‘Opening Pandora’s Box’ is a metaphor for our time. It is a story about how one
of two brothers, Epimetheus, is seduced by appearances and his own desires. He
did not have the forethought to look into the true nature of what he saw, or to
understand the implications of his actions beyond himself. The moral of the story
is that once the Earth is opened, she cannot be closed, and what we spoil we spoil
forever. Mining the last remaining wildernesses and the critical ecosystems of our
Earth is irreversible. The other brother, in the story, Prometheus, warns us that
hindsight is too late and hoping for the best is ignorant and impotent. What the
story recommends is foresight: from this come the gifts of a true civilisation and
right relation towards the Earth, our source of life.
Friday, 13 April 2012
The more famous version of the Pandora myth comes from another of Hesiod's poems, Works and Days. In this version of the myth (lines 60–105), Hesiod expands upon her origin, and moreover widens the scope of the misery she inflicts on mankind. As before, she is created by Hephaestus, but now more gods contribute to her completion (63–82): Athena taught her needlework and weaving (63–4); Aphrodite "shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs" (65–6); Hermes gave her "a shameful mind and deceitful nature" (67–8); Hermes also gave her the power of speech, putting in her "lies and crafty words" (77–80) ; Athena then clothed her (72); next she, Persuasion and the Charites adorned her with necklaces and other finery (72–4); the Horae adorned her with a garland crown (75). Finally, Hermes gives this woman a name: Pandora – "All-gifted" – "because all the Olympians gave her a gift" (81). In this retelling of her story, Pandora's deceitful feminine nature becomes the least of mankind's worries. For she brings with her a jar (which, due to textual corruption in the sixteenth century, came to be called a box) containing "burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men" (91–2), diseases (102) and "a myriad other pains" (100). Prometheus had (fearing further reprisals) warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus. But Epimetheus did not listen; he accepted Pandora, who promptly scattered the contents of her jar. As a result, Hesiod tells us, "the earth and sea are full of evils" (101). One item, however, did not escape the jar (96–9):
Hesiod does not say why hope (elpis) remained in the jar.Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house,
she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not
fly away. Before [she could], Pandora replaced the
lid of the jar. This was the will of aegis-bearing
Zeus the Cloudgatherer.
Hesiod closes with this moral (105): "Thus it is not possible to escape the mind of Zeus
The Pandora myth first appears in lines 560–612 of Hesiod's poem in epic meter, the Theogony (ca. 8th–7th centuries BC), without ever giving the woman a name. After humans received the stolen gift of fire from Prometheus, an angry Zeus decides to give men a punishing gift to compensate for the boon they had been given. He commands Hephaestus to mold from earth the first woman, a "beautiful evil" whose descendants would torment the race of men. After Hephaestus does so, Athena dresses her in a silvery gown, an embroidered veil, garlands and an ornate crown of silver. This woman goes unnamed in the Theogony, but is presumably Pandora, whose myth Hesiod revisited in Works and Days. When she first appears before gods and mortals, "wonder seized them" as they looked upon her. But she was "sheer guile, not to be withstood by men." Hesiod elaborates (590–93):
Hesiod goes on to lament that men who try to avoid the evil of women by avoiding marriage will fare no better (604–7):From her is the race of women and female kind:
of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.
Hesiod concedes that occasionally a man finds a good wife, but still (609) "evil contends with good."He reaches deadly old age without anyone to tend his years,
and though he at least has no lack of livelihood while he lives,
yet, when he is dead, his kinsfolk divide his possessions amongst them.
In Greek mythology, Pandora (ancient Greek, Πανδώρα, derived from πᾶς "all" and δῶρον "gift", thus "all-gifted" or "all-giving") was the first woman. As Hesiod related it, each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to mold her out of earth as part of the punishment of mankind for Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire, and all the gods joined in offering her "seductive gifts". Her other name, inscribed against her figure on a white-ground kylix in the British Museum, is Anesidora, "she who sends up gifts," up implying "from below" within the earth. According to the myth, Pandora opened a jar (pithos), in modern accounts sometimes mistranslated as "Pandora's box" (see below), releasing all the evils of mankind — although the particular evils, aside from plagues and diseases, are not specified in detail by Hesiod — leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again. She opened the jar out of simple curiosity and not as a malicious act.
The myth of Pandora is ancient, appears in several distinct Greek versions, and has been interpreted in many ways. In all literary versions, however, the myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world. In the seventh century BC, Hesiod, both in his Theogony (briefly, without naming Pandora outright, line 570) and in Works and Days, gives the earliest literary version of the Pandora story; however, there is an older mention of jars or urns containing blessings and evils bestowed upon mankind in Homer's Iliad:
The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow; on the floor of Zeus' palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Zeus the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Zeus sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men
Today, Pandora’s box means a source of troubles. When we talk about opening Pandora’s box, we use it as a metaphor to mean that we may not know what we are getting ourselves into! Sometimes, that we do not always know how something we have started may end, that we do not know the consequences of our actions.
As in many origin myths, man had lived in a world without worry – until this jar / box was opened, which contained ills for mankind. Zeus knew that Pandora’s curiosity would mean that she could not stop herself from opening it, especially when he had told her that she must not do so!
Many other myths also explain the ills of the world by saying they are caused by human disobedience of a god’s instructions.
(Though some versions of this story say that the box was a real gift and the box held good things for mankind, which Pandora let escape from the box, and fly away forever, only catching Hope.)
Even Hope itself has been argued about by scholars – not everyone agreeing that it is a great good – that maybe Zeus meant it as an evil also – otherwise it would not have been in a jar of evil. Others believe that Zeus may have relented a little, and put Hope in to help mankind through the hard times that the other ‘gifts’ would bring.