The tale of Epimetheus is one that poets often use to describe the unfavorable habits of humans. His myth involves the creation of man and the disastrous ramifications of acting before thinking. Epimetheus isn’t as well-known as other figures in Greek mythology, but his story is certainly memorable.
The Origins of Epimetheus
Epimetheus is a second-generation god. He was born from Iapetus and Clymene. Iapetus is the son of Uranus and Gaia, two primordial beings responsible for starting the succession myth. Clymene was an Oceanid nymph born to Titans Oceanus and Tethys.
Epimetheus had three brothers. All of them play important roles in Greek mythology. There was Atlas, who is most famous for the punishment of holding up the heavens put onto him by Zeus. His second brother was Menoetius, who was banished to Tartarus for his role in the Divine war.
Prometheus was his third brother. Prometheus and Epimetheus share a strong connection due to the part they played in the creation of man. But before that happened, there was the Titanomachy.
The Titanomachy was a vicious ten-year war between the Titans and the Olympians. The Titan Cronus swallowed all of his children in fear of one of them overtaking his spot on the Divine throne. Eventually, his wife Rhea snuck one child away before Cronus could swallow it. That child grew up to be Zeus.
He challenged his father, forcing him to disgorge his siblings. The newly freed children, the Twelve Olympians, waged war against the Titans for revenge. It was a destructive war that lasted an entire decade. Most Titans participated. That included Epimetheus’ brothers Atlas and Menoetius.
However, Epimetheus and Prometheus did not participate in the Titanomachy. They remained neutral, which would prove to be a smart move that saved them in the end.
The Olympians won the war with help from the three Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires. As the battle concluded, Zeus took the mantle on Mount Olympus. He became the King of the gods and swiftly punished the Titans. Once great gods like Hyperion and Cronus were doomed to Tartarus. Epimetheus’ brother, Menoetius, was struck by one of Zeus’ lightning rods during battle. He was subsequently imprisoned before going to Tartarus.
Meanwhile, Epimetheus’ other brother, Atlas, was famously doomed to hold up the heavens for all of eternity!
But Epimetheus and Prometheus? Zeus did not punish them. They were neutral, so he entrusted them with an important task. This is where Epimetheus’ myth truly gets started.
Epimetheus and Prometheus: The Representatives of Mankind
After the Titanomachy, Zeus wanted to populate the Earth with animals and humans. He entrusted that job with the brothers Epimetheus and Prometheus.
The humans and animals were crafted from clay. Zeus gave the brothers attributes crafted by other deities. Their job was to allocate them to the clay figures before they came to life, giving them the strengths and skills to survive on Earth.
Epimetheus took on the role of distributing attributes. He enjoyed the job, and Prometheus would check on his brother’s work before releasing the creatures into the Earth.
All went well at first. Epimetheus made sure that every creature was equipped with a skill. Some would be natural predators, while others gained the ability to dig or fly. Everything was going according to plan. That is, however, until Epimetheus got to humans.
According to poets like Hesiod and Plato, what happens next is why Epimetheus got his name. The name translates to “afterthought” or “hindsight,” representing Epimetheus’ way of thinking. He did not plan, simply acting on impulse without giving his action any ounce of thought.
When he finally got to humans, he realized that there were no more attributes left to give. He pleaded with Zeus for more, but the King of gods would not create additional attributes to provide. He was willing to unleash humans into the world unprotected. However, Epimetheus’ brother decided to take action.
Prometheus is most known as being a punished benefactor to humans. He got that reputation because he did not want humans to go into the world without any skills to help them survive. With Zeus’ refusal to create more attributes, Prometheus decided to steal some.
He chose civilized arts and fire and the gifted skills for humans. He stole the civilized art from Athena and fire from Hephaestus. Prometheus quickly gave the attributes and let man go onto Earth. He was successful, but his actions enraged Zeus.
He was punished for essentially covering the mistake of his brother. Prometheus was famously taken to the Caucasus Mountains. There, he was chained up as a crow fed on his regenerating liver for eternity. But before he was whisked away for punishment, he warned his brother not to accept any gifts from Zeus or the Olympians.
Once again, Epimetheus failed to have any forethought.
Epimetheus and Pandora
Epimetheus, yet again, escaped direct punishment from Zeus. He was not the one to steal attributes from Athena and Hephaestus. Thus, he was free to live happily among other gods and goddesses. But, Zeus was not quite finished getting retribution for Prometheus’ crimes.
Angered by the theft and fed up with the actions of men on Earth, he ordered the creation of Pandora. The King of gods ordered Hephaestus, blacksmith of the gods, to fashion a woman made out of metal. Once finished, Zeus gave the metal woman a breath of life. She turned into the first human woman.
Zeus gave Pandora to Epimetheus as his bride. In “The Theogony,” Hesiod says that Epimetheus didn’t even think about the warming of Prometheus before he accepted. The marriage of Epimetheus and Pandora isn’t explicitly described, but it’s implied that the two wed and later had children.
But that was after the fateful events of the famous Pandora’s box. Zeus gave Pandora a box or jar as a wedding gift. He told her not to open it under any circumstances. However, she let the curiosity get the best of her.
After the wedding, Pandora cracked the box open and peered inside. When she did, Pandora unleashed hardship and evil onto humans. A plague of harmful spirits went on to trouble humans forever. The only thing that remained after she opened the box was Hope.
Despite her unleashing pain and suffering, Pandora and Epimetheus reportedly had a happy marriage. Pandora’s box was just one example of Zeus’ trickery. But, many scholars believe it wasn’t directed at Epimetheus.
While Zeus was enraged with Prometheus’ actions, Pandora’s box was a response to how humans acted on Earth. Ultimately, they were the ones who paid the price.
Pandora and Epimetheus continued to live relatively happy lives. They had at least one child. The two had a daughter named Pyrrha.
Pyrrha went on to marry a descendant of Prometheus called Deucalion. The two had several sons, but they’re most remembered for surviving the deluge.
According to Plato, the deluge happened during the Bronze Age of humans. At this point, Zeus was fed up with humans and their behaviors. So, he planned a massive flood to wipe them up.
Prometheus heard of his plans and warned his descendant, Deucalion. He instructed Deucalion and Pyrrha to build a great ark. They obliged, eventually using it to survive the great flood. The two floated in the ark for nine days and nine nights before the waters began to recede. The myth says that Pyrrha and Deucalion were the only humans to survive Zeus’ deluge.
Epimetheus isn’t remembered in the most flattering light. While he’s attributed to the creation of humans, his lack of forethought is the thing that stands out most in his story. Had he thought early before acting, he could have avoided a lot of mishaps.
He could have saved attributes for humans early, ensuring that they could prosper on Earth. If he did have foresight, Prometheus wouldn’t have gone to great lengths to steal art and fire from the Olympians. It would have also prevented the creation of Pandora and the unleashing of pain, suffering, and evil into the world.
While his appearance is minimal in the mythology compared to other Greek gods, his impact is significant. In Greece and beyond, many blamed Epimetheus for the troubled world they lived in. Ancient Greeks remembered him as a fool who doomed humanity to struggle with evil for the rest of time.
All that said, he does have one positive part of his legacy. The Titan god lends his name to one of the moons of Saturn. The Epimethean moon occupies the same orbit as another lunar body, Janus.
The moon first came to the attention of astronomers after its discovery in 1966. French astronomer Audouin Dollfus suggested naming it “Janus.”
It wasn’t until 1978 that the Voyager 1 probe found two celestial objects occupying similar orbits. A few years later, in 1983, Epimetheus received its official name.
Epimetheus is the second-generation Titan son of Iapetus and Clymene.
He is the brother of Prometheus, Atlas, and Menoetius.
The name “Epimetheus” roughly translates to “afterthinker” or “hindsight.”
Along with his brother Prometheus, Epimetheus acted as representative of humanity.
Of the two brothers, Epimetheus is considered the foolish one.
In most accounts, Epimetheus symbolizes the habit of acting before thinking.
Epimetheus’ only known consort was Pandora.
Epimetheus and Pandora presumably got married and had at least one child named Phyrra.
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