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Pandora's box.

Updated: Mar 8, 2020

What was Pandora's box?

Why have Western and Middle Eastern societies treated women as inferior?


Pandora's box is an artefact in Greek mythology, taken from the myth of Pandora's creation in Hesiod's 'Works and Days'.

In classical Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth.

Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create her. So she did, using water and earth. The gods endowed her with many gifts:

Athena clothed her, Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo gave her musical ability, and Hermes gave her speech.

According to Hesiod, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus' brother Epimetheus.

Pandora - Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1879)

The 'box' was actually a large jar given to Pandora (meaning all-gifted") for safekeeping.

The jar contained all the evils of the world. She was warned never to open it. Women are intensely curious, and Pandora simply could not resist a peek into what was in the jar.

Pandora opens a jar containing death and many other evils which flew out into the world.

Realising her blunder Pandora hastened to close the container, but all the contents had escaped, except for one thing that remained inside the jar – Elpis (Hope).

The significance of Pandora’s Box:

The Pandora myth chiefly describes the emergence of all sorts of evils on earth, which was engendered by the creation of women. In this way, the Pandora myth reverberates the theological story of Adam and Eve. The story metaphorically explores the dangers of curiosity and disobedience.

Pandora’s box is also seen as the symbol of female sex organs. This is because there was and still is, a popular belief particularly in the West and the Middle East, that women utilise their sexual organs to lead men into all sorts of trouble.

Since Western and Middle Eastern attitudes have been mainly rooted in Greek philosophy, it helps to understand the traditional attitude of men towards women in Western and Middle Eastern society.

When women are depicted as has been in the case of Pandora, they are viewed negatively, as inferior mentally and spiritually to men.

Today the phrase "to open Pandora's box" means to perform an action that may seem small or innocent, but that turns out to have severely detrimental and far-reaching negative consequences. It symbolises something that holds evil, and by opening Pandora’s box implies creation or release of serious trouble, that cannot be undone.


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