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Curiosity is a common theme in classical mythology and tragedy; often,

women are portrayed as the more curious sex. Curiosity is usually possessed by
women and instilled in others by women; however, there are also myths that
provide examples of male curiosity. In many myths a man or womans curiosity
leads to her untimely demise. This recurrence of theme can reveal the way curiosity
was viewed in ancient culture. It becomes clear that mythology considers curiosity
to be an undesirable, and dangerous, trait that leads to harm for whoever possesses
it and those around them.
The most famous instance of female curiosity in Greek mythology may also
be the most argued. The myth of the creation of Pandora is ambiguous and,
therefore, open to interpretation. It is this ambiguity that allows for debate about
the true nature of the myth.
Pandora is created to punish man for Prometheuss sins. She is adorned with
many gifts, both good and evil, of the mind and body. Most notably, she is given the
gift of curiosity from Hera. She is then released, via Epimetheus, upon the human
race. Pandora is not only the first woman, she is also the sole keeper of a jar, in most
versions of this myth, this jar contains diseases and toil and hope; Zeus warns
Pandora not to open this jar but eventually her curiosity overcomes her (Gods,
1081). She opens the jar and scattered the evils within and for mortals devised
sorrowful troubles. (Theogony, 90-95)
Pandoras curiosity is most likely not a mistake; after all, Zeuss own wife
bestowed it upon her. Although it is not always the case, it is expected that the gods
know the consequences that will arise from their actions. As a punishment to
mankind, it seems obvious that Zeus gave Pandora the jar with the expectation that
she would open it, releasing its contents. Her curiosity alone changed the world
from a carefree place to one riddled with hardship. Where did Pandoras curiosity
originate? A Goddess.
Despite the fact that Hera implanted her with curiosity, Pandoras curiosity is
in no way innocent. She was given specific instructions; this variety of defiant
curiosity is one that is seen over and over again in Greek mythology. One might
begin to conclude, from this myth alone, that the ancient Greeks used this myth as a
charter myth to explain not only why the world is an imperfect place, but also why
women have, in their opinion, such a curious nature.
In the myth of the birth of Erichthonius, Athena places the newborn
Erichthonius into a basket and brings this basket to her priestesses Pandrosos,
Auglauros and Herse so they can raise her earthborn child. She instructs them not
to look inside the basket in which Erichthonius lays and departs from them (ML,
p.591). They disobey her orders shortly after her parting. In one tradition, a crow
sees them and immediately [flies] to Athena to announce her the news
(Erichthonius). What they see in the basket drives them to insanity and they
[hurdle] themselves off the Acropolis (ML, p.591).
Again, it is women who are tempted by curiosity. The temptation of being
told not to do something that would be so easy and enlightening proves to be too
powerful and the priestesses open the basket. It is the same defiant curiosity as seen
in the myth of Pandoras jar. The only core difference between the curiosity seen in
this myth and the previous one is that these priestesses only cause pain to

themselves and some inconvenience to Athena who then was forced to bring her son
up herself, but the pain they cause themselves is so great that it causes their death.
In this myth it is curiosity that keeps the priestesses from being able to raise
a child properly. Women, in many cultures, are associated closely with the family
and, specifically, childrearing. Athena is excused of these duties because of her close
association with masculinity; her priestesses are not given the same allowances.
Not all myths about curiosity have tragic endings. The myth of Cupid and
Psyche ends on a more pleasant note. While on a quest to cause Psyche to fall in
love with the most base and vile of mankind, Cupid accidentally falls in love with
Psyche himself (ML, p.213). He forbids her from looking upon his face and they only
are together in the darkness of night. Furthermore, he warns her not to listen to her
sisters calling them hateful women (Metamorphoses 5. 12-14). Still, Psyche
requests to be allowed to see her sisters who quickly deduce that Psyche does not
know what her husband is like (Metamorphoses 5. 16-17). They decide to tell
Psyche that her husband is a monster. As this, Psyches fear and curiosity become so
unbearable that dares to look upon her lovers face. Cupid was furious and left
Psyche at once (ML, p.213).
Psyches curiosity was piqued by the lies of her jealous sisters. Naturally,
Psyche was curious about the identity of her mysterious lover but it was not until
she consulted with her sisters that innocent wonderings turned into trembling
insubordination. She nearly cost herself her lover.
The loss of a lover could have been tolerable if her curiosity did not push her
further. As she gazed upon Cupids beauty her burning curiosity compelled her to
take in her hands her lovers arrows. She pricked herself and in doing so fell in love
with Love (Metamorphoses 5. 23). This passion caused her to cling to his leg as he
attempted to fly away from her. She eventually became tired and fell towards to
earth (ML, p.214).
Psyches unfailing curiosity led her even deeper into suffering, a suffering so
great as to drive her to attempt suicide (ML, p.214). She was saved by the gentle
stream and encouraged by Pan to search for her love, but Venus vowed revenge in
the honor of her son and was determined to see Psyche struggle further. She
imposed a series of three nearly impossible tasks upon Psyche who completed the
first two without difficulty.
Upon pursuing the completion of her final task, Psyches curiosity again
impedes her happiness. She is ordered to complete a descent into the underworld to
take a casket to its queen, Persephone. She is to ask Persephone to return the casket
with a piece of her beauty inside of it (ML, p.215). She went to a high tower and
prepared to throw herself off of it so that she may die and enter the underworld.
But the tower suddenly broke forth into speech and instructed her on how to
reach the underworld. The tower also warned her to not to turn at all with overcurious eyes to view the treasure of divine beauty that is concealed within
(Metamorphoses 6. 17- 19).
Of course, Psyche ends up looking inside the casket that is supposed to
contain Persephones beauty. Instead of beauty, inside she found a deathlike sleep,
fortunately, Cupid saved her and returned the sleep back to the casket from which it
came. Once Psyche is awoken, she and Cupid marry (ML, p.215).

Psyche is one of the lucky few in Greek mythology who are defiantly curious
and survive it. This is only because she holds the love of a god, without Cupid, she
might have fallen to her death as she let go of his foot, ended her life when she
attempted suicide, jumped to her death off of the high tower or been enveloped in
the deathlike sleep for all of eternity. It is clear from her series of offenses that
Psyche is naturally curious, but perhaps if her conniving sisters had not encouraged
her curious nature, Psyche would have faired better.
Psyche is the personification of the female soul and Eros is the god of sexual
desire. This myth is evidently about the dangers of a womans sexual curiosity. It is
Psyches love for love that causes her so much pain and suffering. The ancient
Greeks must have discouraged women from passionate escapades probably because
they are, one professor of classics, Ruby Blondell puts it, essential for mens
production of legitimate heirs. A woman needs to stifle her sexual curiosity to
remain faithful to her husband.
The curse of curiosity does not only plague women, in Oedipus Rex, the title
character, Oedipus is struck with curiosity about the murderer of Laius. Oedipus is
unaware that it is he, himself, who killed the late king Laius. The blind prophet,
Tiresias urges Oedipus to find and smite with death and banishing him who smote
Laius (Sophocles, 310-311). Oedipus questions Tiresias aggressively in order to
discover the murderer of Laius. He seethes in knowing that Tiresias is withholding
knowledge and his curiosity grows stronger. Finally, Tiresias proclaims that
Oedipus is the murderer (Sophocles . 322-363).
Oedipus now determined to prove his own innocence, continues to ask
questions whose answers slowly reveal that the prophecy that he would kill his
father and sleep with his mother had been fulfilled. Jocasta, realizing the truth, tried
to discourage Oedipuss curiosity. Oedipus refused to listen to her and the truth is
revealed. Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus gouges out his own eyes and is exiled
(Sophocles 551- 1530).
Gender roles, as far as curiosity is concerned, are reversed in this case.
Oedipus is curious to a fault while his wife tries desperately to keep him from
discovering the truth but Oedipus will not leave the [truth] half-found (Sophocles
1064) and it is this stubbornness that leads not only to his own exile but the death
of his wife. Perhaps if he had not been so insistent on having the truth revealed he
could have dismissed Tiresiass accusations and ruled Thebes without tragedy.
In this case, Oedipuss curiosity overpowered his better judgment. He was
too involved in the search for knowledge to realize that he would be more fortunate
not knowing the truth of his circumstances. Fate is not the only cause of his
suffering, it is his own character flaws that bring his wrongdoings to light.
The ancient Greek culture likely looked down on curiosity. These myths
reveal the discouragement of curiosity in favor of more desirable character traits
like fidelity, sound mindedness, self-restraint, and ability to perform tasks expected
of ones gender. Especially defiant curiosity that tempts one to disobey the gods is
considered to be dangerous.