler of the gods to a woman who was stigmatized because her nosy, disobedient nature compelled her to open a box she knew was dangerous.

Back in 2004, I was diagnosed with hepatitis C, and the stigma surrounding the disease soon became apparent to me. Ultimately, I wrote a lot of poems about this, many in the form of conversations between the stigmatized individual and the virus, and between the individual and the community. The poems, including the sonnet below, were published in an audio chapbook, Virus Conversations, which streams for free on Bandcamp and other platforms.

Elegy for Pandora

Because you are like me — a woman scorned,

defined by your mistakes, a woman whose

mistakes hurt others, whose otherness has turned

her speechless — you know the story’s other side:

God made the jar. He filled it. Then, he lied:

It’s full of gifts for all mankind. Good news!

And you, in innocence, believed. You pried

it open. A host of miseries unfurled

before you slammed it shut with Hope inside,

a doughy, unarmed caterpillar curled

beneath the lip. Pandora, my body is what

I opened. Disease is what I spread. I shut

my mouth and chew on hope. It’s not about

to grow its wings. I cannot spit it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s