Pandora’s Box story – Greek mythology

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Hephaistos creates Pandora - Pandora's Box story

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

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

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). He 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

But 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 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.

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

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

Bibliography and further reading about Pandora:

More about Prometheus
Ancient Greece
Quatr.us home

By | 2018-04-18T18:18:02+00:00 July 16th, 2017|Greeks, Literature|29 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Pandora’s Box story – Greek mythology. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 16, 2017. Web. April 21, 2018.

About the Author:

Karen Carr
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 Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

29 Comments

  1. Fred April 18, 2018 at 7:50 am - Reply

    What do you think of the idea that hope is itself an evil? Hope could possibly be an evil that is disguised as a blessing. Hope is what keeps our punishment perpetual, much like Prometheus Without hope, the other evils would have long destroyed humans. Hope brings us to a new morning, much like Prometheus, to allow the evils to inevitably tear us down.

    I personally doubt this is how the Greeks intended, with a modern understanding of history, I feel it is a compelling interpretation

    Excellent page, great description of the myth..

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr April 18, 2018 at 8:44 am

      That’s a valid interpretation, Fred, though not, I think, what the Greeks saw in this story. But it would be a great piece of writing, to write about the dangers of hope. Possibly also hope is what keeps us from vanquishing the other demons: we can just hope everything will get better, and that’s easier than actually doing something about our problems?

  2. Joop van der Hagen April 8, 2018 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    As an Ayahuasca Facilitator I explain to the participants of a ceremony that Ayahuasca (the holy brew of the Amazon) opens our box of Pandora. This inner box contains all our traumas and unsolved and unfinished [stuff] and negative patterns that [are] stored in the dungeons of our Soul. Ayahuasca is the key to open up this box. But there is also the hope to heal our traumatic experiences and change our patterns. I think that the box of pandora is the symbol of the unconscious memories that we carry with us.

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr April 8, 2018 at 9:36 pm

      Hi Joop, that’s an interesting take on Pandora’s box – thanks for sharing! I agree that we should see Pandora’s box as a metaphor, for sure. But it’s also just an explanation for why bad things happen to good people: a perennial philosophical problem for all people.

  3. ahmed March 26, 2018 at 8:20 am - Reply

    I understood it, thanks! I just have one question; what is the meaning of the wrong bag of meat?

  4. Ruthie March 19, 2018 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    This really helped with my allusion assignment, thank you very much!

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr March 19, 2018 at 2:35 pm

      Yay! Glad we could help!

  5. Alexyss March 16, 2018 at 9:49 am - Reply

    Hi I had to use this for a slide show on pandora’s box myth for my 7 th grade year in school and it was pretty useful so thxs.

  6. Jayden February 22, 2018 at 2:14 am - Reply

    I chose this as a story for a fractured fairytale assignment i am doing

    • Karen Carr
      Karen Carr February 22, 2018 at 9:25 am

      That sounds like a great choice, Jayden!

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

    I understand it because I learnt it in school!

  8. 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.

  9. 12345 January 24, 2018 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Sup and very useful

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

    Very very interesting and useful

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

      Thank you!

  11. 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
      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?

  12. 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
      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.

  13. 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
      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!

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

    very very very useful

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

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

  15. 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
      Karen Carr November 24, 2017 at 2:29 pm

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

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

    pretty useful

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

      Thanks!

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