What is the good and the evil in the Pandora's Box story?

  • I have a essay to do on the Pandora's Box, but I get confused on which is the good and which is the evil. But I have the story where Hope also gets into the world, so its a little different.

    Welcome to Stack Mythology! I hope my answer provides some insight into why there is some ambiguity with the Pandora mythos, and provides you with useful resources to find the answers you're looking for.)

  • DukeZhou

    DukeZhou Correct answer

    5 years ago

    You will find Theoi to be quite useful as Pandora is a covered topic and it aggregates a variety of the Pandora myth in the Classical cannon: Pandora.

    It's important to note that there is not a single "Pandora" story, but a series of stories and variations, beginning with Hesiod and Homer in about the 8th Century BCE up to about the 5th Century CE.

    • What the specific "evils" are depends to some extent on the source, and even when specified, it is still pretty general. Hesiod, in Works and Days, specifically mentions plague and disease, but also suggests that before the event, mankind was not subject to vices (one meaning of kakoi which is a general term for bad) or hard labor (ponoi—in Ancient Greek this word for toil is also used to mean suffering and distress) or nosoi (which means illnesses). However Hesiod describes it differently in his Theogony where he rather misogynistically suggests women themselves to be the source of many evils, a parallel to interpretations of Eve as the source of the fall of mankind in the Old Testament. [Hesiod's outlook was no doubt influenced by his own unhappy experiences.]
    • Aesop, in contrast, presents a story in which the vessel is filled with "all good things" (which is one meaning of Pandora's name, in the sense that "gifts" are seen as good things.) Homer, in the Iliad, Book 24, which is a similar account to Aesop's, uses doron which is the specific part of Pandora's name meaning "gifts", but Aesop, for the most part, as seen here in the Chambry version of one of his stories uses agatha which simply means "good". Interestingly, the Babrius version of the other Aesop story initially uses what could be loosely anglicized as krhesta (χρηστὰ) which means "useful" and can, in some cases, carry a moral dimension. However the only good thing actually specified is Elpis which means hope.
    • Theognis is more specific in regard to the good things. The poet specifically mentions Pistis (Trust), sophrosyne (moderation), and the Kharites (the Graces). Although Pandora's name never comes up in this fragment, these boons are mentioned in relation to Elpis so it is clearly a commentary on the Pandora story.

    It's worth considering the etymology of the names of the major players:

    Pandora is variously interpreted but is formed by the prefix pan meaning "all" and doron for gifts. Thus something like "All Giving" is quite acceptable as an alternative to the idea of her name as "All Gifts". An implication of All Giving is that this includes the bad as well as the good, a theme intimately tied with the Prometheus cycle. Specifically, Prometheus brings fire to mankind. Fire warms but can also burn. This may be taken as a metaphor for the dual benefits and dangers of technology, but at a deeper level may be about the binary nature of things. There is an idea that without misfortune there is no motivation for hope. (i.e. how does one define good without the opposite of good to contrast it with?) Hesiod makes Prometheus' gift of fire to mankind the incitement for Zeus' subsequent punishment of mankind through Pandora.

    Epimetheus is likewise a combination of an ancient Greek prefix meaning "before" and a word for thought. Thus his name is understood as "Hindsight" in contrast to his wise brother Prometheus ("forethought"). Epimetheus, who is an important agent in the Pandora cycle, represents the folly of mankind, as in "hindsight is 20/20" or "whoops!"--his wiser brother strongly cautions him against accepting any gifts from Zeus. Epimetheus' involvement can be related to Adam in the Old Testament who is only able to realize his mistake after he eats the fruit and achieves knowledge. This is, again, a dual blessing and curse, carrying the irony that it is only with consciousness, the knowledge of good and evil, that one is able to be aware of the experience of suffering.

    Finally, the use of "box" is a modern translation. Hesiod, where the story originates, in his Works and Days uses the word pithou [a form of the noun πίθος, which refers to a large jar, typically for wine but also for oil, which is a lubricant and suggest a metaphoric component to the idea of the famous "box". This is consistent with Hesiod's idea of women as a source of evil in the Theogony, where it is notable there is no mention of a "box" or other vessel, save Pandora herself, who is there noted to be the mother of the race of woman. The idea of woman as mere vessel is later explicated in Apollo's arguments at Orestes' trial in The Eumenides (lines 657-666).]

    I'd highly recommend taking a look at Pandora's Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol by Dora and Erwin Panofsky for an excellent exploration of both the Pandora myth, and myths about the Pandora myth.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM

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