Pandora of Athens, 399 B.C. Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
About this book
A Discussion Guide for
The Life and Times
Pandora of Athens, 399 B.C.
by Barry Denenberg
TO THE DISCUSSION LEADER
"Almost every facet of our lives today — from politics to art, from cities to sports — was developed by the ancient Greeks. Over a period of approximately 3,000 years, the ancient Greeks created one of the world's most important and innovative civilizations, which continues to fascinate and inspire us today." So begins the Historical Note for this new book in the Life and Times series. Pandora of Athens, 399 B.C. is set in this culture that gave us plays, philosophy, haircuts, and the Olympic Games.
Author Barry Denenberg introduces readers to Pandora's life this way. "When it came to women, her father believed in the three s's: silence, submission, and suffocation." But, Pandora balks at this cloistered life, and when she meets the Wise One, Socrates, her life changes dramatically. She gains the courage to question tradition, fall in love, and pursue her own definition of happiness.
In this second novel in the new Life and Times series, Scholastic builds on the popularity of the Dear America and Royal Diaries books and introduces young readers to life in ancient Greece. Pandora's quest for independence, love, and a life well lived in 399 B.C. will resonate with 21st century readers.
"Silence, submission, and suffocation." These are the words that 13 year old Pandora thinks best describe her life. That is certainly what her father believes in when it comes to women. It is 399 B.C. in Athens, and Pandora is frustrated at being confined to her house and only allowed out to visit her friend Appolonia or go to the Fountain House to gather water for the household. One day at the Fountain House Pandora sees a large crowd gathering. When she ventures closer, she sees that everyone is listening to an elderly man, the Wise One, speak. As he is leaving, he stops and asks Pandora her name, and invites her to meet with him there in a week. Pandora is fascinated by this encounter and cannot wait for the days to pass until she'll see him again. On the appointed day, however, Pandora is dismayed to find the Wise One is not there. He has sent a messenger instead, a handsome young boy named Phoenix, to explain his absence and invite her to a party.
Pandora, who has never even heard of a party, is determined to find out what it is. She knows she must sneak out of her house because her father and stepmother would never allow her to go. She also must disguise herself as a boy since girls would not be welcome at such an occasion. With the help of Phoenix, Pandora cuts her long hair, dresses in male clothes, and goes to the party. It is the most amazing time of her life. She doesn't even remember being brought home! Her stepmother, noticing a change in Pandora's behavior, is most concerned and seeks the advice of a physician. The physician explains that Pandora is not acting unusually for a girl her age, but he recommends that she be married immediately!
The chosen groom is her first cousin Menander, a man twice her age. Pandora has already decided she will marry no one except Phoenix. She looks forward to seeing the Wise One again, but when she arrives at the Fountain House, Phoenix sadly tells her that the Wise One has been arrested. The charge: "corrupting the morals of the young people of Athens." The Wise One is brought to a trial that lasts nine and one half hours, and in the end he is convicted and sentenced to death. He accepts his sentence, gathers all his friends and students around him, drinks a cup of hemlock, and dies. When Phoenix relates this to Pandora, she is stunned into silence, "an ominous silence, the kind of silence that signifies that whatever follows, your life will never be the same." Phoenix tells her he must now leave Athens and begs Pandora to go with him. Knowing that she cannot return to her home, and that she truly loves Phoenix, she joins him, "taking his hand without speaking a word."
THINKING ABOUT THE BOOK
- Describe the life of Athenian women in Pandora's time.
- Charis, Pandora's stepmother, was from Sparta. How were girls treated in Sparta? How was that different from the way Athenian girls were expected to behave? Do you think Charis changed during her marriage to Pandora's father? In what ways?
- If you could use only three words to describe Pandora's father, Alcander, what words would you use? Why? Compare your word choices with those chosen by other members of your discussion group.
- The first time Pandora meets Socrates she tells him her name. Socrates says, "A truly magnificent name, my child, but a heavy burden." What does he mean?
- What things make Pandora's Uncle Stephanos so different from his brother (Pandora's father) Alcander?
- Why does Pandora decide having children, "wasn't for her"?
- Pandora falls in love with Phoenix. What qualities does this young man have that would cause Pandora to come to the conclusion that this was the boy she was going to marry?
- Why is Socrates arrested?
- Charis, Pandora's stepmother, tells her, "Each generation thinks differently than the one before. Sometimes the difference is great and sometimes it is small, but always it is there, and always it separates them." Do you believe this is true? What examples can you offer to prove your point?
- What is the final thing Socrates tells Pandora she must remember?
- Socrates told Pandora the story of "first Pandora." Look up this "first Pandora" in a encyclopedia or other reference book. What new information do you learn about her? What similarity do you see between the first Pandora and the one living in Athens in 399 B.C.?
- Several times in Pandora, mention is made of Socrates' family. When he is asked, "Why don't you teach your wife some manners?" Socrates replies that "his great aim in life is to get on well with people and he chose his wife because he knew if he could get along with her, he could get along with anyone" (p.98). Read about Socrates family at http://socrates.clarke.edu/aplg0242.htm. What was his wife's name and what do you find out about her? What do you learn about his children?
- Read in the Historical Note about the contributions of the ancient Greeks to civilization? Which one do you think is the most significant and why?
- The Olympic Games began in Greece in 776 B.C. The first modern Olympic Games occurred in Athens in 1896. Recently, in 2004, the Olympic Games returned to Athens. Find information about the Olympic games at http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/athens_games/. How have the games changed from the ancient Olympic Games to the modern ones?
- Choose one of the following ideas of Socrates and tell what you think it means.
"Wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth."
"The important thing is not to live but to live well."
- Define the following:
lament&nsp; lyre &nsp; kottabos&nsp; jackdaw&nsp; knucklebones&nsp; agora
An Interview with Barry Denenberg
Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D. & Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D.: You have written many books for readers in middle school and high school. These youngsters are often interested in the lives of professional writers. Could you give them a glimpse into your writing regimen? Do you write everyday? Do you start each day with the goal of writing a certain number of pages? Do you write one draft straight through or do you rewrite each day?
Barry Denenberg: Good question, especially for young writers. I believe in discipline and I write Monday through Friday from as soon as I get up until I feel I am losing concentration — usually from six or seven in the morning to noon or one in the afternoon. Then I spend the rest of the day doing things that demand less attention: reading, researching, and straight retyping (with no rewriting). I don't have a page goal. If I am doing the first draft, I just want to keep going without questioning as long as I can. If it is rewriting, which I consider the most critical aspect of writing, I work until my attention dwindles and then I stop. I do not do one draft straight through, ever. I do a draft to a certain point and then polish it until it's done — which it really isn't, but is for then at least.
RFA & EST: Why did you choose to name your main character after the mythological Pandora?
BD: First I was taken with the myth and its darkness, really. Second I wanted this to be about women and their position in society then, but reflecting our society now, some questions remain the same. And since I consider characters' names important and like to know them from the beginning, I chose Pandora.
RFA & EST: The life and philosophy of Socrates figures prominently in Pandora of Athens. Did you study his work in researching this book? What impressed you about his work? What ideas of his do you feel are particularly relevant to today's world?
BD: I reread much on Socrates (he did not write anything). Plato was my source for much about Socrates. What impressed me and what I had to struggle with while writing the book is how much of an outsider Socrates was and how radical in his thinking. It is difficult to think of someone today who would be analogous to him. Too often we portray people like Socrates, Jefferson, and Sam Adams as old white guys but they weren't — they were dangerous and they were fearless and they were extreme. Socrates' view, as I see it, is that you have to make moral judgments for yourself and question authority. This seems particularly relevant in today's lemming-like world.
RFA & EST: Socrates is often seen as an example of a great teacher. Looking at the teachers and mentors in your own life, what are the attributes of a great teacher?
BD: A great teacher must be: free of all ego; transcendent; dedicated; a master of their subject area; and accepting of their own flaws.
RFA & EST: Much of Pandora of Athens paints a picture of the role of women in 399 B.C. Athens. What would you hope your female readers would take away from this portrait?
BD: Actually what I tried to do in this book was point toward how different the role of women was in Sparta, despite the fact that it was a militaristic society and Athens was more "cultured" — cultured only if you were a man. The role of Pandora's stepmother is critical here, and I hope female readers come away from the book thinking about the mentors they should choose in their own lives and the choices that are theirs to make.
RFA & EST: Your descriptions of childbirth, the diets women ate to guarantee fertility, and the cruel abandonment of Appolonia's infant sister are shocking. From what source did you gain the most helpful information about this aspect of Greek life?
BD: I found Sarah B. Pomeroy's Families in Classical and Hellenistic Greece and, even more, Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves the best, intelligent source on women in classical antiquity; and she motivated me to construct much of the book the way I did. I found her a breath of fresh air in an otherwise barren area of research.
RFA & EST: Pandora's stepmother says to her, "Each generation thinks differently than the one before. Sometimes the difference is great and sometimes it is small, but always it is there, and always it separates them." Do you agree with her statement?
BD: Yes, that's me talking.
RFA & EST: Which character in Pandora of Athens do you admire most? Why?
BD: Uncle Stephanos is actually based on a Greek person I know whose family is originally from Athens and Sparta. He worked with me throughout the writing of this book. Also, when I was young, my own uncle functioned for me as Uncle Stephanos does for Pandora — he influenced me. Uncle Stephanos dances to the tune of a different drum and acts as a role model for Pandora at a critical time in her life. He seems above the fray and transcendent. I admire him for that.
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Houston, Texas.