Ancient Greece, like too many cultures throughout history, sadly often portrayed womankind as a negative influence on the human race. According to ancient Greek myth, as told by Hesiod, the first human woman was created soon after Prometheus gave the gift of fire to mankind, which, at the time, was apparently exclusively male. Prometheus’ gift infuriated the other deities. Zeus, the king of the gods, particularly had never wanted humans to obtain fire, with its many essential benefits. Therefore, Zeus decided to mitigate Prometheus’s blessing on mankind by unleashing a secret weapon upon the earth—women.
According to the story, Zeus brought his plans to the best craftsman among the gods, Hephaestus, who personally constructed the first of all women. The woman was then brought before the gods, who began to bestow upon her numerous traits and gifts. Athena taught her how to sew and weave. Aphrodite showed her how to be graceful and flirtatious. Hermes, encouraged by Zeus, taught her how to speak with a silver tongue, as well as how to be shameless, cunning, mischievous and bold. As for tangible gifts, Athena outfitted the woman with silver clothing and an elaborately designed veil. The Graces draped a gold necklace around her neck and the gods gave her multiple garlands of fresh flowers. The most glorious gift, however, was from Hephaestus, who presented the woman with a crown of gold that, like much of his work, was immediately recognized as a masterpiece. With all the gifts and skills distributed, Zeus named the woman Pandora, which translates approximately to “All-endowed” or “All-gifts.”
With Pandora trained, outfitted and named, Zeus decided to send her as a bride to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus, a deity who was not known for being too bright. Before Pandora left to meet with her husband-to-be, the gods each gave the bride a wedding present, all of which were stored in a jar.
When Hermes dropped off Pandora at Epimetheus’ abode, the god was utterly smitten. Despite being warned earlier by his brother, Prometheus, never to trust a gift from Zeus, Epimetheus gratefully accepted Pandora as his bride. Sometime after that fateful decision was made, Pandora opened the jar that had been given to her by the gods. According to Hesiod, once Pandora’s jar was opened, all sorts of evils and wicked spirits poured out of the container to envelop the earth and sea, causing the many woes that plague mankind. Later stories claimed that the jar had contained unimaginable blessings that, once released from the jar, would never be granted on mankind. Interestingly, Hope was the only blessing that supposedly clung to Pandora’s jar and remained inside.
Many people in the modern day think that the mythological Pandora was given not a jar, but a box. This amusing error in translation is believed to have first originated in, or was popularized by, the writings of Desiderius Erasmus in the 15th century. It must be admitted that “Pandora’s Box” does have a certain dramatic ring to it, but nevertheless, Pandora’s original box was indeed a jar.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture attribution: (Three scenes depicting Pandora and her cursed container, illustrated by Walter Crane (1845-1915), all [Public Domain] via Creative Common).