Pandora, by John William Waterhouse
Why do we like to talk about Pandora so much? She wasn't THAT big a deal ... not like Achilles, or Helen, or any of the gods. But ... there she is. More thought after the story.
Pandora is named the first woman. But she wasn't made as a companion. She wasn't made because someone decided, yeah, ladies, that's what we need. She came into being as punishment. As you may recall (or not), the god Prometheus stole fire for mankind (literally MANkind, since there were no women around yet - and no death, so reproduction wasn't really an issue). We all appreciated it, but the gods were pretty pissed off. And big man Zeus decided the best response to such a ballsy act would be to give WOMAN to Earth. So he put Hephaestus and Athena on the job. Hephaestus made a virginal maidenly looking woman - we're not talking about some Jezebel, here - from mud, and Athena dressed her and taught her weaving. It should also be mentioned that Hephaestus made her look like a total babe. Then the other gods showed up and "helped out." Aphrodite gave her longing and vanity and grace. Hermes gave her "a shameless mind and a deceitful nature," and to facilitate that gift, also taught her to speak. Peitho and the Charites gave her lots of pretty gold necklaces. The Horai put flower crowns on her head.
With that she was pretty much ready for implementation. Now Zeus only needed to find the right way of getting her into the world. Prometheus was too smart - embodying forsight and all - but his brother (cousin?) Epimetheus, hindsight, was the perfect target. So off Pandora goes offering all sorts of carnal pleasures to her new husband, Epimetheus, and I am sure he felt pretty good about ignoring his brother's advice about not accepting gifts from the Olympians.
One day a "covered earthen vessel" (jar? chest? box, even?) comes into the picture. Now, it might have just been sitting in the house. Maybe it was buried in the backyard. Maybe the gods gave the thing to Pandora back on Olympus and told her sternly (tho maybe winking) not to open it. Either way, she got ahold of it and you know how wrapped and forbidden boxes (or covered earthen vessels) are ... they just seem to call to you. We all know what happened. As she lifted the lid, out came everything bad. Old age, Sickness, Insanity, Passion (who knew that counted as a bad thing ...), Vice, and Premature Balding were just a few of the icky things. But there was also Hope. Hope, Elpis, got protected from all the other nasties, and she will always be with us, no matter how bad it gets.
That's really all there is to the myth we all talk about. It's also interesting to note that Pandora was associated with some of the more dark and dangerously powerful goddesses: Hecate, Persephone, and the Erinyes. She was also the mother of Pyrrha, who in turn was the first human woman. Although it could also easily be said that Pandora was the first human woman. But Pyrrha was the NEXT first human woman. Read about her in the Myth Pages.
So why do we care? Well, for one thing that story has a pretty obvious parallel with the Judeo-Christian myth about Eve. I wrote a paper on it, I think, back in 10th grade, but instead of putting everyone through that misery, I will suggest an article I quite liked by William Phipps: Eve and Pandora Contrasted.
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