Most cultures and religions have a story that explains all the suffering and negative things that exist on this planet; from diseases and natural disasters to jealousy, crime, and any sin committed by humans. The ancient Greeks had coined the myth of Pandora and her box/jar*.
Key Parts in The Myth of Pandora’s Box/Jar
As with most Greek myths, we know the story of Pandora from the ancient Greek poet Hesiod. Let’s see the most important parts of the myth:
- Pandora was a woman created by a god (Hephaestus) on the instructions of another god (Zeus);
- She was given various traits that were neither good nor evil;
- She had free will;
- She was given a jar, but she was warned to never open it;
- The woman opened the jar out of curiosity and the entire human race was damned.
Different Variations of Pandora’s Myth
Hesiod narrates the myth of Pandora in two different works: “Theogony” and “Works and Days”. In “Theogony”, Pandora did not obtain any box or jar. She was created by the gods to collect all their blessings, after Prometheus stole the fire from Olympus and offered it to humans. She was the perfect human and the rest of humanity was jealous of her. In Greek, her name (Πανδώρα) means exactly that – she who bears all gifts/blessings**.
In “Works and Days”, the most popular variation of the myth, Pandora was created by the gods of Olympus to punish humans for using the element of fire to their advantage, without taking the blame themselves. The woman was given a jar (pithos) that contained all evils. Pandora opened the jar and accidentally released these evils. Humanity lost its Paradise and nothing was ever the same. Thankfully, one thing remained into the jar and was never released. That was hope – the belief that things will get better. And this is why humanity continues working hard and trying to make innovations that will better people’s lives; because they hope that better things can happen.
Over the years, many different variations of the myth have surfaced. The main similarity among all of them is that Pandora, a female, was a punishment for mankind.
What Does Pandora’s Box/Jar Symbolize?
Pandora’s myth is one of the most difficult myths to interpret. Till today, classical scholars fail to agree on a specific interpretation. British scholar Martin Litchfield West has concluded that Hesiod’s myth is a combination of various different myths that did not survive through the years. It is indeed a very difficult myth to understand, but here are the most common interpretations of Pandora’s story:
- Pandora represents the misogynistic belief that women are the “root of all evils”.
- Curiosity can lead to tragedy (for both males and females).
- Technological advancements can have a negative effect on people’s lives (this is depicted by a) Pandora being a crafted, un-naturally born human and b) humans being punished for using fire to their advantage).
Of course, there are countless more interpretations of the myth. Do you know any? Leave a comment down below!
What Is The Connection Between Pandora and Eve?
If you haven’t noticed already, Pandora’s myth bears many similarities with the Judeo-Christian story of Adam and Eve. Both stories, whether they refer to true events or not, belong to the “theodicy” category, meaning that they explain why there is evil in the world and why (a) good god(s) permit(s) bad things to happen to good people.
Similarities between Pandora and Eve:
- Pandora and Eve are both divine creations living in paradise;
- Both women have free will but use it to do harm not good;
- Both myths bear a contradiction: the women had free will, however they did not mean to do harm;
- Misogynistic ideas can be derived from both stories (e.g. women are inferior to men, women cannot be trusted, women were created to tempt/punish men etc.).***
Differences between Pandora and Eve:
- Unlike Eve, Pandora was not tricked by an evil entity.
- Eve was punished for being curious and for disobeying God, while Pandora is the actual punishment. In Pandora’s story, people are being punished for their over-ambition and for having an advantage over the rest of the creatures living on Earth.
*The original myth mentions a jar (pithos); the translated version by Erasmus of Rotterdam (16th century AD) mentioned a box.
**Certain scholars believe that the proper translation is “all-giving”.
***Hesiod himself has expressed misogynistic ideas when describing Pandora in Theogony: “(…) From her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.”