The Truth of Pandora

pithos from Hetjens Museum

pithos from Hetjens Museum

A box? A woman? What lies Epimetheus told! Good ones too! With just enough truth mixed in to make them believable. Always quick to blame a woman. Typical man. You know who Epimetheus is don’t you? Oh yes, he was the brother of Prometheus. But who was he?

You don’t know? Damn, he is good. He is the god of afterthought, father of excuses. There was no box and there was no woman!

Eh? Who was Pandora then? Pandora was the name of a jar, you nincompoop! At least in her original form…

All right, all right! Sit down and be quiet. You interrupt me and I won’t finish the tale. This is the truth! Not those lies that men bandy around to suit Epimetheus’ ego. Unworthy get, I tell you!

Epimetheus and Prometheus were given the duties of distributing gifts to all the newly made animals on Gaia. Epimetheus convinced Prometheus to allow him to do the important job of distributing, while Prometheus would do the inspecting (which really meant Prometheus had nothing to do but watch). Prometheus must have fell asleep on the job as Epimetheus was allowed to distributed these gifts in a random fashion, no attention to what went where. At first Epimetheus did well, but then he got tired and bored. So he just tried to get the job done as quickly as possible. By the time he got to man, all the gifts had been distributed. There was nothing left to give mankind, despite being the greatest of all creations.

This left Prometheus in a terrible bind, made even worse by his favoritism of man. Without any gifts, mankind wouldn’t survive. Yet if he went to Zeus, Prometheus would have to admit that he didn’t do his fair share of the work. No one likes to face Zeus when angry, so Prometheus did what he considered to be the next best thing. He went to the forge of Hephaistos and stole fire. Then he went to Athene’s workshop and stole the plans for harnessing that fire. Prometheus then gave these items to man as his gifts from the gods.

When Zeus found out, he was furious. First he was angry with Prometheus for the failure to do his duty and for the thefts. Then he became angry with man for not being properly appreciative or careful of those gifts. Zeus, while mighty in anger, also believes in fairness. He sent Epimetheus to live with mankind figuring that being expelled from Olympos was a good punishment for being careless. All know what happened to Prometheus, so no need to dwell upon that. But Zeus had a further punishment in mind for Epimetheus and mankind. He devised a housewarming gift for Epimetheus. Like all gifts from the gods, it bears a price.

The gift was an indestructible jar made by Hephaistos and decorated by Athene. Zeus filled that jar with blessings and curses. He filled it so full that even he, the mightiest of the gods, had a hard time putting the lid onto the jar. Yet because of Hephaistos’ glorious design, it would open with just a touch and could not come open on its own (no matter how much the filling struggled). Hermes delivered the jar to Epimetheus. Hermes told Epimetheus that it was pandora, the all-gift, and to never open it. Never, ever, open it. No. Matter. What.

Now Epimetheus had been warned by his brother to never accept a gift from Zeus. Prometheus worried that Epimetheus had gotten too light a punishment. He figured that any gift that Zeus sent to Epimetheus would be more punishment than anything else. Yet there was only one thing Epimetheus could think of when he saw the beautiful jar. All he could think of was showing it off to his mortal neighbors and proclaiming that it was a gift from the gods. By evening though, all Epimetheus could think about was the contents of the jar. What is in it? Gold? Jewels? Is it like Amalthea’s horn, providing an endless supply of food? Still, surprisingly enough, he resisted the temptation.

The next day, his mortal neighbors pestered him. “Sure it is a lovely jar, but it is the contents that are important. Surely you misunderstood the directions. Take a look! What is in it, Epimetheus?! As nice as the outside, the inside must be better!”

Their curiosity battered at him like the wind blowing a loose shutter against a house. Still he resisted opening the jar. Then night fell and the jar moved around a bit due to the energetic contents shifting. This was the final straw for Epimetheus. What if it is a beautiful woman in there?

With that thought, he could no longer resist the temptation to open the jar. Epimetheus lightly touched the lid, thinking he would just peek inside. His gentle touch caused the lid to fly off and shatter as it landed on the floor. Out of the jar poured a gray mist that gradually separated into light and dark. The more he looked, the more distinct the figures within the light and dark areas. These figures swirled around each other doing battle. Slowly the dark appeared to be overwhelming the light with sheer viciousness. Then, a note sounded and the light retreated out his window and up into the heavens. The dark spread out into the country side with lots of howls and jeering.

Horrified, Epimetheus stared at the jar, wondering what he had done. Then he noticed something struggling to get out of the jar. A figure of the light, badly crumpled in the filling of the jar, was having a hard time getting out of it. Upon exiting the jar, the figure asked “Where have my brethren gone?”

Epimetheus quietly pointed up into the sky. “Where have the dark ones gone?”

Epimetheus pointed at the land. The figure sighed and said, “I will stay instead of returning to Olympos. I will be the light in the dark for the mortals. I will be the one that will keep them going until my brethren find the will to return.”

“Who are you?!” Epimetheus asked.

“I am Elpis. Though small and frayed, I am the hope that will keep man from completely collapsing upon itself. May the gods forgive your actions and return my brethren to assist in this effort.” Then the figure flew into the countryside.

From that day on, mankind, who had always had a good and easy life, experienced evil. We live with greed, lies, theft, gluttony, illness and corruption.  All thanks to Epimetheus. Yet there is always hope to get us through until the other figures of light return. Return they do, but only for short stays and never in a predictable fashion. Yet hope is the beacon for them and for us.

There now you have the truth. Get going! I have chores to do.

Eh? What about Pandora the woman? Tsk! As a reminder to Epimetheus of his transgressions, the jar was turned into a woman and made his wife. An empty headed creature unworthy of the name woman, I tell you. Good for nothing but sitting there looking pretty.

No. No more questions. I’ve things to do…

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