Unfortunately, we won’t like the answer. We still live in the era of transition from patriarchy, from the so-called traditional values—from might as right, from the rule of the mass man, from the cult of the development and expansion of human presence in nature and space—to humanistic values, to respect for the weak, persecuted, poor and sick, to mutual respect not based on strength, but rooted in humanity, to expanding the rights and opportunities of outcasts. And Pandora is, if not the main, then one of the main heroines of the world of our yesterday that is not yet finished and, fortunately, has not yet finished us.
The myth of Pandora
It is believed that the myth of Pandora is a very late reworking of some oriental legends that made such a strong impression on Hesiod that he decided to inlay with it the key Greek legend—the creation myth. Hesiod came up with a tale of a “beautiful evil”, or κακὸν καλόν, embodied in Pandora.
the herald of the gods put in, and named the maid
Pandora, since all those who hold Olympian homes
had given gifts to her, sorrows for hard-working men.
But when the sire had made the hopeless, towering trap,
he sent the Argus-slaying, famed swift messenger
of gods to bring the gift to Epimetheus…
(Hesiod, Works and Days, translation by Bruce MacLennan)
To what do we compare this innovation of Hesiod’s bordering on falsification? Imagine that someone, intent on describing the problems of modern society, suddenly announces that the fashion industry and sex work are to blame for it all: the former created mannequins, which gave rise to a deadly cult of super-skinny fashion models, and the latter learned how to produce inflatable women for psychosomatic exercises of rich men who are allegedly afraid of connecting with real women. Curious, but not very convincing.
The birth of Pandora
So, Pandora did not come out of nowhere. Like another woman we remember from Hebrew mythology, she was sculpted at the behest of a supreme deity, for the specific purpose of seducing either the first, or the most intelligent man, or a recently conquered deity.
God, who had created Adam without a particular plan in mind, felt compelled to finalize the project. This is how Eve emerged, the first woman, if we ignore Lilith. And the Greek god Zeus, eager to take revenge on the titan Prometheus for stealing fire for people (men), ordered his gifted son Hephaestus to make a creature that would put limitations on the almost endless possibilities of man.
Two tricks helped him get his way. The first one is incredible feminine beauty. The effectiveness of this trick was confirmed in the Trojan War, which forever severed the relationship between gods and humans. Remember that Hephaestus was Aphrodite’s husband— a jealous one but nevertheless loved by the most beautiful of the goddesses, his father’s aunt. Thus, Hephaestus, the grand-nephew of his own wife, put into Pandora not only all his passion for Aphrodite, but also all his jealousy for his wife.
Pandora’s charms, awakening an irresistible and unquenchable lust in men, this dimwitted brood, also in a way echoed Hephaestus’s mother, who knew how to distract the father of gods and men from any exciting business.
However, even this quality would be bearable and would not have cost the world of men so much, if only the woman crafted by Hephaestus had followed certain rules. Unlike Helen of Troy, hatched from an egg laid by Leda, Pandora was endowed with four vices: laziness, curiosity, jealousy, and vindictiveness.
Obviously, the fifth vice was the disharmonious combination of these vices itself: we already see in this set quite typical male stereotypes that determined the attitude towards a woman as a subordinate biological subspecies, despised, desired, and dangerous but also superior to the “older subspecies”, i.e., men, in a very significant way.
The myth of Prometheus
When Prometheus was creating the man together with his brother Epimetheus, they failed to comply with some of the terms of reference. At first, Prometheus found only one solution: to get a working model, the test conditions had to be tampered with.
One by one, Prometheus hid in a deep pithos (barrel) all the weaknesses and diseases, passions and fears that human beings had to overcome on their own. Excessive daydreaming was also among the passions and misfortunes that had to be put away as things that prevented man from acting as a rational being. Hephaestus put this propensity for dreaming of the impossible in his special storage. Only when the barrel began to overflow, Prometheus realized that man would not pass inspection due to internal resources, and decided to give his child divine fire, the very instrument without which Zeus was not Zeus, and Hephaestus was not Hephaestus.
Prometheus was aware that Zeus would definitely come up with something to destroy his child, since he himself, as a deity, could not be destroyed. Hesiod does not specify whether Prometheus knew exactly how Zeus would do that, but the following is the commonly accepted and known version of the myth.
Prometheus told Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus. Meanwhile, Zeus sent the oven-fresh Pandora straight to Epimetheus, accompanied by Hermes, the god of heralds and merchants. When Epimetheus, forewarned by Prometheus, refused to accept Pandora, Zeus in a fit of rage ordered Hephaestus to chain Prometheus to one of the mountains somewhere in the present-day Caucasian mineral waters region. An eagle was sent to eat the titan’s immortal liver every day, and it kept growing back every night after the bird’s every meal.
Here is another interesting detail that tells us more about Zeus than about Prometheus. To intimidate Epimetheus and mislead the rest of the gods, Zeus accused Prometheus of wanting to get involved with Athena. She apparently was the one who lured the titan into the mountains, but instead of Olympus, where he was expected, the titan ended up in the Caucasus. This plot twist is especially interesting: Athena and Prometheus could not have met, but the subtext of this gossip is the idea of the unsuccessful creation of a perfect man that the gods themselves wanted to save so badly.
Only after finding out what trouble his brother had gotten himself into, Epimetheus thought it best not to refuse Zeus’s gift and take Pandora as his wife.
Pandora’s box is open
Now, Pandora, lazy but curious, soon found the pithos and was about to take something she could use and put into her pyxis, or the box that already bore her name by that time. But, having opened the barrel, she released all the bugs of the Prometheus-made “Man” stand-alone game console collected by Hephaestus. Only Hermes’s intervention made it possible to seal the pyxis with at least something left in it.
Nevertheless, many misfortunes that had been hidden temporarily in Prometheus’s pithos and Pandora’s pyxis, waiting to befall man—from insanity and senile insensibility to diseases and vices that young people cultivate thoughtlessly and old people madly—burst out to remain uncontained to this day.
The myth of Pandora as an anti-feminist fable
The writer and mythologist Robert Graves was convinced that this whole story was “not a genuine myth, but an anti-feminist fable, probably of Hesiod’s own invention”, based on the story of Demophon and Phyllis. Graves identifies Pandora (“All-Gifts”) with the goddess of the earth Rhea, who was worshiped under this name in Athens and in some other places. Ever the pessimist, Hesiod believed it was Rhea’s fault that man became mortal and suffered so much evil in life, and that man’s wives were so prone to adultery.
One might say that the myth of Pandora is an elaborately woven ideologeme of “a dangerous and thoughtless woman put into production without appropriate testing.” There is an obvious desire in the scholias to Hesiod’s poems about Pandora to reconcile the most primitive misogynistic ideology with the first attempts at anthropological periodization of the universe.
According to this periodization, the first batch of people was harvested in Attica, and the first man, Alalcomenes, immediately found himself in Zeus and Hera’s entourage, resolving their disputes in every possible way and even raising Athena when she was a child.
We, however, remember that Athena was born completely grown and fully armed from her father’s head. Shortly before that, Zeus had swallowed his beloved pregnant Metis for fear that their son would overthrow him. The first generation of people worshiped Zeus’s father, Cronus, although they did not offer him any sacrifices. They were vegetarians and lived happily; they did not grow old and instead of dying, they would fall into a pleasant sleep. The golden generation still somehow lives in happy dreams of humans. Truth-seekers and champions of justice are considered among its blessed representatives.
On the other hand, many archaists and conservatives related to Hesiod’s misogynistic intention, and in later times, every now and then, the world would see philosophers who, in a manner of speaking, lived with the myth of Hesiod—for example, the famous German Pandorian philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
Hesiod and his scholiast virtually call the humans of the Silver Age mama’s boys, who were so accustomed to obeying women in everything that they were known only for their whining and quarrelsomeness, and Zeus eventually destroyed them all. There is a painful resemblance between the Silver generation and the people of the so-called Silver Age in the cultures of the Roman Empire and tsarist Russia in its final years. The Bronze generation that followed was already adept at using weapons, their belligerence begot their cruelty, and they were struck down by plague.
The people of the fourth, so-called Heroic Age, which succeeded the Bronze Age, were the product of a mixed union of gods and goddesses with mortal men and women. Heroic epics are about them. Military and political fame did not prevent them, however, from being involved in numerous murders of relatives, incestual relations, kidnappings, and so on, before they died and departed for the Elysian Fields.
The Heroic Age could not last long, because it was at the very beginning of it that Zeus ordered Pandora to be created. According to many researchers, Hermes, who accompanied Pandora to the slow-witted Epimetheus, is an allegory of the fundamental distrust that only people and gods can harbor towards each other, even profound tricksters like Hermes and Pandora, who were very close to each other. Let’s not forget that Hermes regularly brought Persephone to her mother from the realm of her husband Hades, and then back to the underworld. Eurydice, too, was led by Hermes Psychopomp (“Guide of souls”) first to Orpheus, then in the opposite direction.
Another tragedy of the people of the Heroic Age is that they understood the strong erotic principle unwittingly put into Pandora, the principle that needed constant interpretation. What is “Pandora”? Apart from everything else, she is the one for whom even a rational person of the Heroic Age was willing to give their everything. That is another reason why Hermes accompanied Pandora to Epimetheus. Erich Fromm, who, like the object of his criticism, Sigmund Freud, foresaw the danger posed by the plain man of the next age, discusses this function of the mysterious pair.
All these generations would be replaced by iron men, whose main feature was no longer the criminal acts themselves, but the fierce collective lie of our age. It is no surprise then, this curiosity with which we are waiting for the news of Pandora, the embodiment of double or even triple recursion. This curiosity is particularly well fueled by flaming misogyny that occasionally breaks out even in developed countries, remaining a sad norm for most countries of the world.
Gesiod. Polnoye sobraniye tekstov. Poemy (Teogoniya. Trudy i dni. Shchit Gerakla). Fragmenty (Perechen’ zhenshchin ili Eoi. Velikiye Eoi. Svad’ba Keika. Melampodiya. Soshestviye Pirifoya. Ideyskiye daktili. Nastavleniya Khirona. Velikiye trudy. Astronomiya. Egimiy. Gornilo ili Gonchary). / Perevod fragmentov O. P. Tsybenko, vstup. st. V. N. Yarkho, komm. O. P. Tsybenko i V. N. Yarkho. (Seriya “Antichnoye naslediye”). — M.: Labirint, 2001. [In Russian: Hesiod. Complete collection of texts.]
Panofsky E.: Pandora’s Box. The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol, London 1956.
Latour B.: Pandora’s Hope. Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge (Mass.) 1999.
Lev Kenaan, V.: Pandora’ Senses: The Feminine Character of the Ancient Text, Wisconsin 2010.
Fromm, E.: Die Furcht vor der Freiheit, München 1990.
Fellmann, F.: Hermes und Pandora. Perspektiven philosophischer Hermeneutik // e-journal Philosophie der Psychologie. Pp. 1–12, 2017.
Meshterkhazi Layosh: Zagadka Prometeya. Per. s vengerskogo Ye. Malykhinoy. M., 1976. [in Russian: Mesterhazi Lajos: The Mystery of Prometheus. Trans. from Hungarian by Ye. Malykhina]
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