Pandora of Athens: 399 B.C.

Written by Barry Denenberg
Review by Valerie Perry

The title character of Pandora of Athens: 399 B.C., Barry Denenberg’s latest contribution to Scholastic’s Life and Times series, is a thirteen-year-old girl who yearns to know the world beyond the walls of her family’s home. At the height of her desire for independence and knowledge, she meets Socrates at the public well. His stories and teachings open her eyes to the possibilities of the world around her, and encourage her to take her destiny into her own hands.

Denenberg offers an engaging snapshot-view of Athens in 399 B.C.E. Pandora’s relationships with each of her family members, as well as Socrates, are fairly complex; some elements of Greek culture (such as mythology) are surprisingly unfamiliar to Pandora, allowing the reader to learn them through exposition. The rhetorical and philosophical elements of Socrates’ teachings are succinct and largely accurate, though his treatment of Pandora, the mixing of men and women at his intellectual gatherings, and some of his dialog might give the reader a somewhat sanitized idea of the great philosopher’s views on the roles and abilities of women. Details of Athenian medicine, cooking, marriage, birth and funerary customs are smoothly incorporated and help create a vivid world for young readers.