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Greek Mythology: Pandora, the First Mortal Woman

Updated on February 21, 2020
Margaret Pan profile image

Margaret is Greek and very proud of her country's mythology, which she has been studying since her school years.

The Myth of Pandora's Box

One of the most known and interesting Greek myths that continues to fascinate people, is the one about Pandora and her mysterious box. What many people don't know is that Pandora was the first mortal woman on earth, created by the gods as a punishment for humanity. This article analyzes both the myth and its symbolic meanings.

Who Was Pandora?

According to the myth, Pandora was the first mortal woman on earth, a creation of the gods, as a punishment to the mankind. We could say that she was Ancient Greece's Eve. She was created by Hephaestus, the god of fire, on the instructions of Zeus, the king of all the gods. Her name in Greek means "she,who bears all the gifts" and that's because during her creation, she was endowed with gifts by all the Olympian Gods.

Source

The Pandora myth was created by the Ancient Greeks to instruct people about their weaknesses, the evil of mankind and in order to give an explanation for the misfortunes sometimes humans have to face.

Why Was Pandora Created?

According to the myth, the titan Prometheus was given by the gods the task of creating humanity and endowing it with gifts which would help humans survive. Feeling sorry for humanity's weak state, Prometheus decided to steal fire from Hephaestus' and Athena's workshop in Olympus and give it to mankind as a blessing gift. When Zeus learned about it, outraged by Prometheus' decision to stole fire and give it to mankind, he decided to give him an eternal and cruel punishment. He chained him to a rock and had an eagle eat the titan's liver every morning, which regrew every night. The poor titan would be tormented eternally, if it hadn't been for Hercules, who fortunately, freed him many years later.

According to Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days, in order to punish mankind too, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create Pandora, a creature endowed with gifts, which would torment humanity and separate gods and humans once and for all.

Son of Iapetus, surpassing all in cunning, you are glad that you have outwitted me and stolen fire -- a great plague to you yourself and to men that shall be. But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.

— Hesiod, Work and Days, (l.54-59)
Statue of Prometheus outside Berlin's national gallery.
Statue of Prometheus outside Berlin's national gallery. | Source

How Was Pandora Created?

Hephaestus made Pandora out of clay, giving her a perfect shape and afterwards the other gods went on to endow her with gifts. Aphrodite gave her the gift of beauty and elegance, Athena taught her crafts like needlework and weaving whereas Hermes gave her the voice of humankind but also, under Zeus' instructions, made her curious and deceitful. Pandora was also given a box, full of plagues and evils such as pain, death and sickness, and was warned by the gods to never open it. Then, Zeus ordered Hermes to take Pandora to Epimetheus, Prometheus' brother, as a gift.

What Was Pandora's Box?

According to Hesiod's Works and Days, although Epimetheus had been warned by his brother never to accept a gift by the gods, he could not resist to Pandora's impeccable beauty, which made him forget about his brother's warning and accept her right away to be his bride. Some time later, Pandora, not able to resist her curiosity opened the box Gods had given her, ultimately releasing all evils trapped within it into the world. Shocked and scared by the box's content, she tried closing it as quickly as she could but managed to leave only one item inside: hope, which, till this day, remains the only thing people have as a solace for all the problems they have to face.

For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sickness 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 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.

— Hesiod, Work and Days, (l.91-94)
Statue of Pandora holding the box containing all evils.
Statue of Pandora holding the box containing all evils. | Source

What Does the Myth of Pandora's Box Symbolize?

The myth about Pandora's box continues to fascinate a lot of people and that's due to the fact that it represents many things. On the one hand, the creation of Pandora and her box was the result of Prometheus' act of stealing and giving fire to mankind. This part teaches people that accepting stolen goods is wrong and that disobedience and every bad action such as theft, has consequences and results in punishment. What is more, evils were released in the world, due to Pandora succumbing to her curiosity, a fact that teaches us not to mess with things we have been warned to stay away from. On the other hand, as mentioned above, the box contained plagues and evils that would forever torment mankind. That's an allegory for the fact that indeed, mankind will always have to deal with unpleasant, bad things such as sickness, sadness or death. However, according to the myth, one thing remained inside the box, and that was hope, symbolizing that no matter the bad circumstances someone is under and the difficulties they face in life, they should never lose hope.

Glossary

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Greek mythology and since not all names mentioned in the article were explained, I made a list of who is who, which I hope will be helpful:

Zeus: god of thunder and sky, king of all gods and ruler of Mount Olympus

Hephaestus: god of fire, metallurgy and blacksmiths

Prometheus: a titan, known for creating humanity and stealing fire from the gods

Athena: goddess of wisdom, courage and reason

Hercules: son of Zeus, half-god/half-mortal, one of the greatest Greek heroes

Hesiod: Greek poet

Aphrodite: goddess of love and beauty

Hermes: the messenger of the gods

Epimetheus: a titan, Prometheus' brother

© 2020 Margaret Pan

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