The Legend of Pandora’s Box (Greek Mythology)

To Prometheus the Titan and to his brother Epimetheus was committed the task of making man and all other animals, and of endowing them with all needful faculties. This Epimetheus did, and his brother overlooked the work. Epimetheus then gave to the different animals their several gifts of courage, strength, swiftness and sagacity. He gave wings to one, claws to another, a shelly covering to the third. Man, superior to all other animals, came last. But for man Epimetheus had nothing,– he had bestowed all his gifts elsewhere. He came to his brother for help, and Prometheus, with the aid of Minerva, went up to heaven, lighted his torch at the chariot of the sun, and brought down fire to man. With this, man was more than equal to all other animals. Fire enabled him to make weapons to subdue wild beasts, tools with which to till the earth. With fire he warmed his dwelling and bid defiance to the cold.

Woman was not yet made. The story is, that Jupiter made her, and sent her to Prometheus and his brother, to punish them for their presumption in stealing fire from heaven; and man, for accepting the gift. The first woman was named Pandora. She was made in heaven, every god contributing something to perfect her. Venus gave her beauty, Mercury persuasion, Apollo music.

Thus equipped, she was conveyed to earth, and presented to Epimetheus, who gladly accepted her, though cautioned by his brother to beware of Jupiter and his gifts. Epimetheus had in his house a jar, in which were kept certain noxious articles, for which, in fitting man for his new abode, he had had no occasion. Pandora was seized with an eager curiosity to know what this jar contained; and one day she slipped off the cover and looked in.

Forthwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for hapless man,–such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy, spite, and revenge for his mind,– and scattered themselves far and wide. Pandora hastened to replace the lid; but, alas! The whole contents of the jar had escaped, one thing only excepted, which lay at the bottom, and that was HOPE. So we see at this day, whatever evils are abroad, hope never entirely leaves us; and while we have THAT, no amount of other ills can make us completely wretched.

Another story is, that Pandora was sent in good faith, by Jupiter, to bless man; that she was furnished with a box, containing her marriage presents, into which every god had put some blessing. She opened the box incautiously, and the blessings all escaped, HOPE only excepted. This story seems more consistent than the former; for how could HOPE, so precious a jewel as it is, have been kept in a jar full of all manner of evils?

Author: Ovid. Translated from Greek poetry into English Prose by Thomas Bulfinch (1855)

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