Many people are familiar with the concept of “opening Pandora’s box of trouble.” The common idiom means to do something that causes problems that did not exist before. While many have heard or even used this phrase before, few know the origins.
Believe it or not, this phrase goes back to ancient Greek times! The parable of Pandora is a classic tale in Greek mythology. It’s a story that portrays the power of the gods and explains the purpose of evil in the world. It’s also notable for marking the end of the Golden Age of Man and causing a new era of human suffering.
The Origins of Pandora
To understand how Pandora came to be, we have to look back further before she came into existence. Pandora was not born from natural means. She was a creation of the gods, starting as an idea from Zeus.
There are a couple of potential reasons why Zeus ordered her creation. Some scholars believe that he sought to punish humans due to their increasingly troublesome behaviour. However, the most commonly referenced reason for Pandora’s creation is Prometheus and Epimetheus.
The two Titan brothers did not participate in the Titanomachy. While Zeus punished other Titans for their role in the Divine war, she spared Prometheus and Epimetheus. Instead of penalizing them, he made them benefactors of humans. Zeus wanted to populate the world with animals and humans, so he tasked the brothers to assign attributes to all living creators.
Epimetheus took care of most of the job, making some animals predators, others burrowers, and so on. Prometheus frequently checked on his brother before unleashing the animals onto Earth. However, Epimetheus had a severe lack of foresight.
When he came to humans, he realized no attributes were left. Zeus was ready to unleash humans into the world defenseless and without any skills. But, Prometheus could not let that happen. So, he stole fire from Mount Olympus and transported it back to Earth in a fennel stack. He also stole artistic skills. The Titan gave humans those attributes, putting them at the top of the food chain.
Zeus was not happy and ended up punishing Prometheus with eternal torture. But once again, Epimetheus evaded discipline even though he created the problem in the first place.
By most accounts, the creation of Pandora was a direct reaction to Prometheus’ sins. Zeus wanted to balance the new acquisition of fire and art. So, he commissioned the design of a seducing gift that would plague humanity for the rest of time.
The Birth of Pandora
The first accounts of Pandora’s creation come from Hesiod. He talks about her in “Theogony.” However, he doesn’t mention her name or go into great detail about her life. Later, Hesiod expanded the myth in “Works and Days.”
According to Hesiod, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to build a creature with numerous beguiling and seducing gifts. The king of Mount Olympus wanted to create the first woman. She was to be beautifully evil and have descendants that would torment humans forever.
The blacksmith of the gods threw himself into his work. He used clay to create a maiden-like figure modelled after immortal goddesses. Zeus then brings her to life. Thus, the first woman was born. Her creation ended the Golden Age of Man, starting a new era for humanity.
In “Theogony,” Hesiod says that Athena dresses Pandora in a beautiful silvery gown, an embroidered veil, a crown, and garlands. In “Works and Days,” Hesiod mentions other contributions from gods. Athene reportedly dressed her and taught her needlework. Meanwhile, Aphrodite granted elegance and longing. Hermes, the messenger god, gave her shameless thinking and deceit. He also gave her the power of speech, encouraging lies and crafty language.
The Graces, or Charities, gave her golden necklaces. The same goes for Peitho, the goddess who personified persuasion and seduction. The Horai followed by putting a flowery garland upon her head.
A Gift for Epimetheus
Pandora was gifted many things from the gods. After she was complete, Zeus gave her to Epimetheus. Known for his lack of foresight, the Titan god accepted. That was even after his brother, Prometheus, warned him not to accept gifts from Zeus.
The two got married, and Zeus gave Pandora one final gift for her wedding. He gave her a large jar containing countless plagues. According to Hesiod, the jar contained plagues and evils for men who eat bread. The term used to describe the jar, “Pithos,” was mistranslated during the 16th century. As a result, modern retellings often refer to it as “Pandora’s box” rather than the storage jar.
Regardless, Zeus instructed Pandora never to open it. Of course, her curiosity got the best of her. Shortly after the wedding, she opened it and unleashed the plagues and evils onto humanity. Most versions of this story say that Pandora didn’t open the box out of malice.
Poets often mention that she attempted to put the lid back and seal the evils inside out of pure shock. However, it was too late. By the time she restored the lid, the only thing left inside was hope. Some interpret this part of the story as reasoning for hope being the last thing to die in humans.
This act plunged humanity into the Silver Age of Man.
Life After the Jar
Pandora’s story didn’t end with her unleashing evil onto the world. While that’s undoubtedly her most significant contribution to Greek mythology, her life continued. By most accounts, Pandora and Epimetheus had a relatively good life after the events of the fateful jar.
The two had a child, Pyrrha. Pyrrha was the first child born from a human mother. When Pyrrha was an adult, she married Deucalion, who happened to be a descendant of Prometheus.
Pyrrha and Deucalion were the only two humans to survive the deluge of Zeus at the end of the Bronze Age of Man. Zeus attempted to eradicate all humans, but Prometheus heard of his plans and instructed Deucalion to build an ark. The couple survived the flood and repopulated the Earth by creating men and women out of stones.
The details surrounding Pandora’s death are unknown. However, we can assume that she died during the deluge. Even still, many consider her the grandmother of all humans, thanks to her surviving daughter.
Pandora is the first woman to exist.
Hephaestus built her under the direct order of Zeus.
Pandora was also known as “Anesidora”
The name “Pandora” translates to “All Gifts” or “The All-Endowed.”
The earliest versions of Pandora’s story come from “Theogony” and “Works and Days” written by Hesiod.
After her creation, Zeus gifts Pandora to Epimetheus.
Pandora is responsible for spreading evil into the world.
Scholars believe that Eve is the Christian equivalent of Pandora.
Pandora gave birth to the first child born from a mortal mother. Her name was Pyrrha.
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