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Modern representation of Pandora with the infamous box.

Pandora: Unleashing Hell and Hope Upon Humanity

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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.

To begin with, men and women were not created at the same time. Men existed before the coming of women and degenerated over the ages. And, the creation of the first woman, Pandora, was not a gift by the gods to man, but a punishment.

The Five Ages of Mankind

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, while 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.

Heroes of The Iliad by Tischbein. ( Public Domain )

Pandora and Prometheus

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, while 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, while 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 content with punishing Prometheus alone, but decided to punish mankind as well.

Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind, Heinrich Fueger, 1817. ( Public Domain )

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”.

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

Pandora was a beauty to behold and when he saw her, Epimetheus forgot all the warnings about accepting a gift from Zeus. ( Public Domain )

Pandora’s Mysterious Box…or Jar

Zeus, pleased that his trap was working, gave Pandora a wedding gift of a beautiful container. In Hesiod’s original version, the gift was actually a ‘pithos’ or jar. It was not until the 16th century, that the word was mistranslated to mean ‘box’. There was just one very important condition to Pandora owning the vessel – she was forbidden from opening the jar/box.

But Pandora was gifted with curiosity as much as the other attributes given to her by the gods, and her mind became consumed with thoughts about what was kept inside. She could not understand why Zeus would give her a wedding gift but not allow her to see it. Eventually, she could think of nothing else but opening the box and unlocking its secrets – which is exactly what Zeus had planned.

In Hesiod’s original version, Pandora’s gift from Zeus was actually a jar. ( EllerslieArt /Adobe Stock)

Pandora’s Curiosity Takes Over

Pandora could stand it no longer. When Epimetheus left the room, Pandora finally opened the box. Out poured a stream of ghostly creatures that consisted of disease, poverty, misery, sadness, death, and all the evils of the world. Pandora slammed the lid shut, but it was too late, the whole contents had escaped except for one small, but important, thing that lay at the bottom – Hope.

Pandora’s box is opened. ( Elena Schweitzer /Adobe Stock)

In some versions of the myth , Pandora is said to have released Hope and it fluttered from the box, touching the wounds created by the evil she had unleashed. Other variations of the myth say that hope remained inside the box, separating it from the evils and making it good in comparison.

Even today, hope still remains in humanity in the darkest of times. As the British poet Alexander Pope once famously wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”.

‘Pandora’ (1896) by John William Waterhouse. ( Public Domain )

Top Image: Modern representation of Pandora with the infamous box. Source: kharchenkoirina /Adobe Stock

By Ḏḥwty

References

Atsma, A. J., 2011. Pandora. [Online]
Available at: http://www.theoi.com/Heroine/Pandora.html

Gill, N. S., 2015. Pandora's Box. [Online]
Available here.

Hesiod, Theogony
[West, M. L. (trans.), 1988. Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

Hesiod, Works and Days
[West, M. L. (trans.), 1988. Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, Oxford: Oxford University Press.]

www.greek-gods.info, 2014. Pandora, the first woman ever created. [Online]
Available at: http://www.greek-gods.info/greek-heroes/pandora/

www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com, 2015. The myth of Pandora’s box. [Online]
Available at: http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/pandoras-box-myth/

Comments

PANDORA literally meaning ALL GIFT? In what language?
Perhaps PANDORA (PA N DORA) in PELASG language mean SAW IN HAND?
PELASG ALBANIAN (who they are the decedent of PELASG - ILLYRI - EMATHIA (MACEDONIA) ETC
PA N DORA - PA NE DORE - meaning SAW IN HAND.

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