Pandora’s Box story – Greek mythology

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Hephaistos creates Pandora - Pandora's Box story from Greek mythology

Pandora’s Box story in  Greek mythology: The Greek god Hephaistos creates Pandora

Greek mythology tells the story of Pandora’s Box:

When Zeus was so angry at Prometheus for giving people fire, he was also mad at the people who had tricked him into taking the wrong bag of meat.

(How did people trick Zeus?)

Zeus makes Pandora to get revenge on mankind:

Hermes often wears a traveller's hat and carries a caduceus, his twisted stick. Here on a red figure vase.

Hermes often wears a traveller’s hat and carries a caduceus, his twisted stick.

Zeus got back at the people by getting Hephaistos to make a beautiful woman out of clay, whom he named Pandora (which means all-gifts).

(What is Hephaistos the god of?)

All the gods and goddesses crowded around to make Pandora as beautiful as she could possibly be. Athena the weaver made Pandora a lovely dress.

The Graces made her gold necklaces. The goddesses of the hours put spring flowers in her hair. But the god Hermes put words in Pandora’s flawless mouth, and he made those words sneaky and lying, so Pandora would do what Zeus wanted her to do.

(More about why Zeus was angry)

Epithemeus and Pandora’s box

Zeus sent Pandora down to earth and gave her as a present to Prometheus‘ brother, Epimetheus. Zeus told Epimetheus that he should marry Pandora. Also, Zeus sent Pandora with a little box, with a big lock on it (Actually in the earliest versions of this story it is a sealed pottery vase).

So now Epimetheus is wondering, “What is Pandora’s box about?” But Zeus said not to ever open the box, and he gave the key to Epimetheus.

Greek red figure vase with a white woman painted on it, sitting down and opening a box - Pandora's box story

(This isn’t really Pandora (it’s a Muse) but there aren’t any Greek pictures of Pandora opening the box) – Louvre Museum

Pandora was very curious about what was in the box. She begged Epimetheus to let her open it, but he always said no. Finally one day he fell asleep, and she stole the key (or broke the seal) and opened the box (or vase).

(More about women in ancient Greece)

What was in Pandora’s box?

Oh! Out of the box flew every kind of trouble that people had never known about before: sicknesses, and worries, and crimes, and hate and envy and all sorts of bad things. The bad things all began to fly away like little bugs, all over the place.

Pandora was very sorry now that she had opened the box! She tried to catch the bad things and put them back in the box but it was too late. They all flew away.

(More about diseases in ancient Greece)

What does the Pandora’s Box story mean?

But the very last thing to fly out of the box, as Pandora sat there crying, was not as ugly as the others. In fact it was beautiful. It was Hope, which Zeus sent to keep people going when all the nasty things got them down.

The moral of the Pandora myth

The story of Pandora explains why bad things happen to good people, by telling us that it’s because our ancestors were bad, long, long ago. We owe a permanent debt because they tricked Zeus with a bad sacrifice. The Jewish Bible has a similar idea with Adam and Eve eating the apple – the “original sin” – and then having to pay the penalty of working hard and having painful childbirth forever, them and all their descendants.

(More about Adam and Eve)

So was Pandora a goddess?

No, Pandora’s not exactly a goddess. She doesn’t have any power to change anything in the world. Ancient Greek people didn’t pray to her or sacrifice animals to her. On the other hand, in the Pandora myth, Pandora’s not exactly human, either. She wasn’t created with the rest of the humans. And she does have some similarities to the older Egyptian goddess Isis. But Isis opens a coffin, not a box.

(More about Isis)

It’s probably better to think of Pandora as more of a metaphor than a person. It’s a story to explain an idea. You’re not supposed to think about Pandora as a developed character.

Do you feel you understand the Pandora’s Box story now? Ask your questions in the comments.

Bonus info: What is the meaning of Pandora’s Box for us today?

This woman is so busy talking that she doesn't notice the water isn't going into her pot!

This woman is so busy talking that she doesn’t notice the water isn’t going into her pot!

When people warn you about “opening Pandora’s Box”, what they mean is that you should think twice before investigating something. It might turn out to be a bigger problem than you were expecting. Maybe it will be more than you can handle!

For example, what if you suspect that two of your friends have been talking about you behind your back? Should you ask one of them about it?

What if it turns out that a lot more people were involved in this gossip than you thought? You might find out more than you really wanted to know. Sometimes, the story says, we should let well enough alone.

Even more bonus! Where does this story come from? How do we know the story of Pandora’s Box?

The first mention of Pandora’s Box in Greek mythology comes from the poet Hesiod, in both the Theogony and the Works and Days, accounts of the world’s creation and the stories of the Greek gods. Hesiod wrote about 750 BC, just after the alphabet reached Greece.

(More about Hesiod)

Do you need a second source for the Pandora story? Check out this great article from the National Gallery! 

Learn by doing: a project with seals and sealings
More about Prometheus

Bibliography and further reading about Pandora’s Box in Greek mythology:

More about Prometheus
Ancient Greece
Quatr.us home

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Pandora's Box story - Greek mythology
Article Name
Pandora's Box story - Greek mythology
Description
In Greek mythology, Pandora was the gift of Zeus to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. But she brought trouble to men by opening Pandora's Box and letting out evil.
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Quatr.us Study Guides
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By |2018-05-19T18:27:16+00:00July 16th, 2017|Greeks, Literature|38 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Pandora’s Box story – Greek mythology. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 16, 2017. Web. August 18, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

38 Comments

  1. Nicky February 20, 2018 at 11:31 pm - Reply

    I understand it because I learnt it in school!

  2. Amelie February 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Thanks, it was very useful. I first heard about Pandora’s box from the song ‘Migrane’ by twenty one pilots, so I wanted to find out what it was.

  3. 12345 January 24, 2018 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Sup and very useful

  4. vivek tiwari January 3, 2018 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    Very very interesting and useful

    • Karen Carr January 3, 2018 at 11:18 pm

      Thank you!

  5. Jamie December 29, 2017 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    I named my daughter pandora hope and she is everything wonderful in my life even though her birth was the beginning of my life with lupus. Ironic….

    • Karen Carr December 29, 2017 at 6:30 pm

      What a nice idea! That’s a lovely name. I just came from watching the new Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi, which has a lot about hope and how important hope is. Have you seen it?

  6. Terry December 19, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    I often use the analogy of Pandoras box to describe what I deal with as a first responder. I see death, sickness, tragedy, anxiety, worry, and some real evils of this world that man kind can do but inside I carry hope. Each call I go on it one of those evils I manage to capture and stuff back inside the box. A daunting task with an immense burden to carry around. This helped me better explain Pandoras box to a loved one who asked why I don’t talk about my job that often. So thank you.

    • Karen Carr December 19, 2017 at 3:10 pm

      You’re welcome! Sending you lots of respect; that’s a very difficult job, and it sounds like you are doing great with it! Yes, there is always hope.

  7. Nadia December 14, 2017 at 8:05 am - Reply

    I have recently started to use the story of Pandora’s box as a parallel to help explain my struggles with my mental health. Ironically my name, Nadia means hope. For so long I’ve really struggled to find simpler ways to understand, describe and explain the confusion and chaos of my mental health issues I’ve had for over 20 years in any kind of tangible way. This parallel and analogy of this story helps me especially with my peer support work.

    I facilitate a program/system/process for wellness called WRAP (wellness recovery action plans). There are 5 keys concepts in recovery used in WRAP; Hope, Personal Responsibility, Education, Self Advocacy, Supports. The first one being hope is the most important but at times the hardest to keep in mind when we are struggling the most. This is where I’ve come to think Pandora’s story is so relevant and really helps me through the darkest times.

    • Karen Carr December 14, 2017 at 8:33 am

      Wow, that’s great, Nadia! My kids’ dad is bipolar, so I know this is a very difficult path to follow. I hope you will find methods and medications that work for you!

  8. Kendall December 12, 2017 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    very very very useful

    • Karen Carr December 12, 2017 at 3:26 pm

      Thank you! That’s very kind of you. I’m glad we could help.

  9. Jae November 24, 2017 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    I used this for an Essay i had to write for English. thank you! it really summed up the story for me.

    • Karen Carr November 24, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      I’m so happy to hear it! Thank you for writing to let us know.

  10. 1234 November 16, 2017 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    pretty useful

    • Karen Carr November 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks!

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