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Definition: Pandora, in Greek mythology from The Columbia Encyclopedia

păndôr'Ә, in Greek mythology, first woman on earth. Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create her as vengeance upon man and his benefactor, Prometheus. The gods endowed her with every charm, together with curiosity and deceit. Zeus sent her as a wife to Epimetheus, Prometheus' simple brother, and gave her a box that he forbade her to open. Despite Prometheus' warnings, Epimetheus allowed her to open the box and let out all the evils that have since afflicted man. Hope alone remained inside the box.

Summary Article: Pandora (“Giver of All”)
From Dictionary of Classical Mythology

The first woman, and the cause of all mankind's woes – the nearest thing the Greek tradition has to the biblical Eve. The earliest story of her creation is found in Hesiod. (Though it should be borne in mind that Hesiod had no very high opinion of women: “Don't be deceived by a wheedling, sweet-talking woman, flaunting her body,” he says in his Works and Days (373–5), “she's only after your barn. Anyone who trusts a woman is trusting a cheat.”) PROMETHEUS displeased ZEUS by giving the boon of fire to mortals, so the great god decided to balance this blessing by giving men a bane to plague their lives – woman. The smith-god HEPHAESTUS fashioned her from earth and water in the likeness of the immortal goddesses (Fig. 63). Athena dressed and adorned her, and taught her domestic crafts, Aphrodite showered beauty and grace over her, and Hermes put in her breast a nature of cunning and deceit.

Then Zeus sent his beautiful but treacherous creation to Prometheus’ brother, the gullible Titan EPIMETHEUS, who forgot that Prometheus had warned him never to take any gift offered by Zeus. Epimetheus, charmed by this vision of loveliness, took Pandora as his bride, and in so doing condemned mankind to a lifetime of suffering. For Pandora brought with her as dowry a great jar in which were stored sorrows and diseases and hard labour, previously unknown among men. When she opened the lid of her jar, these poured out and spread over all the earth, so that mortals would never again be free of them. Only hope remained in thejar, still in man's own control, to be some kind of consolation for all the troubles that Pandora had let loose on the world.

Pandora bore Epimetheus a daughter, Pyrrha, who married DEUCALION (1) and with him survived the Great Flood. In the postclassical arts Pandora's jar became confused with the box that PSYCHE was forbidden to open, so “Pandora's box” became proverbial for a present that seems valuable but is in reality a curse. J. E. T. Rogers (Economic Interpretations of History, 1888) writes: “The favours of Government are like the box of Pandora, with this important difference, that they rarely leave hope at the bottom.” Milton, in Book IV of Paradise Lost, draws the obvious comparison between Eve and Pandora, both being the root of all evil for mankind (note: Prometheus and Epimetheus were sons of Iapetus, here calledjaphet):

More lovely than Pandora, whom the gods

Endowed with all their gifts; and O, too like

In sad event, when to the unwiser son

Of japhet brought by Hermes, she insnared

Mankind with her fair looks, to be avenged

On him who had stole Jove's authentic fire.

[Hesiod, Theogony 570–612, Works and Days 47–105; Apollodorus 1.2.3, 1.7.2; Pausanias 1.24.7.

  • Panofsky, D. E. , Pandora's Box (1962).
Text © Jennifer R. March 2014, illustrations © Neil Barrett 2014

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