As the story goes, when the god, Prometheus, gave the gift of fire to man, the word “man” was meant to be quite literal. Apparently, when mankind accepted knowledge of fire, humans only consisted of men, with no female counter-parts being, as of yet, in existence. Zeus, the arch-god of the Greek religious pantheon, disapproved of mankind’s possession of fire, and he decided to punish mortal men for their receptiveness to Prometheus’ gift. The retribution of the gods, so the tale goes, came in a familiar form for humankind—the first woman, Pandora. At the outset of creating this new lifeform, Zeus reportedly proclaimed, “To set against the fire I shall give them an affliction in which they will all delight as they embrace their own misfortune” (Hesiod, Works and Days, line 58).
Pandora’s name translates to something akin to “Allgift,” a fitting name as all of the gods on Olympus reportedly contributed in some way or other to her creation. Zeus personally drew up the blueprints for how Pandora would physically look, and he allegedly used the appearances of the goddesses on Olympus for inspiration. When Zeus finished representing his vision through the artistic medium of his choice, he left it to Hephaestus—the master craftsman of the gods—to bring Pandora out of theory and into reality. Hephaestus succeeded in this task, resulting in the creation of Zeus’ dream woman.
When Pandora was brought to life, she was tutored by the gods in various crafts and skills. For her personality and social skills, Pandora was taught the principles of charm, grace and seductiveness by Aphrodite, whereas Hermes showed her how to be cunning, and how to use subtle intrigue to get whatever she may want. Athena, for her part, gave Pandora lessons in daily skills that ancient Greek women would be expected to know, such as the craft of weaving. Athena further contributed to the effort by working with the Graces and Temptation to design Pandora’s wardrobe. They went all-out, clothing Pandora in golden jewelry, accentuated with garlands of flowers. When the gods finished building and instructing Pandora, they, themselves were awed at what they created. According to Hesiod, “Both immortal gods and mortal men were seized with wonder when 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” (Theogony, line 589-590).
In addition to creating the enigma that spawned the age-old saying of can’t live with them, can’t live without them, Zeus added to the punitive power of the first woman by giving her an extra item—a jar. In this jar, so the story goes, were many of the mortal woes faced by humans to this very day. As told by Hesiod, “formerly the tribes of men on earth lived remote from ills, without harsh toil and grievous sicknesses that are deadly to men. But the woman unstopped the jar and let it all out, and brought grim cares upon mankind” (Works and Days, line 90-95).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Pandora by Charles Edward Perugini (1839–1918), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 1999, 2008.