Examples of Burdens Borne by Women in Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is filled with stories of women who bore significant burdens, whether as a result of divine intervention, male actions, or societal expectations.

Here are some notable examples:


Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting of Pandora holding the box, 1871

Pandora was the first human woman created by the gods. She was given a box and instructed not to open it. However, her curiosity led her to lift the lid, releasing all the evils into the world, except for Hope, which remained inside. She represents the theme of unbridled curiosity and its consequences.


Echo and Narcissus, by John William Waterhouse, 1903

The nymph Echo was cursed by Hera to only repeat the last words spoken to her, a punishment for distracting the goddess while Zeus fraternized with other nymphs.


The story of Medusa has instilled fear ever since it was heard for the first time. Image: Medusa (1597) by Italian painter Caravaggio. The oil on canvas mounted on wood shows the exact moment where Medusa’s head was cut off by Greek hero Perseus. The painting is now located in the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy.

Once a beautiful priestess, Medusa was transformed into a Gorgon, a creature with snakes for hair, by Athena after Poseidon violated her in Athena’s temple. Her new visage turned anyone who looked directly at her to stone.


Europa on the back of Zeus turned into a bull. A fresco at Pompeii

Abducted by Zeus in the form of a white bull, Europa bore him three children. Her name later became synonymous with the continent of Europe.


Greek Titans

In Greek mythology, the Titaness, Rhea is both sister and wife to Cronus.

The Titaness faced the horrific burden of seeing her children swallowed by their father, Cronus, due to his fear of being overthrown by one of them. To save her youngest, Zeus, Rhea tricked Cronus by feeding him a stone wrapped in cloth instead.


Perseus Freeing Andromeda by Italian painter Piero di Cosimo (c. 1515) – Uffizi

Chained to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster due to her mother Cassiopeia’s vanity, Andromeda had to endure the threat of death because of a claim that had nothing to do with her actions.


Danaë and the shower of gold. Side A from a Boeotian red-figure bell-shaped crater.

Imprisoned by her father, King Acrisius, after a prophecy stated his grandson would kill him, Danaë was visited by Zeus in the form of golden rain. She bore a son, Perseus, and the two were later set adrift in a chest to die at sea.


Facing a moral dilemma, Antigone chose to bury her brother Polynices against King Creon’s decree. As a result, she faced the ultimate punishment, encapsulating the struggle between individual conscience and law.


“Clytemnestra” by English painter John Collier, 1882

Living with the burden of her daughter Iphigenia’s sacrifice by her husband Agamemnon for fair winds to Troy, Clytemnestra’s actions later led to a tragic cycle of revenge within the House of Atreus.


Demeter and Persephone

Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan, 1906.

The goddess of the harvest Demeter had to endure the pain of separation when her daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, leading to the creation of the seasons.

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