Melissa A. Freeman:
Defining mythology and following the morphology of a specific subject within a mythological construct can illustrate how myths begin and grow in their retellings. As shown in Volume 1 Number 1 of the journal Pandora, a mythological deity such as Pandora is a prime example of how a myth can change and grow as it travels through cultures. Pandora is a well-known deity and mythological story. Still, that story demonstrates different ways to interpret and aspects of the story that may be removed, added, or changed depending on when and where the story is being told.
With mythology, it’s hard to determine the original story. However, some things remain the same no matter how often the story gets told. For example, the Pandora myth is an origin story of woman that incorporates the rituals associated with sacrifice and the origin of fire that the god Prometheus gifted to man (Morford et al. 94). The story of Pandora is that she is the first woman, created and gifted by the gods, as a caretaker of the jar that contains all the evils and woes in the world. The one redeeming gift that remained in the jar was hope.
An interesting thing about Pandora’s jar is that it is sometimes called a box. This is a prime example of how mythologies can get altered as they travel through time from culture to culture. The jar-to-box discrepancy was something as simple as a mistranslation when Hesiod’s Theogony by Erasmus of Rotterdam in 1508; instead of pithos, he wrote down pyxis, which changed the container from jar to box (Morford et al. 95). However, even before this change, Pandora and her container of evils have been depicted and described repeatedly as the story has flowed from culture and culture to match the culture at the time.
The journal Pandora in its inaugural edition shows another facet of the Pandora myth that shows how the story reflects a difference. According to Pandora, the tale has been misaligned due to the patriarchal society in which Hesiod lived. In reality, Pandora is a goddess of “all-giving,” as the Greeks used pithos earthenware jars to store grain, wine, and oil (Pandora). The correlation between what was understood to be held in the pithos indicates that Pandora was a gift-giver of necessities for the people, not the punishment to man who unleashed all the evils in the world.
In our first exhibit, we see the painting, Pandora ca. 1914 in which a depiction of Pandora is portrayed in her “ideal” form: she is in full nude surrounded by a saturated floral depiction. In this sense she envelops many themes from the traditional depictions of Eve in the Garden of Eden through her nakedness, benign elegance, and surroundings conforming to her as she stands among abstract and beautiful botany. However, within this painting, Pandora holds in her hand her infamous box that is distinguished by its contrast with what is otherwise a painting purely set in nature. Mythological speaking, Pandora was created by Hephaestus at the instruction of Zeus to be the first woman to live among mortals. With her she carried a box that contained all the evils of the world which she would later open and end the golden age of man in its wake. This painting, however, depicts a time before its opening; a calm and blithe existence prior to the unveiling of all evil. In this sense, Pandora is intended to portray the last moments of a golden era before its downfall.
Within the next work, this marble and ivory depiction of Pandora holding her box captures but a moment in time and yet conveys myriad emotions. Exhibited in 1891, this piece depicts Pandora moments before opening her infamous box and within the plain marble exterior, the sculpted manages to convey contemplation, hesitancy, and doubt as she edges closer to fulfilling the prophecy. In a way, this sculpture exemplifies the internal struggle over whether to accept or fight one’s fate. In spite of her purpose on earth and the prophecy foretold, she remains skeptical and thus, she exemplifies the human characteristic of doubt and fragility. Although the myth entails her eventually opening the box, this one singular moment before the downfall of humanity’s golden age depicts the human spirit in its full unabashed form.
For our final work, we see Pandora as she has resigned to her fate and is compelled to open the jar and unleash evil on the world. Such a monumental yet spontaneous decision is best captured in the exhibition of this marble statue exhibited in 1864. This sculpture depicts Pandora reaching to open her jar and unleash her evils on the world. Although abstract in facial features, the body language and tone of the sculpture conveys a resigned acceptance of fate on behalf of Pandora as she fulfills the prophecy. Legend has it, however, that she saved hope in the bottom of the jar so that she might hold hope for humanity with her.
In the newsletter Pandora (Volume I Number I), the writers unveil the true story behind the goddess Pandora. Divergent from what we have learned from the traditional Greek myth, the goddess Pandora was not “an idle idiot who irresponsibly opened a casket and let loose all the evils that beset this world” (Freeman 1), but the “all-giving great goddess” (Freeman 1) who “opens a storehouse of grains and fruit for all people” (Freeman 1). The writers also include that Pandora’s jar was an earthenware used to store good things like food, wine and grains. Therefore, the goddess Pandora meant no harm in opening that casket, not to mention unleashing all the evils to the world, and she intended to help the suffering humans by doing so. As a result, the figure of the goddess Pandora was perverted by the patriarchy to satisfy the ideology that women are foolish, weak and dangerous to an extent.
Myth, being a traditional narrative that has been passed down from thousands of years ago, must have been inevitably miscommunicated and distorted through generations, though it was never intended to be a defined text. Society would have contributed significant effects from various angles through this long historical process. From the example of the distortion of the goddess Pandora, we can infer that societal misogyny has influenced the context of myth. The figure Pandora serves as a symbolism and a victim of the hatred, misunderstanding and an extent of terror men have towards women in the society. This also reveals the fact that males possess the dominant power over females in the society.
This piece was from a bi-weekly newsletter about women’s movement in Seattle in 1970. The intention of this piece is to “maintain communication and sisterhood among various groups, and to give fair and accurate coverage to events and projects which concern women’s struggle for equality” (Freeman 1).
Another version of the myth of the goddess Pandora claims that she was created by Zeus and sent to the earth to punish Prometheus for stealing the blessing of fire and giving it to humans. There is no straightforward or solid evidence from this version of the myth to explicitly tell whether Pandora was aware of what was in the “box” she had or not. Therefore, these two versions regarding the myth behind the goddess Pandora do not necessarily contradict each other, and they can co-exist to illustrate the beauty and diversity of Greek mythology.
Morford, Mark P. O., et al. Classical Mythology. Eleventh Edition, Oxford University Press, 2018.
Pandora: Pandora. Vol. 1, no. 1, 18 1970, https://jstor.org/stable/10.2307/community.28042420.