Pandora plays an intriguing role in Greek
mythology. According to the most well known legend, she was the
first woman, created by the ruler of the gods, Zeus. Zeus was assisted in
his task by other Greek deities, including Aphrodite, the goddess of love
and beauty, who used her powers to bestow upon Pandora grace and
loveliness; Hermes, messenger of the gods, gave Pandora persuasion; and
Apollo, god of music and the arts, favored the woman with musical skill.
Because of the gifts of the gods, Pandora was very attractive - her name
even means "all gifts".
However, Pandora had a flaw. She was
curious. When she encountered a jar that belonged to Epimetheus, she could
not resist learning about its mysterious contents, and so she therefore
opened it. This jar contained all of the evils, which were then released
into the world. The only thing that remained in the jar was hope.
She, as the first woman, created after man,
is sometimes compared to Eve in Hebrew myth. Pandora was originally a
title of the goddess Rhea (the name means all gifts) - but the story of
Pandora and her jar (not box) was probably an anti-feminine invention of
the poet Hesiod.
But even if Pandora had a jar and not a box, women as
portrayed in ancient art are forever putting things tidily away in boxes
of various kinds. There's even the myth of Danaë, where she and her son
Perseus were themselves tidied away in a box and dumped at sea. François
Lissarague has discussed the idea that the box is symbolic of women's'
life in Athens - she was to a large extent herself seen as a container -
for the sperm, for the child, who spent most of her life in a container
(house) designed for the purpose of allowing no unauthorized person to
open the box.
There is a second myth which is less known
that says Zeus created Pandora, in good faith, to be a blessing to man.
Zeus sent with her a box containing the marriage presents, which were
given by every god. Pandora, being curious, opened the box and all the
blessings flew out, save one, Hope.
It is said that the second myth seems more
logical, for how could Hope be stored in the same container as all manner
of evil and illness.
Unlike the today's associations with
Pandora, we need to remember that this goddess's name means "all-giver" or
"sender of gifts." And when the evils of the world threaten, let us
not forget that Pandora's box still, and always, holds hope.