Classics scholars suggest that Hesoid reversed the meaning of the name of an earth goddess called Pandora (all-giving) or Anesidora (one-who-sends-up-gifts). Vase paintings9 and literary texts10 give evidence of Pandora as a mother earth figure who was worshipped by some Greeks. The main English commentary on Works and Days states that Hesiod shows no awareness of the mythology of a divine Pandora Anesidora giver of fertility.11 Apparently, he made up a story of Pandora passively receiving gifts from the gods. While acknowledging a Pandora mythology older than Hesiod, Robert Graves states regarding Hesiod’s tale: “Pandora is not a genuine myth, but an anti-feminist fable, probably of his own invention.”12 Jane Harrison sees in Hesiod’s story evidence of a shift from matriarchy to patriarchy in Greek culture. As the life-bringing goddess Pandora is eclipsed, the death-bringing human Pandora arises.
I uncurled from the abyss, like a seedling pushing forth into the sun. Shaking off my slumber, I stretched the sun into the sky. This place was barren, cold, empty…lonely. I blew the wind into being, danced the stars into the sky. My tears became the rain, then rivers and seas. My blood gave life to the land. I gathered the elements and energies from the abyss, and fashioned them into beings like myself. And then I rested.
Hesiod, Works & Days 54 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
And he [Zeus] bade famous Hephaistos make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, the Slayer of Argus, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. So he ordered. And they obeyed the lord Zeus the son of Kronos. Forthwith the famous Lame God moulded clay in the likeness of a modest maid, as the son of Kronos purposed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her, and the divine Kharites (Graces) and queenly Peitho (Persuasion) put necklaces of gold upon her, and the rich-haired Horai (Seasons) crowned her head with spring flowers. And Pallas Athene bedecked her form with all manners of finery. Also the Guide, the Slayer of Argus [Hermes], contrived within her lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods put speech in her. And he called this woman Pandora (All-Gifts), because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a plague to men who eat bread.
Cruel hands pulled me from my slumber and poured me into a vessel I was not familiar with. It was with a peculiar sort of vision that I looked out into the world that I had fashioned. I could no longer see the entirety of existance, no longer see eternity. I was clumsy in this new form, encumbered, graceless. They used the magic I had given them, and fashioned me to dispense their punishment and vengance.
They forgot that I arose with a mind of my own.
Hesiod, Works & Days 54 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills (kakoi) and hard toil (ponoi) and heavy sickness (nosoi) which bring the Keres (Fates) upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar (pithos) with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men.
It is said my mortal form was a gift to a good, but foolish man, to punish mankind for the gift of fire. Tis true, I was to be such a gift, but I did not marry this man. I became his brother’s lover and we saved mankind from the malicious folly of the gods, as best we could.
Homer, The Iliad 24. 527 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
“There are two urns (pithoi) that stand on the door-sill of Zeus. They are unlike for the gifts they bestow : an urn of evils (kakoi), an urn of blessings (dôroi). If Zeus who delights in thunder mingles these and bestows them on man, he shifts, and moves now in evil, again in good fortune. But when Zeus bestows from the urn of sorrows, he makes a failure of man, and the evil hunger drives him over the shining earth, and he wanders resepected neither of gods nor mortals.”
The gods ever delighted in dispensing their gifts from the jar of ills and rarely do they reward man for his toil from the jar of blessings. Man has been made strong, but beleagured by his toil for the gods. This should not be so. Man is as much divine as the gods are human, and should determine his own destiny. I created a blessing–not a curse, and I resent that my gift has been used such.
My lover and I began to plan. We would break the jars that held the blessings and sorrows of life. Too many blessings, and man would grow soft. Too many sorrows, and he would grow bitter. Knowing our mission would certainly bring ill fortune to us, we rejoiced in our last hours together, and the new life growing within my mortal form.
Aesop, Fables 526 (from Babrius 58) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
“Zeus gathered all the useful things together in a jar and put a lid on it. He then left the jar in human hands. But man had no self-control and he wanted to know what was in that jar, so he pushed the lid aside, letting those things go back to the abode of the gods. So all the good things flew away, soaring high above the earth, and Elpis (Hope) was the only thing left. When the lid was put back on the jar, Elpis (Hope) was kept inside. That is why Elpis (Hope) alone is still found among the people, promising that she will bestow on each of us the good things that have gone away.” [N.B. By “in human hands,” the story of Pandora delivering the jar to mankind is implied. However, in this version it is apparently the husband who opens it.
We went to the abode of the gods. We smashed the jars of blessings and sorrows upon the mountain. My lover was taken, so that I could escape with our unborn daughter. I used some of my remaining magic to hide us in the forest, and I sank into the ground to birth my babe. She was born as the sun set, bathing the sky in a brilliant red light, after which I named her. I knew I could not keep her, that I would be hunted down. I took her to the brother of my lover and poured all but the last bit of magic into her tiny form.
I went to the temple of the gods to face my judgement. I, a god in my own right, their creator and the creator of the earth from my mother’s body, with my immortality stripped from my imprisonment into mortal form, used the last of my magic and stripped from them the greatest gift of all. It was the only gift that hadn’t been in the jar, and I gave it to mankind. A tool so powerful, it can be used for good or ill.
Hope is the gift of life.
Aesop, Fables 525 (from Chambry 1) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
“The Good Things were too weak to defend themselves from the Bad Things, so the Bad Things drove them off to heaven. The Good Things then asked Zeus how they could reach mankind. Zeus told them that they should not go together all at once, only one at a time. This is why people are constantly besieged by Bad Things, since they are nearby, while Good Things come more rarely, since they must descend to us from heaven one by one.” [N.B. This fable describes the spirits which had fled Pandora’s jar. It also refers to the two jars by the throne of Zeus in the Iliad, one containing Good Things, the other Evils.]
I was banished, sentanced to die in my mortal form. The immortals do not understand that death is its own reward for a life well lived. They do not understand that a life lived in love, hope and even sorrow are the markings of a well-lived life. My only regret is knowing what became of my lover. As part of my banishment, I was not to see my daughter…but she is magic, and there are many things that remain unknown, even to the gods.
My daugher will marry the son of her foster father. I can see the connection between them when they visit. She will bring magic to mankind, through their children. While their will always be hardships, pain and sorrow, there will also be charity, love and hope.
I will die in peace, and my mortal form will return to the body of my mother…but I will live on. In the daughters of my daughter, I will live on.