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Splitting the Difference

Gender and Myth in Ancient Greece and India

Hindu and Greek mythologies teem with stories of women and men who are doubled, who double themselves, who are seduced by gods doubling as mortals, whose bodies are split or divided. In Splitting the Difference, the renowned scholar of mythology Wendy Doniger recounts and compares a vast range of these tales from ancient Greece and India, with occasional recourse to more recent "double features" from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Face/Off.

Myth, Doniger argues, responds to the complexities of the human condition by multiplying or splitting its characters into unequal parts, and these sloughed and cloven selves animate mythology’s prodigious plots of sexuality and mortality. Doniger’s comparisons show that ultimately differences in gender are more significant than differences in culture; Greek and Indian stories of doubled women resemble each other more than they do tales of doubled men in the same culture. In casting Hindu and Greek mythologies as shadows of each other, Doniger shows that culture is sometimes but the shadow of gender.

Table of Contents

Prelude: Comparing Texts Comparing People
ONE: The Shadow Sita and the Phantom Helen
Sita 9 / Helen 28 / Interlude: Saranyu and the Sun and the Shadow / Comparison: Sita and Helen / Conclusion: Abuse and Flight
TWO: Indra and Ahalya, Zeus and Alemena
Indra as Guatama with Ahalya / Zeus as Amphitryon with Alcmena / Interlude: Pandora / Comparison: Ahalya and Alcmena / Conclusion: Did She Fall, or Was She Pushed?
THREE: Nala and Damayanti, Odysseus and Penelope
Sukanya and the Ashvins / Nala and Damayanti / Damayanti and Nala / Penelope / Comparison: Damayanti and Penelope / Interlude: How to Tell a Human from a God / Conclusion: Why Prefer a Human to a God?
FOUR: Mariatale/Renuka and Scylla/Charybdis
Mariatale/Renuka / Scylla/Charybdis / Interlude: Splitting Lucy / Comparison: Heads You Lose / Conclusion: Put a Bag over Her Head
FIVE: Transposed Male Heads and Tales
Transposed Male Heads / Splitting Male Androgynes / Interlude: Self-Impregnating Androgynes / Comparison: Victorians and Others / Conclusion: Mind and Body (and Soul)
SIX: Bisexual Transformations
Males into Females in India / Females into Males in India / Males into Females in Greece and Europe / Conclusion: Male and/or Female
Postlude: The Shadow of Gender


American Academy of Religion: American Academy of Religion Awards for Excellence

PEN Oakland: Josephine Miles Award for Exc. in Lit.

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