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Pandora's Box

The Myth of Pandora and her Box

Mangala Darshini and Christabelle Ilankovan


The bulk of Greek Mythology comes from the three poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer and Theogony by Hesiod. Greek Mythology, as we know originates from myths, stories told that form the base of the ancient Greek spiritual and ancient beliefs. Some of these beliefs influence the way the ancient Greeks behaved and thought and thus we found interest in it. For this post we have chosen to focus on one particular myth from Theogony, Pandora and her box. Pandora’s myth focuses on the introduction of evil and hell into the world and thus is significant because it was how the people explained the existence of suffering and pain and how it is also associated with womankind.

The backstory of the creation of Pandora

Pandora’s creation was tied largely with the Titan, Prometheus. The Titans were giant immortal people, who had fought alongside the gods in a war.  Prometheus was given the duty of creating men from clay (women were not believed to have existed as of yet) and was not content with their treatment. This caused him to steal fire from Zeus to give to mankind as a gift, knowing that Zeus would disprove. There are many reasons as to why mankind needed the fire and one famous explanation states that in Mekone, Prometheus tricked the gods. He prepared to portions of an ox, a big portion and small portion, one would be for mankind and the other for an ox. He found the treatment of mankind to be unjust and therefore attempted to wrap the inedible parts of the ox in the big portion and the bulk of the meat in the small portion. He managed to trick the gods into choosing the inedible parts of an ox wrapped in the big portion, which enraged Zeus. Therefore, Zeus withheld fire from mankind so they could not cook the meat resulting in Prometheus stealing it. Zeus went on to punish Prometheus and chose to punish mankind as well.

Jan Cossiers - Prometheus carrying fire via Wikimedia Commons

The creation of Pandora

He instructed Hephaestus, the god of fire, to create Pandora, the first woman and bestowed upon her various seducing gifts that would “plague humanity from then on”. Hephaestus created her from clay, shaping her perfectly, Aphrodite gave her femininity and Athena taught her crafts. Hermes was ordered by Zeus to teach her to be deceitful, stubborn and curious. She was made with the intention of being a punishment, under the pretense of a gift and sent to Prometheus’ brother as a wife.

  Pierre Loison  -  Pandora via Wikimedia Commons

Pierre Loison -  Pandora via Wikimedia Commons

She was also gifted a jar (pithos) as a wedding gift by Zeus under the strict instruction that she must never open it. The jar was filled with all sorts of illness and evil and hardships in the world. Because of her curiosity, Pandora did open the jar and unleashed evil onto the world, causing suffering to exist, just as Zeus had planned all along. Fortunately, Zeus included one good thing in the box, hope and from then on, hope was instilled in the hearts of mankind forever as it battled with the sufferings and evil in the world.  

 Walter Crane - Pandora opens the box via Wikimedia Commons

Walter Crane - Pandora opens the box via Wikimedia Commons

Comparison to Genesis (fun fact)

The use of the myth of Pandora is something that not only applied to the ancient Greeks but intrigues many modern day historians today. The great resemblance to the creation story in Genesis is what stood out to us the most as we were constructing this post. So here is a quick section to point out the similarities and differences before we continue on to the significance! Firstly, the creation of women following the creation of men are similar in both stories. Also, the idea that women brought the destruction and evil into the world is very much present in both stories. There is a sense of power that comes with women in both stories because it carries across the idea that the decision of a woman impacts the lives of all men so largely.

However, one large difference is the reason why women were created. Genesis looks at women more positively, created as a companion for men and so Eve’s creation was done with the sole purpose of being a companion, an equal. However, Pandora was created with the sole intention of punishing men and therefore the details that went into her creation all revolved around the weaknesses of men, from her beauty and seduction to her wit and curiosity. Pandora’s creation was so intricately thought out to eventually lead to destruction.

  Peiter Paul Rebuns  - Depiction of the original sin via Wikimedia Commons, 

Peiter Paul Rebuns - Depiction of the original sin via Wikimedia Commons, 

Significance of Pandora's Box 

Anyway, back to the significance of Pandora, the entire myth was very significant, and continues to remain significant today because of the purpose it served. The myth served as a way to teach humankind about its weaknesses as well as to justify the cause of misfortune and suffering in the world. It also reveals how women were portrayed and seen in ancient Greece.

The weaknesses of humans were highlighted in the details put into the creation of Pandora. She was created to capitalize on the weaknesses of men such as lust and deceit. In our opinion, it was to highlight the various downfalls of men and to allow men to be more careful and aware of their respective shortcomings.

The myth also brings explanation to an otherwise unknown and unanswerable question; why do we suffer? Without the myth, it would be hard to explain to ancient Greeks the complex concept of the existence of evil. It also creates 'someone' to blame. “Human curiosity always asks why .. and then human creativity finds ways of giving an answer.”

The myth acts as a bridge between the complex and the simple for the people, very much like how many religions try to answer this question in their own way today. It feeds the curiosity of the people and also satisfies them with a way of understanding the complexity of it all.

Finally, the myth also shows how early Greeks imagined women to be evil created under the pretense of being beautiful. They were meant to tempt and bring suffering to men and make them miserable. This is particularly evident in the supposed reason for women's creation in the first place. Zeus created Pandora with the intent for her to open the box as without her curiosity, she would never have unleashed evil into the world. 

All in all, Pandora's box gives a good perspective of the society of Ancient Greece and the frailty of humankind. It also reinforces the natural downplay of women in the ancient world that is paralleled in many of the civilizations in this course. It makes us appreciate the greatness of equality today. Also, the need to comfort ourselves with mythology is still very much present in society today making Pandora's Box rather significant for the both of us. 

Thank you for reading our second post! Hope you liked it :)