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Pandora's Box: Meanings and Themes in My New Novel

Updated on August 16, 2013

Love, loyalty, heartbreak, hope...

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first mortal woman, daughter of Hephaestus and Athena, though her begetting is rather curious. Hephaestus was an inventor, master of fire, metals and metallurgy. He ruled over volcanoes, where he worked with his assistants, the Cyclopes. Although he was deformed, Hephaestus was able to attract women of great beauty, which is why he won the heart of Athena.

One of the great goddesses, Athena was the daughter of Zeus and Metis. When she grew up, Athena became a warrior, and is usually depicted armed with a spear and aegis, a kind of shield made of goatskin. She presided over the arts and literature, and was closely linked with philosophy. She was also the patroness of household activities, like spinning, weaving and embroidery. A prolific builder and inventor, Athena paid a visit to Hephaestus, needing his help to supply her with weapons.

Immediately, Hephaestus fell in love with her and as punishment, Zeus (Athena’s father) ordered him to fashion a mortal from clay, hence Pandora. Every god and goddess endowed Pandora with a special grace; beauty, dexterity, and so on – the name Pandora actually means “many gifts”. Curiously, Hephaestus bequeathed his daughter the ability to lie and deceive. However, he was acting on the instruction of Zeus, who intended Pandora as a punishment for mankind.

Zeus sent Pandora to Epimetheus, who was seduced by her beauty and married her. In Hesiod’s version of the story, the box opened by Pandora was actually a Greek urn or jar. In my novel, Pandora’s Box, the box acquired by protagonist Caitlin Brewer is a cassone or decorative trunk, a miniature of the type of casket presented to Florentine brides in the 1400s. The cassone was filled with linens for their future lives as wives and mothers. As part of the betrothal, the bride, cassone and other treasures were carried in procession to the home of her groom.

Such caskets, several of which still exist, were decorated highly, often gilded and painted with classical allegories, pointing out the perils of infidelity and betrayal. Caitlin’s trunk is a miniature replica of a cassone, neither very old nor valuable, but one that she connects emotionally with. It is decorated with figures recounting the tale of Admetus and Alcestis, a couple who meet with misfortune when Admetus fails to make a sacrifice to goddess Artemis on his wedding day.

In my story, I deliberately replaced a Greek urn with an Italian artefact, since that object connects with the Renaissance history that Caitlin goes on to study. The plot is set in the present day and the theme of sacrifice recurs throughout the story, as Caitlin and other characters learn lessons about love, loyalty and friendship. Suzette's summoning by her father to Monte Carlo and her subsequent marriage to Toni Hubert equates with Persephone's abduction to the Underworld by her uncle, Hades. Persephone's mother, Demeter, schemes for her return to the land of the living, just as Caitlin schemes to separate Suzette from her new life. By the end of the story, Caitlin has found hope, the same hope that the mythical Pandora found at the bottom of her urn, when all the ills of the world had escaped among mankind. Pandora’s Box is published on Amazon Kindle (ISBN 978-0-9559419-4-8) and I do hope that readers enjoy it.


Complete Book of Greek Mythology by Richard Buxton

Penguin Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Pierre Grimal


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