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May 30, 2013

Pandora was the first woman on earth, created by the God Hephaestus at Zeus’ instruction. Prometheus stole fire from the gods in order to benefit mankind; a crime Zeus intended to punish and Pandora was the means. The myth recounts that Pandora was given as a gift to Epimetheus. Pandora either came with a container that held the ills of the world or Epimetheus already possessed it, having been given it by Prometheus. Hesiod recounts that Pandora released the ills of the world having taken ‘off the great lid of the jar with her hands and…caused sorrow and mischief to men’ (Hesiod Works and Days 94-5). Hesiod in describing Pandora opening the jar does not suggest any malice. It might, however, be inferred that the act was the result of curiosity as to the jars contents. Pandora managed to close the jar in time to keep hope inside the unbreakable home ‘under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aegis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds’ (Hesiod Works and Days 95-9)Hope remained inside in order to benefit all mankind.

The name Pandora was given because each of the gods on Olympus endowed her with gifts; Pandora translates as all endowed. The most detailed accounts of Pandora’s mythology are found in Hesiod’s Works and Days and Theogony. It is commonly thought that Pandora was in possession of a box. However, the word pithos was mistranslated in the sixteenth century into box, but in fact refers to a jar.

Graves believes that the myth of Pandora releasing the ills of the world is an anti-feminist fable invented by Hesiod. This certainly appears to be a reasonable argument. This argument is taken further by Zeitlin who believes ‘Pandora is only a by product of a contest between males. She is a secondary, even tertiary effect, in that she comes in the third stage of that contest, as a return for Prometheus’ theft of the celestial fire’ (Zeitlin, 2013:68). Zeitlin also goes onto state that the myth reinforces male control of procreation.

Traditionally held roles in respect of birth and creation are turned upside-down in this myth. No woman is involved in the creation of Pandora, Zeus orders it and Hephaestus makes her. Women only become involved at the point of bestowing the gifts. I believe it is likely that the myth of Pandora, along with others, was likely used by men to reassert their authority over women.



Hesiod Works and Days The Homeric Hymns and Homerica Translated by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914.


Graves, R. The Greek Myths Volume I The Folio Society, 2000.

Zeitlin, F. ‘Signifying difference : the myth of Pandora’ in Hawley R and Levick B. Women In Antiquity : New Assessments [e-book]. London: Routledge; 1995. Available from: eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 30, 2013.


From → Mythical Figures

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