Pandora's box
September 10, 2020

Pandora’s box:

By Nilakhi Banerjee

Pandora is a figure Greek mythology was not only the first woman, but. As an instrument of the wrath of Zeus — was held responsible for releasing the ills of humanity into the world. She was also an unrelated earth goddess in the early Greek Pantheon.

Pandora – an Instrument of Punishment

The name Pandora means “gifts” and “all”. According to (and perhaps even invented by) Hesiod in his Theogeny and Works&Days. Zeus had Hepaistos make Pandora, the first woman, from earth and water. Zeus’ intention was to use the beautiful and lovely Pandora. As a means to punish Prometheus who had stolen fire from the gods. And given it to mankind, who would in turn be punished.

Pandora’s Divine Gifts

Before her departure, Pandora was given a range of divine gifts by each of the Olympian gods. Athena taught her all the fine crafts and dressed her in silvery robes. Aphrodite gave her grace and the means to create burning desire. And Hermes gave her “a dog’s mind and a thievish character”. And in her breast. “Set lies and guileful words” (WorksandDays, 67-68, 77-78). If that was not enough, she was adorned with fine jewellery by the Graces. Crowned with a magnificent golden headband made by Hephaistos, and given garlands of spring flowers by the Seasons. Finally, Pandora was given a large storage jar. To take down to earth which she was told she must never open under any circumstances.

Pandora’s Box: The Evils of the World

Pandora, guided by Hermes, was sent to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. Foolishly forgetting his brother’s advice never to accept a gift from the gods. The beautiful Pandora was made welcome in Epimetheus’ home and the two married, having a daughter, Pyrrha. One day, and fulfilling her destiny. Curiosity got the better of Pandora. And she lifted the lid of the storage jar which released all the evils of the world. These terrible things included disease, war, vice, toil, and the necessity to work for sustenance.

Pandora, realising her mistake, quickly replaced the lid but it was too late and only one thing remained inside. Pandora caught in the edge of the jar’s lip and whispered. ” Hope so that humanity might somehow bear its sudden and eternal misfortune.

“Hope” is the traditional translation from the Greek. But actually may be better represented by “anticipation”. Which includes an expectation of both good and bad events. Through this punishment Zeus thus compensated for the theft of fire and restored the eternal division between gods and humans.

Pandora in Art

A relief frieze showing the birth of Pandora. Appeared on the statue base of the gigantic Athena Parthenos by Pheidias which stood inside the Parthenon. According to Pliny the scene included 20 gods looking on. Pandora appears too on a few Attic vases in scenes. Probably inspired by the now lost satyr play Pandora by Sophocles.

In one 5th century BCE red-figure krater, now in the Ashmolean Museum Oxford, Pandora emerges from the ground. Symbolizing her origin from clay. In such scenes either Epimetheus. Or satyrs hold mallets but the significance of these has, unfortunately. Been lost and they once more illustrate the richness of Greek mythology beyond the surviving literary sources.  

Box, Casket or Jar?

But our modern phrase says “Pandora’s box”: how did that happen? Hesiod said the evils of the world were kept in a “pithos”. And that was uniformly employed by all Greek writers in telling the myth until the 16th century AD. Pithoi are huge storage jars that are typically partly buried in the ground. The first reference to something other than a pithos. Comes from the 16th-century writer LiliusGiraldus of Ferrara, who in 1580 used also the word pyxis (or casket). To refer to the holder of evils opened by Pandora. Although the translation was not exact. It is a meaningful error. Because a pyxis is a ‘whited sepulcher’. A beautiful fraud. Eventually, the casket became simplified as “box”. 

Harrison (1900) argued that this mis translation explicitly removed the Pandora myth from its association also with All Souls Day. Or rather the Athenian version, the festival of Anesthesia. The two-day drinking festival involves opening wine casks on the first day (the Pithoigia). Releasing the souls of the dead. On the second day, men anointed their doors with pitch. And chewed blackthorn to keep the newly released souls of the departed away.

Then steered by the fact that Pandora is a cult name of the great goddess Gaia. Pandora is not just any willful creature. She is the personification of Earth itself; both Kore and Persephone, made from the earth and rising from the underworld. The pithos connects her to the earth, the box or casket minimizes her importance.

The Meaning of the Myth

Hurwit (1995) says that the myth explains. Why humans must work to survive That Pandora represents the beautiful figure of dread . Something for which men can find no device or remedy. The quintessential woman was created to beguile men. With her beauty and uncontrollable sexuality, to introduce falsehood and treachery and disobedience into their lives. Her task was to let loose all the evils upon the world while trapping hope. Unavailable to mortal men. Pandora is a trick gift, a punishment for the good of Promethean fire. She is, in fact, Zeus’s price of fire.

Pandora and Eve

At this point, you may recognize in Pandora the story of the Biblical Eve. She too was the first woman, and she too was responsible for destroying an innocent. All-male Paradise and unleashing suffering ever after. Are the two related?

Several scholars including Brown and Kirk argue that the Theology was based on Mesopotamian tales. Although blaming a woman for all the evils of the world is definitely more Greek than Mesopotamian. Both Pandora and Eve may well share a similar source.

So the Greek mythology is quite remarkable. We will come back with more such amazing stories of the world ancient civilizations.