Pandora's box

Pandora's box

In Greek mythology, 'Pandora's box' is the large jar (πιθος "pithos") carried by Pandora (Πανδώρα) that contained all the evils of mankind— such as greed, vanity, slander, lying, envy, — and the ills upon mankind such as sickness, and finally hope. [Although in Hesiod's "Works and Days", these actual evils are not specified by name, except for Hope. Cf. text line 90, beginning with line 85: "And Epimetheus did not think on what Prometheus had said to him, bidding him never take a gift of Olympian Zeus, but to send it back for fear it might prove to be something harmful to men. But he took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood. [90] 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; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands [95] and scattered, all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to 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." [] ]

Etymology of "box"

The original Greek word used was "pithos" which is a large jar which could be as large as an adult human. It was used for storage of wine or provisions, for example, or for funerary purposes as a human's grave. [Cf. Harrison, Jane Ellen, "Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion", Chapter II, The Pithoigia, pp.42-43. Cf. also Figure 7 which shows a 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."] [Cf. Verdenius, p.64]

The mistranslation of "pithos" as "box" is usually attributed to the 16th century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam when he translated Hesiod's tale of Pandora into Latin. Hesiod's "pithos" refers to a storage jar for oil or grain. Erasmus, however, translated "pithos" into the Latin word "pyxis", meaning "box". [In his notes to Hesiod's "Works and Days" (p.168) M.L. West has surmised that Erasmus may have confused the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche.] The phrase "Pandora's box" has endured ever since. This misconception was further backed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting "Pandora". [ [ "Pandora] by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.]

Opening of the "box"

After Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create the woman Pandora as part of the punishment for mankind. Pandora was given many seductive gifts from Aphrodite, Hermes, Charites, and Horae (according to "Works and Days").For fear of additional reprisals, Prometheus warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, but Epimetheus did not listen, and married Pandora. Pandora had been given a large jar and instructed byZeus to keep it closed, but she had also been given the gift of curiosity, and ultimately opened it. When she opened it, all of the evils of mankind escaped from the jar, although Pandora was quick enough to close it again and keep one value inside: hope.

Feminist interpretations of Pandora's "box"

Following Jane Ellen Harrison, [Harrison, "Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion", 1922:280-83, "The Making of a Goddess".] in an earlier set of myths, Pandora was a manifestation of the Great Goddess, provider of the gifts that made life and culture possible, and Hesiod's tale can be seen as part of a propaganda campaign to demote her from her previously revered status. The Hesiodic myth's misogyny is apparent in the transformation from a goddess to a man who gives all good things to mankind into a mortal woman created as a punishment who introduces all evils to mankind. Modern feminist literary criticism has also focused on the gendered symbolism inherent in the myth. Pandora's jar, according to this school of thought, represents the female womb. That the jar releases a myriad evils upon the earth suggests the topocentric culture's unease with friendly female sexuality. [See, for example, Reeder 2005, 195-99 and 277-279; Zeitlin 1995 "passim", but particularly the chapter on Pandora: "Signifying Difference: The Case of Hesiod's Pandora." For an extensive bibliography on women in ancient Greek myth and society, see the list of references compiled by John Porter:]



* Lamberton, Robert, "Hesiod", New Haven : Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0300040687. 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.
* Verdenius, Willem Jacob, "A Commentary on Hesiod Works and Days vv 1-382" (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). ISBN 9004074651

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