Greek mythology tells the story of Pandora’s Box:
Zeus makes Pandora to get revenge on mankind:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.