Pandora, the Goddess who Unleashed both Hell and Hope upon Humanity
Most people are familiar with the creation of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. But the story of mankind’s creation in Greek mythology is probably less well-known, and is arguably darker in tone when compared to Genesis. For a start, men and women were not created at the same time. Men existed before the coming of women, and degenerated over the ages. Moreover, the creation of the first woman, Pandora, was not a gift by the gods to man, but a punishment.
In the Greek myth of creation, as recorded in the Greek poet Hesiod’s Works and Days (8th century BC), there were five ages. The first of these was the Golden Age, where men were immortals and dwelled on Olympus. They were made of gold, and lived like gods. When this age ended, the men became good spirits that watched over mortals. The next age was the Silver Age, where men were made of silver, and still dwelled on Olympus. They were, however, no longer immortal. The following two ages were the Bronze Age and Heroic Age. In the former, men were made of bronze, whilst in the latter, the Earth was populated by the heroes of Greek mythology. Both ages were brought to an end by constant wars. The last age, which is the present one, is the Iron Age, where men toil and suffer all their lives.
The Greek Gods of Olympus. ‘The Induction of Ganymede in Olympus’ by Charles Amédée Philippe van Loo ( Wikimedia Commons )
As the myths in Hesiod’s works are not arranged entirely in chronological order, it is difficult to pin down in which age of mankind Pandora was created. The story of Pandora, however, is intricately linked with that of the titan Prometheus, whose tale begins at Mekone, and may perhaps be placed sometime after the Silver Age. It was at this place that Prometheus cut up an ox and divided it into two portions. The smaller portion contained the meat of the animal wrapped up in the ox’s stomach, whilst the larger one had the animal’s bones covered by a layer of glistening fat. Prometheus succeeded in tricking the gods, as they chose the bigger portion, whilst mankind was left with the edible meat.
Enraged by Prometheus’ trickery, Zeus withheld fire from man, so that they could not cook the meat. This prompted Prometheus to steal fire from the gods, resulting in his punishment by being bound in chains, and having an eagle eat his liver, which would grow back in the night. Prometheus was eventually freed by the hero Heracles. Zeus was not contented with punishing Prometheus alone, but decided to punish mankind as well.
‘Prometheus Carrying Fire’ by Jan Cossiers ( Wikimedia Commons )
The Gift of Pandora
Zeus fashioned a maiden out of earth and water, and gave her a human voice and strength. Then the gods showered her with gifts. Athena taught her the crafts, Aphrodite bestowed on her “charm about her head” as well as “painful yearning and consuming obsession”, whereas Hermes gave her “a bitch’s mind and a knavish nature”. The maiden was then dressed and adorned by the gods. As the maiden was laden with numerous gifts from the gods, she was called Pandora, literally meaning “All gift”.
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Pandora was indeed a sight to behold, though a dangerous one:
Both immortal gods and mortal men were seized with wonder then they saw that precipitous trap, more than mankind can manage. For from her is descended the female sex, a great affliction to mortals as they dwell with their husbands – no fit partners for accursed Poverty, but only for Plenty.
Pandora was then sent by Hermes to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus, as a gift. Although Prometheus had warned his brother not to accept any gift from Zeus, Epimetheus had forgotten about the warning, and took Pandora as his wife.
Pandora was a beauty to behold and when he saw her, Epimetheus forgot all the warnings about accepting a gift from Zeus ( Wikimedia Commons )
Pandora and the Forbidden Box
Zeus, pleased that his trap was working, gave Pandora a wedding gift of a beautiful box. (In Hesiod’s original version, the gift was actually a ‘pithos’ or jar. It was not until the 16 th century, that the word was mistranslated to mean ‘box’.) There was just one very important condition. Pandora was forbidden from opening the jar/box.