Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.
The story of Pandora’s Box is arguably today the most famous story that has come out of Greek mythology. Told and retold for thousands of years, most people will at the very least be aware of the concept behind the phrase “Pandora’s Box.”
The basic storyline tells of how all of the world’s evils were released into the world, but at the same time, it is a story that reminds everyone just how important hope is.
The Story Begins
The story of Pandora and her box begins in the early days of the rule of Zeus. Zeus and his siblings had been victorious in the Titanomachy, and Zeus had subsequently won dominion over heaven and earth from his brothers. Other aspects of the world were then given into the charge of other deities, with the most important roles being given over to the other Olympian deities.
One important job, however, was given to two Titan brothers, Prometheus and Epimetheus; their job was to create all the life forms that would inhabit the earth.
Despite being Titans, Prometheus and Epimetheus had not fought with their extended family, as Prometheus had the gift of foresight, and so had not been punished after the end of the war.
Prometheus Angers Zeus
Zeus and the other gods provided all of the characteristics needed for the new creations, and whilst Prometheus crafted, Epimetheus was given the task of apportioning the characteristics. To some animals, Epimetheus gave strength, to some speed, to some the ability to burrow, and to others the gift of flight. Unlike his brother, Epimetheus had no foresight; his name indeed means "afterthought," and when he came to man he had no more characteristics or skills to give out.
Discovering the problem Prometheus went amongst the workshops of the gods, and from Athena and Hephaestus, he stole mechanical arts and fire and gave them to man.
Prometheus would further anger Zeus when the supreme god gave the Titan the job of teaching man how to make sacrifices to the gods. At Mekone, Prometheus tricked the gods into accepting the best-looking, but less-substantial sacrifice, and so mankind benefited once again by keeping the good meat.
In retribution, Zeus removed fire from man, but Prometheus once again ventured into the workshop of Hephaestus and stole the secret of fire, so that man could make fire whenever he desired.
Zeus was now so angry with Prometheus that the Titan was given eternal punishment. Amongst the Caucasus Mountains Prometheus was chained by Hephaestus to an immovable stone pillar. There each day an eagle would descend, pluck out the Titans liver, and eat it. Each night though, the liver would be regenerated, and so the punishment would continue the next day.
Although designed to be eternal, the punishment was actually ended when Heracles came to the aide of Prometheus, killing the eagle, and setting the Titan free; although Heracles did have the permission of his father to undertake the act.
Mankind Is Punished
Zeus though was not just angry with Prometheus, and the supreme Olympian decided that mankind too should be punished.
The punishment for mankind though was not as straightforward as it had been with Prometheus. Firstly, Zeus commanded Hephaestus to craft a female statue out of metal. Into the metal figure, Zeus breathed life.
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The newly crafted woman was then presented with gifts by the other gods. The gift of beauty was given by Aphrodite, persuasiveness was given by Hermes, and she was also given grace and intelligence.
Other less positive gifts were also bestowed, and Hermes gave cunning and the ability to lie, whilst Hera gave curiosity.
The newly crafted woman was provided with a name, Pandora, a name which means "all-gifted."
Pandora and Epimetheus
Zeus then presented Pandora to Epimetheus, with Pandora to be the Titan’s wife. Prometheus had previously warned Epimetheus about the dangers of taking gifts from the Olympian gods, but the beauty of Pandora was such that Epimetheus ignored the given advice of his brother.
The concept of Pandora’s Box thus begins. In most versions of the story, the box was a large jar given as a wedding present from Zeus, in which bad and evil traits and characteristics had been stored. Zeus was said to have warned Pandora that for her marriage to remain a happy one, the jar should never be looked into.
An alternate version of the myth has the jar already in the possession of Epimetheus, the Titan having used it to store the characteristics that he had not found a use for when animal life was created.
The Opening of Pandora's Box
The marriage of Pandora and Epimetheus was said to have been a happy one, but eventually, the curiosity that had been instilled in Pandora by Hera slowly took over. Pandora would lift up the corner of the jar’s lid and take a peak inside.
Through the narrow gap rushed all of the characteristics that had been stored in the jar, and sickness, suffering, disease, war, greed, jealousy and hard labour escaped. Pandora desperately tried to close the lid of the jar again, but by that time, only one trait remained, and that was hope.
The escaping characteristics imbued the human population, and the easy life of mankind came to an end. Life now became a struggle, and people had to work hard just to survive.
Pandora’s actions in opening the jar would ultimately end in the demise of that generation of mankind. Mankind was said to have become so evil that they became repulsive to Zeus, and the supreme god decided to rid the earth of them. To this end, a huge flood was sent, and for nine days and nine nights a deluge took place.
Zeus though had not totally given up hope about mankind, and to this end, the job of repopulating the world was given over to Pyrrha and Deucalion. Pyrrha was the daughter of Pandora, whilst Deucalion was the son of Prometheus.
Deucalion and Pyrrha built an ark to save themselves and the world’s animals. The earth encompassing flood would eventually subside, and then a new generation of man was born, when Pyrrha and Deucalion threw stones onto the uncovered land.
On the face of it, the story of Pandora’s Box might appear to be a pretty bleak one, where despair and toil are released into the world, but at the same time, it is a tale that shows that no matter how bad a situation becomes there is always hope left.
Sources and Further Reading
- Pandora | Myth & Box | Britannica
Pandora, in Greek mythology, is the first woman. According to myth, she had a jar (later a box) containing all manner of misery and evil. She opened it, from which the evils flew out over the earth. Hope alone remained inside.
- Understanding the Significance of Pandora's Box | ThoughCo.
Discover the story behind Pandora's Box, now a metaphor for a source of endless complications, but also a timeless allegory about the world's tragedies.
- Prometheus | World History Encyclopedia
In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus had a reputation as being something of a clever trickster and he famously gave the human race the gift of fire.
- Prometheus | God, Description, Meaning, & Myth | Britannica
Prometheus, in Greek religion, was one of the Titans, the supreme trickster, and a god of fire. His intellectual side was emphasized by the apparent meaning of his name, Forethinker. In common belief, he developed into a master craftsman.
- Titanomachy | GreekMythology.com
The Titanomachy, in Greek mythology, was the great war that occurred between the Titans, the old generation of Greek gods, and the Olympian gods, led by Zeus.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.