Pandora's box

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In Greek mythology, Pandora's box is the large jar (πιθος pithos) carried by Pandora (Πανδώρα) that contained evils to be unleashed on mankind — ills, toils and sickness — and finally hope. [1]


[edit] Etymology of "box"

The original Greek word used was pithos which is a large jar which could be as large as an adult human. It was used for storage of wine or provisions, for example, or for funerary purposes as a human's grave.[2][3] In the case of Pandora, this jar may have been made of clay for use as storage as in the usual sense, or, instead, of bronze metal as an unbreakable prison.[4]

The mistranslation of pithos as "box" is usually attributed to the 16th century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam when he translated Hesiod's tale of Pandora into Latin. Hesiod's pithos refers to a storage jar for oil or grain. Erasmus, however, translated pithos into the Latin word pyxis, meaning "box".[5] The phrase "Pandora's box" has endured ever since. This misconception was further backed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting Pandora.[6]

[edit] Opening of the "box"

After Prometheus' theft of the secret of fire, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create the woman Pandora as part of the punishment for mankind. Pandora was given many seductive gifts from Aphrodite, Hermes, Hera, Charites, and Horae (according to Works and Days). For fear of additional reprisals, Prometheus warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, but Epimetheus did not listen, and married Pandora. Pandora had been given a large jar and instruction by Zeus to keep it closed, but she had also been given the gift of curiosity, and ultimately opened it. When she opened it, all of the evils, ills, diseases, and burdensome labor that mankind had not known previously, escaped from the jar, but it is said, that at the very bottom of her box, there lay hope.[7]

There is no reason to think Pandora acted out of malice in opening the jar, for she was exercising her curiosity, and when she saw what was let out of it, she quickly closed it.[8].

[edit] Feminist interpretations of Pandora's "box"

Nicolas Régnier, c. 1626, is aware it should be Pandora's jar, not box

Following Jane Ellen Harrison,[9] in an earlier set of myths, Pandora was a manifestation of the Great Goddess (provider of the gifts that made life and culture possible) and Hesiod's tale can be seen as part of a propaganda campaign to demote her from her previously revered status. The Hesiodic myth's misogyny is apparent in the transformation from a goddess to a man who gives all good things to mankind into a mortal woman created as a punishment who introduces all evils to mankind.[10][11][12] Modern feminist literary criticism has also focused on the gendered symbolism inherent in the myth. Pandora's jar, according to this school of thought, represents the female womb. That the jar releases a myriad evils upon the earth suggests the topocentric culture's unease with friendly female sexuality.[13]

[edit] Pandora's box in other interpretations

In the video game City of Heroes, Pandora's Box is stored near the Well of the Furies (also known as the Fountain of Zeus) in a cave hidden away and lost to time. It contains the 'Golden Light of Creation', all of humanity's potential for the future, so that the opening of the Box caused a dramatic increase in the number of superhumans worldwide and is directly responsible for their proliferation to this day.

In the film "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life", Angelina Jolie plays the lead role of Lara Croft who travels from Greece, to Hong Kong, to Kenya to reach Pandora's Box before it is found by an evil scientist (Ciaran Hinds) who plans to use the evil supposedly still inside it to destroy the world. In this film, Pandora's Box is a luminous chest floating in a large puddle of corrosive black acid stated to have been Pandora's tears.

In the novel "Alias Grace", Pandora's Box is the title of the section in which Grace is hypnotised to reveal the truth as to whether she committed the double homicide of her master, Mr. Kinnear, and his mistress Nancy Montgomery. It could be that Margaret Atwood is implying Grace's mind is the box or a stance that women released all evil into the world.

In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Politics" (Season 1, Episode 21) Senator Robert Kinsey arrives at Stargate Command to conduct hearings on the Stargate Program. Senator Kinsey likens the program and the Stargate itself to the Greek myth of Pandora's Box, and the opening of the box bringing forth all the plagues, pestilence, and evil that now exists in the world. In his comparison, the Stargate is Pandora's Box in bringing forth the Goa'uld threat to the Earth.

In the popular computer game "Age Of Mythology" "PANDORAS BOX" is a cheat code used to acquire certain destructive God Powers, such as the power to summon asteroids, tornadoes, earthquakes, and lightning storms.

In the game "Devil May Cry 4" Pandoras Box is a weapon that can be used by the character "Dante". It resembles a suitcase but can be transformed into many deadly weapons.

The video game "Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow" uses elements of the myth in its plot: the story revolves around a terrorist who has planted smallpox bombs on U.S. soil, and, to ensure U.S. forces will not attempt to capture or kill him, delays their release every 24 hours by calling up the lieutenants holding the bombs and giving the code "Pandora tomorrow" (i.e., wait until tomorrow to unleash Pandora's box). If he is killed or captured, the virus ("plagues") will be released.

Pandora's Box is also referred to in the PlayStation2 game God of War, where the protagonist, (Kratos), must retrieve Pandora's Box in order to kill Ares, the God of War. Kratos uncovers Pandora's Box within the Temple of Pandora, which is chained to Cronus' back in the Desert of Lost Souls. This was Cronus' punishment by Zeus after the Titan War. After finding the box Kratos is killed when Ares hurls a giant pillar at him from Athens (which he has taken over). Ares' minions recover the box and return to Athens. After Kratos escapes from Hades, he confronts Ares and opens Pandora's Box, making himself the size of Ares in exchange for all his powers.

Also, in the game Heroes of might and magic III Pandora's Boxes are objects sometimes present on maps. When opened by a hero you can find nothing, get a treasure or be attacked.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Although in Hesiod's "Works and Days", these actual evils are not specified by name, except for Hope. Cf. text line 90, beginning with line 85: "And Epimetheus did not think on what Prometheus had said to him, bidding him never take a gift of Olympian Zeus, but to send it back for fear it might prove to be something harmful to men. But he took the gift, and afterward, when the evil thing was already his, he understood. [90] For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sicknesses which bring the Fates upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands [95] and scattered, all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aegis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds. [100] But the rest, countless plagues, wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils, and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently; for wise Zeus took away speech from them. [105] So is there no way to escape the will of Zeus" [1]
  2. ^ Cf. Harrison, Jane Ellen, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, Chapter II, The Pithoigia, pp.42-43. Cf. also Figure 7 which shows an ancient Greek vase painting in the University of Jena where Hermes is presiding over a body in a pithos buried in the ground. "In the vase painting in fig.7 from a lekythos in the University Museum of Jena we see a Pithoigia of quite other and solemn intent. A large pithos is sunk deep into the ground. It has served as a grave. ... The vase-painting in fig. 7 must not be regarded as an actual conscious representation of the Athenian rite performed on the first day of the Anthesteria. It is more general in content; it is in fact simply a representation of ideas familiar to every Greek, that the pithos was a grave-jar, that from such grave-jars souls escaped and to them necessarily returned, and that Hermes was Psychopompos, Evoker and Revoker of souls. The vase-painting is in fact only another form of the scene so often represented on Athenian white lekythoi, in which the souls flutter round the grave-stele. The grave-jar is but the earlier form of sepulture; the little winged figures, the Keres, are identical in both classes of vase-painting."
  3. ^ Cf. Verdenius, p.64
  4. ^ Cf. Jenifer Neils, in The Girl in the Pithos: Hesiod’s Elpis, in "Periklean Athens and its Legacy. Problems and Perspectives", p.41 especially."Many scholars wish to see a close analogy between Pandora herself, made from clay, and the clay pithos which dispenses evils, and they have even identified the girl in the jar as Pandora. They ignore, however, Hesiod's description of Pandora's pithos as arrektoisi or unbreakable. This adjective, which is usually applied to objects of metal, such as gold fetters and hobbles in Homer (Il. 13.37, 15.20), would strongly imply that the jar is made of metal rather than earthenware, which is obviously capable of being broken. ...". More arguments by Neils follow.
  5. ^ In his notes to Hesiod's Works and Days (p.168) M.L. West has surmised that Erasmus may have confused the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche.
  6. ^ Pandora by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
  7. ^ Cf. Verdenius, p.66, regarding line 96, elpis. Verdenius says there are a vast number of explanations. "He does not tell us why elpis remained in the jar. There is a vast number of modern explanations, of which I shall discuss only the most important ones. They may be divided into two classes according as they presume that the jar served (1) to keep elpis for man, or (2) to keep off elpis from man. In the first case the jar is used as a pantry, in the second case it is used as a prison (just as in Hom. E 387). Furthermore, elpis may be regarded either (a) as a good, or (b) as an evil. In the first case it is to comfort man in his misery and a stimulus rousing his activity, in the second case it is the idle hope in which the lazy man indulges when he should be working honestly for his living (cf. 498). The combination of these alternatives results in four possibilities which we shall now briefly consider."
  8. ^ Cf. Verdenius, p.65. "This does not imply she acted from malice. It is true that she had a shameless character (67), but the fact that she quickly put on the lid again (98) shows that she was 'surprised and frightened by the results of her actions. It was not her cunning and wiliness that prompted her to open the jar, but her curiosity' ...".
  9. ^ Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 1922:280-83, "The Making of a Goddess".
  10. ^ Cf. Athanassakis, pp.89-90
  11. ^ * Phipps, William E., Eve and Pandora Contrasted, in Theology Today, v.45, n.1, April 1988, Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary.
  12. ^ Cf. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Literature; From Homer to the Age of Lucian, Chapter III, Hesiod and the Hesiodic Schools, p.61. "Its attitude towards women is decidedly more illiberal than that of epic; a good wife is indeed the best prize a man can win (702), but a bad one is the greatest curse; generally speaking women are a snare and a temptation (373-5) and Pandora was the origin of all our woes".
  13. ^ See, for example, Reeder 2005, 195-99 and 277-279; Zeitlin 1995 passim, but particularly the chapter on Pandora: "Signifying Difference: The Case of Hesiod's Pandora." For an extensive bibliography on women in ancient Greek myth and society, see the list of references compiled by John Porter:

[edit] Bibliography

  • Athanassakis, Apostolos, Hesiod: Theogony, Works and Days and The Shield of Heracles. Translation, introduction and commentary, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1983. Cf. P.90
  • Lamberton, Robert, Hesiod, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0300040687. Cf. Chapter II, "The Theogony", and Chapter III, "The Works and Days", especially pp.96-103 for a side-by-side comparison and analysis of the Pandora story.
  • Neils, Jenifer, The Girl in the Pithos: Hesiod’s Elpis, in "Periklean Athens and its Legacy. Problems and Perspectives", eds. J. M. Barringer and J. M. Hurwit (Austin: University of Texas Press), 2005, pp.37-45.
  • Rose, Herbert Jennings, A Handbook of Greek Literature; From Homer to the Age of Lucian, London, Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1934. Cf. especially Chapter III, Hesiod and the Hesiodic Schools, p.61
  • Verdenius, Willem Jacob, A Commentary on Hesiod Works and Days vv 1-382 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). ISBN 9004074651. This work has a very in-depth discussion and synthesis of the various theories and speculations about the Pandora story and the jar. Cf. p.62 and onwards.
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