What Is Pandora’s Box and Why Was It Significant?

What Is Pandora’s Box and Why Was It Significant?

Even if you are not overly familiar with Greek mythology, there is still a good chance that you have heard of Pandora’s box. It’s part of a popular phrase that has been around for decades. However, the story behind it extends back even further, to approximately the 7th century BC. This is when the famous Greek poet Hesiod created his didactic poems called, Works and Days, which contained the origin story of Pandora and her infamous box.

If you were trying to roughly summarize the story, it could be described as a re-imagining of the well-known Adam and Eve tale from the Bible; the one where Eve eats the forbidden fruit and dooms all of humanity. In fact, the two stories share many similarities, and numerous comparisons have been drawn between them.

However, the full story of Pandora’s box is a bit more complex. Here is a brief overview of who Pandora was, what the importance of her box was, and what the famous phrase means in the present day.

The Story of Pandora

Much like Eve from the Bible, Pandora was created by the Gods and was the first female human on Earth. Unfortunately, the intention behind creating Pandora was much more malicious than the intention behind Eve. In fact, the two women were created for opposite reasons: Eve was created to be a wonderful companion to man, while Pandora was created as a form of punishment for man. 

The reason for this retribution is that Prometheus openly defied Zeus by stealing fire from Mount Olympus and bringing it down to the humans. Zeus decided to take his revenge by creating the first human female who would be incredibly beautiful and ideal in every way, except he would also bestow upon her the curse of being stubborn, deceitful, and overly curious. 

As if this wasn’t already bad enough, Zeus then instructed that she be sent to Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus. Despite Prometheus’ warnings about not accepting anything from the Gods, his brother was unable to resist the unparalleled beauty of Pandora and fell in love with her. 

Before being sent to Epimetheus, however, Pandora was given a jar (or pithos in Greek) which she was told contained numerous blessings from the Gods but was not to be opened. Eventually, her extreme curiosity overcame her and she decided to open the jar. As soon as she did so, countless evils flew out of the box and plagued humanity. While Pandora attempted to close the jar right away, the only thing she managed to trap back inside was hope.

Where Did the Box Come From?

You might have noticed that throughout that entire story, there was no mention of a box. The closest that we got to a box was a jar of evil perils. So where exactly did we get Pandora’s box from? Well, the answer to that actually involves a mistranslation that happened several hundred years ago. 

Although there is some debate on which individual is responsible for the mistranslation, it is clear that it occurred during the 16th century and accidentally turned Pandora’s jar into Pandora’s box. From then on, the newly translated copies of the story spread and became more widely known than the original text. So, if it hadn’t been for an inaccurate translation that occurred almost 500 years ago, then today we might all be saying Pandora’s jar instead of Pandora’s box. 

How Pandora’s Box Is Used Today

Most people that hear the phrase Pandora’s box today do not think of the ancient Greek myth right away, if at all. Instead, it has come to mean when someone does an action that has unforeseen negative consequences. In this case, you would say that someone has opened Pandora’s box and they would know that bad things are about to happen. It’s similar to the phrase “can of worms.”

Pandora’s box is only one of the many Greek references that have survived thousands of years since their establishment and still exist in modern language.

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