What is Pandora’s box? What is the story of Pandora? Why did Zeus give the box to Pandora?
We often hear people using the phrase ‘Pandora’s Box’ as a metaphor. Have you ever wondered how this term came into being? Or why is it even used in such a wicked sense?
The story behind Pandora’s box, one of the greatest myths in ancient Greek mythology, is a bit more complicated than you’d expect. Let’s take a look at the birth of pandora in Greek mythology.
History Behind Pandora’s Box
The story takes place during a conflict between the Olympian gods and the Titans.
The Titans Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus had created man, but Prometheus wanted his creature to stand out among all the animals for this he gave man the Dominion of fire. Prometheus stole fire and gave it to the men.
Due to the plot of the Titans, Zeus decides to take fire away from men; however, the Titan goes to Olympus, steals a divine flame, and returns fire to humanity.
Prometheus knew he would not escape punishment from Zeus, for he had the power with which he could see the future. He saw that he was destined to suffer a terrible punishment. He also knew that his brother had to pay his penalty.
He advised his brother Epimetheus that his misfortune will not be enough to quench the fury of Zeus, so whatever happens, he should not ever accept any gift from the gods for the safety of the human race (their creation).
Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods (According to Greek mythology), was furious that the Titan Prometheus had stolen the element of fire from the gods and given it to humanity.
As punishment for his actions, the king of Gods chained Prometheus to a cliff, and every morning an eagle would swoop down and feast on his liver.
Every night his liver would heal again only for the eager to return the next morning and feast once again.
Prometheus’ torture was not enough for Zeus. He decided he would also punish his creation, the human race, for they accepted the gift of fire from Prometheus.
To do so, he needed to destroy Epimetheus first. King of the gods, Zeus ordered the smith of the gods, Hephaestus to create a mortal woman so beautiful that she was irresistible to both gods and men.
Creation of Pandora’s Box
The birth of Pandora is an interesting story. Pandora ( Greek – Πανδώρα (Παν-δώρα ) stands for All-Gifts or Gift of gifts (both sound weird, I know).
In the Greek language, Παν is a prefix used to describe a summary of elements or the greatest of them. But in ancient Greece, ‘Pandora’s box’ often refers to the unpredictable misfortunes or unimaginable terrors of life.
According to legend, Pandora was the first mortal woman made by the Olympian gods. Her blazing curiosity set a chain of earth-shattering events in motion.
This mortal woman was given the gift of life by Hephaestus, God of fire, who took the help of other Olympian gods to shape her into excellence. That is all we know about the birth of Pandora.
Aphrodite gifted her the capacity for deep emotion; From Hermes, she was gifted mastery over all languages of God as well as the human race.
Athena gave her the gift of excellent craftsmanship, and Hermes named her Pandora. Hera gave her a gift- the trait of curiosity, which settled in her spirit and sent her eagerly out into the world. Later this would bring about her downfall.
Finally, Zeus gave Pandora- a heavy box, ornately curved, heavy to hold –and screwed tightly shut. But Zeus told her that the contents of this box were not meant for mortal eyes. She should not open the box no matter what the circumstances were.
Zeus planned to give Pandora as a gift to Prometheus’s brother Epimetheus.
Pandora was taken down to Earth along with Hermes, who later gave her the box, which she received as a gift from Zeus. And she was told under no circumstance she should ever open the box. When Epimetheus first glanced at Pandora, he fell instantly in love.
Prometheus knew that Zeus was still hungry for revenge, and he warned Epimetheus several times that he should never accept anything from the gods.
But Epimetheus was so enchanted by Pandora that he could not imagine life without her when he heard that they were about to get married.
On their wedding day, Hermes brought Pandora to Epimetheus and told him that Zeus had sent her as a gift. She was a peace offering to symbolize that there was no longer any ill feeling between Zeus and his brother Prometheus.
Epimetheus thought Hermes was speaking the truth and paid no heed to his brother’s words. Pandora was attracted by the charming Epimetheus, too, and they got married.
Every time Pandora looked at the gift from the king of the gods, she had to remind herself that she vowed never to open the box.
The Myth of The Pandora’s Box
Now we come to the birth of Pandora’s box story. For a long time, Pandora and Epimetheus lived happily. Though Epimetheus missed his brother desperately, in Pandora, he found another fiery-hearted soul for companionship.
Life on earth was pretty exciting for Pandora. She was also easily distracted and could be impatient, given her thirst for knowledge and desire to question her surroundings.
Often, her mind thought about what was in the box. Did it have some treasure that was too huge for the human race to see? Then why did the Gods give the box to her? Her fingers itched to pry it open.
She was so sure that she could hear many whispers and voices coming from the box and calling out to her. Its enigma became maddening.
Her obsession with the box increases day by day. It felt that there was something that screamed her name, and it was out of her control. One day it became unbearable for her. She took the box, away from Epimetheus, and stared at it for a while.
She thought She’d take one glance inside, then be able to rid her mind of it forever. She saw no harm in it.
So she took the golden key that hung around her neck and placed it in the keyhole.
Before she realized what was going on, the room became dark with mist, and a terrible odor filled the air making loud noises. Filled with terror, Pandora threw her hands around desperately in the air in an attempt to put them back in the box.
Pandora slammed the lid of the box, but it was of no use. The creatures emerged out in a black cloud and went out of the room. She felt goosebumps, and a wave of terror and sadness hit her as they went away. Zeus created Pandora’s Box to contain all the evil forces and sufferings of the world, and once they left the box, they couldn’t be contained anymore.
She finally understood that she was nothing more than a pawn in a game played by the gods.
As she wept, Pandora realized there was something else in the box. But this did not feel as gruesome as the whispers of the demons; instead, it almost made her soul feel light.
Pandora felt responsible for bringing doom to the entire human race. She didn’t know how to deal with the consequences.
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She did the only thing that was left for her to do. Pandora opened the lid again and looked inside. Lifting the lid, she experienced a warm ray of light that filled the room. It gave her a feeling of warmth and comfort that had left her body.
Zeus had filled the box with horrors, but he also had given a single good thing there- hope. She knew that the consequences of what she had done were irreversible, but there was hope too.
Hope was always going to be there for the human race, giving the fight and surviving.
- Pandora was sent by Zeus to punish men for accepting the gift of fire from Prometheus, a Titan who had stolen fire from the gods. Hera gave her the gift of curiosity. The creatures that were released from Pandora’s box were all the evils that have forever plagued mankind- sickness, death, famine, hatred, jealousy, etc.
- Zeus put Hope in the box to make sure humans won’t give up and kill themselves. Hope was his greatest evil. This would ensure that humans would continue to suffer for eternity, just like Prometheus.
- Some suggest hope was or is a good thing. It was included in the box because it is the most dangerous of all. It gives people an unrealistic sense of comfort and places them rather than spurring them on to action. We, mortals, have become complacent and are far more willing to spend our time hoping that things can or will get better and precious little time doing anything to make things better.
- Some even wonder why Zeus would place hope in the box if he intended just to destroy mankind. We can only assume that Zeus’ real intention was never to destroy humankind. He felt that the gift of fire gave the man an unfair advantage and so he unleashed all the evils upon them, and if they were to survive in this time of hardship, then they had earned their existence.
- Pandora’s box was originally a storage jar until the 16th century. In the 16th century, a Renaissance humanist named Erasmus mistranslated the story. He perhaps confused the storage jar for the box in the story of Cupid and Psyche. The storage jar thus became a box in narrations after the 16th century.
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