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In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first mortal woman. According to Hesiod, each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to mould her out of Earth. This was part of the punishment of mankind, because Prometheus had stolen the secret of fire. All the gods helped by giving her seductive gifts. Another name was found for her was Anesidora, she who sends gifts. This name was found inscribed against her figure on a white-ground kylix in the British Museum.
According to the myth, Pandora opened a jar (pithos) and released all the evils of mankind. With the exception of plagues and diseases, Hesiod does not specify the evils in detail. When Pandora closed the jar again, only Hope was left inside. The word pithos has been translated the wrong way, which may have led to the idea of "Pandora's box". Pandora opened the jar because she was curious what was inside, and not because of malice.
The myth of Pandora is ancient, and there are several different Greek versions. It has been interpreted in different ways. In the literary versions, the myth is a kind of theodicy, it addresses the question why there is evil in the world. The oldest versiion is that of Hesiod, who wrote it in the 7th century BC. He shortly mentions it in his Theogony, in line 570, but does not name Pandora. In his Works and Days he gives the oldest known literary version of the story. There is an older story that tells that urns and jars can contain blessings and evils which is told in Homer's Illiad:
The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow; on the floor of Zeus' palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Zeus the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Zeus sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men.
The Pandora myth first appears in lines 560–612 of Hesiod's poem the Theogony. This version does not give the woman a name. Prometheus has stolen the gift of fire, and has given it to the humans. Zeus is angry about this and decides to punish men, as a compensation for the gift. He commands Hephaestus to make the first woman from earth. This woman is described as a "beautiful evil" whose descendants would torment the race of men. After Hephaestus does so, Athena dressed her in a silvery gown, an embroidered veil, garlands and a crown of gold. This woman is unnamed in the Theogony, but is probably Pandora. Hesiod rewrote her myth in Works and Days. When she first appears before gods and mortals, "wonder seized them" as they looked upon her. But she was "sheer guile, not to be withstood by men." Hesiod elaborates (590–93):
From her is the race of women and female kind:
of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.
He reaches deadly old age without anyone to tend his years,
and though he at least has no lack of livelihood while he lives,
yet, when he is dead, his kinsfolk divide his possessions amongst them.
At the end, Hesiod says that occasionally a man finds a good wife, but still (609) "evil contends with good."
Works and Days
The more famous version of the myth comes from another of Hesiod's works, called Works and Days. There, the myth is contained in lines 60 to 105. Hesiod tells about Pandora's origin. He also makes the scope of the misery she inflicts on mankind bigger. As before, she is created by Hephaestus, but now more gods help completing her (lines 63-82): Athena taught her needlework and weaving (63–4); Aphrodite "shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs" (65–6); Hermes gave her "a shameful mind and deceitful nature" (67–8); Hermes also gave her the power of speech, putting in her "lies and crafty words" (77–80) ; Athena then clothed her (72); next she, Persuasion and the Charites adorned her with necklaces and other finery (72–4); the Horae adorned her with a garland crown (75). Finally, Hermes gives this woman a name: Pandora – "All-gifted" – "because all the Olympians gave her a gift" (81). The story is written in such a way that Pandora's feminine and deceitful nature is a small problem for mankind, because she brings a pithos. This word is usually translated as jar, sometimes as a box. The box contains "burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men" (91–2), diseases (102) and "a myriad other pains" (100).
Prometheus had warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus. But Epimetheus did not listen; he accepted Pandora, who promptly scattered the contents of her jar. As a result, Hesiod tells us, "the earth and sea are full of evils" (101). One item, however, did not escape the jar (96–9), hope:
Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house,
she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not
fly away. Before [she could], Pandora replaced the
lid of the jar. This was the will of aegis-bearing
Zeus the Cloudgatherer.
He does not tell the reader why hope remained in the jar.
Hesiod closes with this moral (105): "Thus it is not possible to escape the mind of Zeus."
Archaic and Classic Greek literature do not mention Pandora any more. Sophocles wrote a satyr play Pandora, or The Hammerers, but very little is known of this play. Sappho may have made reference to Pandora in a surviving fragment.
Later, people filled in small details, or they added postscripts to Hesiod's story. Examples for this are Apollodorus and Hyginus: Each of them added a part to the story, that might have already been in Hesiod's version, even though it was not written down: Epimetheus married Pandora. They each add that they had a daughter, Pyrrha, who married Deucalion and survived the deluge with him. The problem of that version is that Hesiod's Catalogue of Women, fragment #2, had made a "Pandora" one of the daughters of Deucalion, and the mother of Graecus by Zeus.
In the 15th century, a monk named Annio da Viterbo said he had found a manuscript of a historian named Berossus. Berossus had lived in the 3rd century BC. According to the manuscript, "Pandora" was also named as a daughter-in-law of Noah. This attempt to join pagan and Christian texts was later recognised as a forgery, though.
The poet Theognis of Megara, who lived in the 6th century BC, had a different view:
Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;
the others have left and gone to Olympus.
Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,
and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.
Men’s judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone
revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished and
men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety.
Theogonis seems to be referring to a different version of the myth: In that version, the jar contained blessings rather than evils. This version seems to follow a tradition before Hesiod, which was preserved by 2nd century writer Babrius. According to Babrius, the gods sent a jar containing blessings to humans. A "foolish man" (not Pandora) opened the jar, and most of the blessings were lost forever. Only hope remained, "to promise each of us the good things that fled."
Difficulties of interpretation
There are many ways in which the figure of Pandora can be interpreted. Erwin Panofsky wrote a monography on the subject. According to M. L. West, the story of Pandora and the jar is older than Hesiod's versions. This also explains the confusion and problems of Hesiod's version and that it is inconclusive. According to West, Pandoora was married to Prometheus in these versions. West cites Hesiod's Catalogue of Women, which preserved the older version. In one version of the story, the jar may have contained only good things for mankind. West also writes that it may have been that Epimetheus and Pandora and their roles were transposed in the pre-Hesiodic myths. This is called a "mythic inversion". He remarks that there is a curious correlation between Pandora being made out of earth in Hesiod's story, to what is in Apollodorus that Prometheus created man from water and earth. Hesiod's myth of Pandora's jar, then, could be an summary of many different early myths.
There are different questions that need to be discussed. The Greek original text speaks about elpis. Usually, this word is translated into English as Hope, but it could be translated differently. Expectation is another possible translation, which is more neutral. One can expect good things, as well as bad things. Hope has a positive connotation.
Elpis is everything that remains in the jar, when Pandora closed it again, so does the jar give elpis to mankind, or does it keep elpis away from it? -Another question to ask is wheter elpis remaining in the jar a good thing, or a bad one, for mankind?
The first question might confuse the non-specialist. But as with most ancient Greek words, elpis can be translated a number of ways. A number of scholars prefer the neutral translation of "expectation." But expectation of what? Classical authors use the word elpis to mean "expectation of bad," as well as "expectation of good." Statistical analysis demonstrates that the latter sense appears five times more than the former in all of ancient Greek literature. Others hold the minority view that elpis should be rendered, "expectation of evil" (vel sim).
How one answers the first question largely depends on the answer to the second question: should we interpret the jar to function as a prison, or a pantry? The jar certainly serves as a prison for the evils that Pandora released – they only affect mankind once outside the jar. Some have argued that logic dictates, therefore, that the jar acts as a prison for Elpis as well, withholding it from men. If one takes elpis to mean expectant hope, then the myth's tone is pessimistic: All the evils in the world were scattered from Pandora's jar, while the one potentially mitigating force, Hope, remains locked securely inside.
This interpretation raises yet another question, complicating the debate: are we to take Hope in an absolute sense, or in a narrow sense where we understand Hope to mean hope only as it pertains to the evils released from the jar? If Hope is imprisoned in the jar, does this mean that human existence is utterly hopeless? This is the most pessimistic reading possible for the myth. A less pessimistic interpretation (still pessimistic, to be sure) understands the myth to say: countless evils fled Pandora's jar and plague human existence; the hope that we might be able to master these evils remains imprisoned inside the jar. Life is not hopeless, but each of us is hopelessly human.
It is also argued that hope was simply one of the evils in the jar, the false kind of hope, and was no good for mankind, since, later in the poem, Hesiod writes that hope is empty (498) and no good (500) and makes mankind lazy by taking away his industriousness, making him prone to evil.
In Human, All Too Human, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that "Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man's torment."
An objection to the hope is good/the jar is a prison interpretation counters that, if the jar is full of evils, then what is expectant hope – a blessing – doing among them? This objection leads some to render elpis as the expectation of evil, which would make the myth's tone somewhat optimistic: although humankind is troubled by all the evils in the world, at least we are spared the continual expectation of evil, which would make life unbearable.
The optimistic reading of the myth is expressed by M. L. West. Elpis takes the more common meaning of expectant hope. And while the jar served as a prison for the evils that escaped, it thereafter serves as a residence for Hope. West explains, "It would be absurd to represent either the presence of ills by their confinement in a jar or the presence of hope by its escape from one." Hope is thus preserved as a benefit for humans.
All-giving Pandora: a mythic inversion
An incorrect etymology of Pandora's name, "all-gifted", was provided in Works and Days. Pandora means "all-giving", but not "all-gifted." Some paintings in vases, from the fifth century before Christ, indicate that the beliefs about the goddess Pandora lasted after the time of Hesiod. Another name of Pandora was found in a kylix (circa 460 BC), Anesidora, that means "she who sends up gifts." This vase painting depicts Hephaestus and Athenae finishing the touches on the first woman, like in the Theogony. The epithet anesidora is also used to name Gaia or Demeter.
Pandora/Anesidora possibly would have taken on aspects of Gaea and Demeter. Pandora would incarnate the fertility of the Earth and its capacity to bear grain and fruits for the benefit of the Humans. Over time this "all-giving" goddess somehow devolved into an "all-gifted" mortal woman. T. A. Sinclair, commenting on Works and Days argues that Hesiod shows no awareness of the mythology of such a divine "giver". A.H. Smith, however, notes that in Hesiod's account Athena and the Seasons brought wreaths of grass and spring flowers to Pandora, indicating that Hesiod was conscious of Pandora's original "all-giving" function. Jane Ellen Harrison sees in Hesiod's story "evidence of a shift from matriarchy to patriarchy in Greek culture. As the life-bringing goddess Pandora is eclipsed, the death-bringing human Pandora arises." Thus Harrison concludes "in the patriarchal mythology of Hesiod her great figure is strangely changed and diminished. She is no longer Earth-Born, but the creature, the handiwork of Olympian Zeus." (Harrison 1922:284) Robert Graves, quoting Harrison, asserts of the Hesiodic episode that "Pandora is not a genuine myth, but an anti-feminist fable, probably of his own invention." H.J.Rose wrote that the myth of Pandora is decidedly more illiberal than that of epic in that it makes Pandora the origin of all of Man's woes with her being the exemplification of the bad wife.
The Hesiodic myth did not, however, completely obliterate the memory of the all-giving goddess Pandora. A scholium to line 971 of Aristophanes' The Birds mentions a cult "to Pandora, the earth, because she bestows all things necessary for life".
In fifth-century Athens Pandora made a prominent appearance in what, at first, appears an unexpected context, in a marble relief or bronze appliqués as a frieze along the base of the Athena Parthenos the culminating experience on the Acropolis; there Jeffrey M. Hurwit has interpreted her presence as an "anti-Athena" reinforcing civic ideologies of patriarchy and the "highly gendered social and political realities of fifth-century Athens." Interpretation has never come easy: Pausanias (i.24.7) merely noted the subject and moved on. Jeffrey Hurwit has argued that Pandora represents an "anti-Athena", similarly a child of no mother, an embodiment of the need for the patriarchal rule that the virginal Athena, rising above her sex, defended.
Pithos into "box"
The humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam translated Hesiod from Greek to Latin, in the 16th century. The Greek word pithos is used for a large jar, used for example for storing wine. It can also refer to a funerary jar. Pyxis, on the other hand, is a box. Usually, it is said that Erasmus swapped the words when he translated, so Pandora's jar became Pandora's box. The phrase "Pandora's box" has endured ever since.
- "Scatter-brained Epimetheus who from the first was a mischief to men who eat bread; for it was he who first took of Zeus the woman, the maiden whom he had formed." (Hesiod, Theogony 510 ff (Hugh G. -White, translator)
- B.M. 1881,0528.1: white-ground cup from Nola, painted by the Tarquinia painter, ca 470–460 BCE (British Museum on-line catalogue entry)
- Cf. Hesiod, Works and Days, (90). Before what was released from the jar, mankind had no need of toilsome labor, there were no sickness and evils in life. When Pandora opened the jar, this all changed and mankind was exposed to heavy labor, sickness [Zeus had taken away the 'voices' of the diseases as is written a few lines later (100)], and 'ills' (evils). "For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sicknesses which bring the Fates upon men ... Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aegis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds. But the rest, countless plagues, wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently; for wise Zeus took away speech from them."
- Cf. Verdenius, p. 65. "This does not imply she acted from malice. It is true that she had a shameless character, but the fact that she quickly put on the lid again shows that she was 'surprised and frightened by the results of her actions. It was not her cunning and wiliness that prompted her to open the jar, but her curiosity'..."
- Homer, Iliad, 24:527.; on-line Greek and English text Theoi Project: Pandora
- In Greek, Pandora has an active and not a passive meaning. Pandora really means all-giving
- A pithos is a very large jar, usually made of rough-grained terra cotta, used for storage.
- Cf. Verdenius, p. 64, comment on line 94, on pithos. "Yet Pandora is unlikely to have brought along the jar of ills from heaven, for Hes. would not have omitted describing such an important detail. According to Proclus, Prometheus had received the jar of ills from the satyrs and deposited it with Epimetheus, urging him not to accept Pandora. Maz. [Paul Mazon in his Hesiode] suggests that Prometheus probably had persuaded the satyrs to steal the jar from Zeus, when the latter was about to pour them out over mankind. This may have been a familiar tale which Hes. thought unnecessary to relate."
- Cf. Verdenius, p. 66, regarding line 96, elpis. Verdenius says there are a vast number of explanations. "He does not tell us why elpis remained in the jar. There is a vast number of modern explanations, of which I shall discuss only the most important ones. They may be divided into two classes according as they presume that the jar served (1) to keep elpis for man, or (2) to keep off elpis from man. In the first case the jar is used as a pantry, in the second case it is used as a prison (just as in Hom. E 387). Furthermore, elpis may be regarded either (a) as a good, or (b) as an evil. In the first case it is to comfort man in his misery and a stimulus rousing his activity, in the second case it is the idle hope in which the lazy man indulges when he should be working honestly for his living (cf. 498). The combination of these alternatives results in four possibilities which we shall now briefly consider."
- Sappho, fr. 207 in Lobel and Page.
- Babrius, Fabulla lviii.
- Panofsky, Pandora's Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol (New York, 1962).
- West, Works and Days, p. 164.
- Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, ed. Sir James George Frazer.
- Leinieks 1984, 1–4.
- E.g., Verdenius 1985; Blumer 2001.
- The prison/pantry terminology comes from Verdenius 1985 ad 96.
- Scholars holding this view (e.g., Walcot 1961, 250) point out that the jar is termed an "unbreakable" (in Greek: arrektos) house. In Greek literature (e.g., Homer, and elsewhere in Hesiod), the word arrektos is applied to structures meant to sequester or otherwise restrain its contents.
- See Griffith 1984 above.
- Thus Athanassakis 1983 in his commentary ad Works 96.
- Cf. Jenifer Neils, in The Girl in the Pithos: Hesiod’s Elpis, in "Periklean Athens and its Legacy. Problems and Perspectives", pp. 40–41 especially.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich, Human, All Too Human. Cf. Section Two, On the History of Moral Feelings. "Hope. Pandora brought the jar with the evils and opened it. It was the gods' gift to man, on the outside a beautiful, enticing gift, called the 'lucky jar.' Then all the evils, those lively, winged beings, flew out of it. Since that time, they roam around and do harm to men by day and night. One single evil had not yet slipped out of the jar. As Zeus had wished, Pandora slammed the top down and it remained inside. So now man has the lucky jar in his house forever and thinks the world of the treasure. It is at his service; he reaches for it when he fancies it. For he does not know that the jar which Pandora brought was the jar of evils, and he takes the remaining evil for the greatest worldly good—it is hope, for Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man's torment."
- West 1988, 169–70.
- Taking the jar to serve as a prison at some times and as a pantry at others will also accommodate another pessimistic interpretation of the myth. In this reading, attention is paid to the phrase moune Elpis – "only Hope," or "Hope alone." A minority opinion construes the phrase instead to mean "empty Hope" or "baseless Hope": not only are humans plagued by a multitude of evils, but they persist in the fruitless hope that things might get better. Thus Beall 1989 227–28.
- Sinclair, editor, Hesiod: Works and Days (London: Macmillan) 1932:12.
- Smith, "The Making of Pandora" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 11 (1890, pp. 278–283), p 283.
- William E. Phipps, "Eve and Pandora contrasted" Theology Today 45 on-line text
- Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903) 1922: 283–85 quoted in Graves, The Greek Myths (1955) 1960, sect.39.8 p. 148.
- Cf. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Literature; From Homer to the Age of Lucian, Chapter III, Hesiod and the Hesiodic Schools, p. 61. "Its attitude towards women is decidedly more illiberal than that of epic; a good wife is indeed the best prize a man can win (702), but a bad one is the greatest curse; generally speaking women are a snare and a temptation (373–5) and Pandora was the origin of all our woes".
- Jeffrey M. Hurwit, "Beautiful Evil: Pandora and the Athena Parthenos" American Journal of Archaeology 99.2 (April 1995: 171–186)
- Cf. Verdenius, p. 64.
- Cf. Harrison, Jane Ellen, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Chapter II, The Pithoigia, pp. 42–43. Cf. also Figure 7 which shows an ancient Greek vase painting in the University of Jena where Hermes is presiding over a body in a pithos buried in the ground. "In the vase painting in fig.7 from a lekythos in the University Museum of Jena we see a Pithoigia of quite other and solemn intent. A large pithos is sunk deep into the ground. It has served as a grave. ... The vase-painting in fig. 7 must not be regarded as an actual conscious representation of the Athenian rite performed on the first day of the Anthesteria. It is more general in content; it is in fact simply a representation of ideas familiar to every Greek, that the pithos was a grave-jar, that from such grave-jars souls escaped and to them necessarily returned, and that Hermes was Psychopompos, Evoker and Revoker of souls. The vase-painting is in fact only another form of the scene so often represented on Athenian white lekythoi, in which the souls flutter round the grave-stele. The grave-jar is but the earlier form of sepulture; the little winged figures, the Keres, are identical in both classes of vase-painting."
- The development of this transformation was sketched by Jane Ellen Harrison, "Pandora's Box" The Journal of Hellenic Studies 20 (1900: 99–114); she traced the mistranslation as far as Lilius Giraldus of Ferrara, in his Historiarum Deorum Syntagma (1580), in which pithos was rendered pyxide, and she linked the pithos with the Pithoigia aspect of the Athenian festival of Anthesteria.
- In his notes to Hesiod's Works and Days (p. 168) - Martin Litchfield West has speculated that Erasmus may have confused the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche; the Panofskys (1956) follow him in this speculation.
- Athanassakis, A. Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days, Shield (New York 1983).
- Beall, E. "The Contents of Hesiod's Pandora Jar: Erga 94–98," Hermes 117 (1989) 227–30.
- Harrison, Jane Ellen, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903) 1922, pp. 280–85.
- Griffith, Mark. Aeschylus Prometheus Bound Text and Commentary (Cambridge 1983).
- Hesiod, Works and Days On-line text.
- Hesiod, Works and Days, ed. with prolegomena and commentary (Oxford 1978).
- Hesiod, Theogony, and Works and Days (Oxford 1988).
- Kenaan, Pandora's Senses: The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), pp. xii, 253 (Wisconsin Studies in Classics).
- Kirk, G.S., Myth: Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient and Other Cultures (Berkeley 1970) 226–32.
- Lamberton, Robert, Hesiod, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-04068-7. Cf. Chapter II, "The Theogony", and Chapter III, "The Works and Days", especially pp. 96–103 for a side-by-side comparison and analysis of the Pandora story.
- Leinieks, V. "Elpis in Hesiod, Works and Days 96," Philologus 128 (1984) 1–8.
- Moore, Clifford H. The Religious Thought of the Greeks, 1916.
- Neils, Jenifer, The Girl in the Pithos: Hesiod’s Elpis, in "Periklean Athens and its Legacy. Problems and Perspectives", eds. J. M. Barringer and J. M. Hurwit (Austin : University of Texas Press), 2005, pp. 37–45.
- Nilsson, Martin P. History of Greek Religion, 1949.
- Phipps, William E., Eve and Pandora Contrasted, in Theology Today, v.45, n.1, April 1988, Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary.
- Pucci, Pietro, Hesiod and the Language of Poetry (Baltimore 1977)
- Rose, Herbert Jennings, A Handbook of Greek Literature; From Homer to the Age of Lucian, London, Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1934. Cf. especially Chapter III, Hesiod and the Hesiodic Schools, p. 61
- Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, sub "Pandora" On-line text
- William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) vol I:177, sub "Anesidora" "Spender" is a misprint of "sender", often repeated.
- Verdenius, Willem Jacob, A Commentary on Hesiod Works and Days vv 1–382 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). ISBN 90-04-07465-1. This work has a very in-depth discussion and synthesis of the various theories and speculations about the Pandora story and the jar. Cf. p. 62 and onwards.
- Vernant, J. P., Myth and Society in Ancient Greece (New York 1990) 183–201.
- Warner, M., Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form (New York 1985) 213–40
- West, M. L. Hesiod, Theogony, ed. with prolegomena and commentary (Oxford 1966).
- West, M. L. Hesiod, Works and Days, ed. with prolegomena and commentary (Oxford 1978).
- Zeitlin, Froma. Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature (Princeton 1995).