It would seem that a Pandora’s box of sickness and death has been unleashed by the virus that has been wreaking havoc over the whole planet.
But, when all is said and done, is this latest pandemic a boon or a bane? Is humanity doomed with a Pandora’s box of unending ills and evils? Is the hope that remains enclosed a curse, a false hope? Or a gift from the gods that can inspire us towards an optimistic image of the future?
Maybe, Pandora’s tale as it is told and retold, carries tell tale clues that can lead us to find hope even in the bleakest times.
In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on earth, her name meaning “One Who Bears All-Gifts”. Her story is recounted in Hesiod’s Theogony. Prometheus steals fire from the heavens and bestows it as a benefit to mankind. This angers Zeus, king of the gods, who devises a plan to punish Prometheus for having stolen divine fire. Zeus commissions Hephaestus, god of fire and patron of craftsmen, to fashion a woman, upon whom the gods bestowed their choicest gifts. Hephaestus creates her from clay, shaping her perfectly. Aphrodite gives her femininity, Athena teaches her crafts while Hermes was ordered by Zeus to teach her to be stubborn and curious. Zeus then gives her a “pithos” which literally translates to jar (but was later on mistranslated by the Renaissance Humanist, Erasmus, to mean “box”), telling her that it contains special gifts from them. But she is not allowed to open the box ever.
Hermes takes her to Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus, to be his wife. Prometheus had advised Epimetheus not to accept anything from the Gods, but when he saw Pandora’s beauty, he falls for her, disregarding his brother’s advice.
Pandora is unable to contain her curiosity, and she opens the jar, releasing sickness, death and all manner of misfortunes and evils into the world but she closes the lid before Hope could escape. According to Hesiod, Zeus willed that Hope should stay inside because he wanted mortals to suffer in order to understand that they should not disobey their gods.
This “pessimistic”view, that humankind is “doomed” to suffer from all sorts of ills and evils because hope remains enclosed, unable to get out, is echoed by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In Human, All Too Human, he argues that “Zeus did not want man to throw his life away, no matter how much the other evils might torment him, but rather to go on letting himself be tormented anew. To that end, he gives man hope. In truth, it is the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment.”
But in a major departure from Hesiod, the 6th-century BC Greek elegiac poet Theognis of Megara writes:
Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;
the others have left and gone to Olympus.
Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,
and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.
Men’s judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone
revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished and
men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety.
The poem implies that the jar/box also contained blessings. Once the lid was closed, only hope remains, “promising that she will bestow on each of us the good things that have gone away.”
During the Renaissance, two influential humanist writers refashions this myth. Andrea Alciato in his Emblemata, 1534, shows the goddess Hope seated on a jar, declaring,
“I alone stayed behind at home when evils fluttered all around,
as the revered muse of the old poet [Hesiod] has told you”.
The Neo-Latin poet Gabriele Faerno in his collection of a hundred fables, Fabulum Centum, 1563, a poem addresses the origin of hope as what remains of the “universal blessings” that have escaped:
“Of all good things that mortals lack,
Hope in the soul alone stays back.”
Hope forever enclosed or one of the remaining blessings coming from the gods?
Whichever way we look at look at it, HOPE REMAINS.
HOPE, WHICH HAS SERVED AS OUR MUSE THROUGH THE AGES.
IMPRISONED WITH ALL THE TERRIFYING THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED AND COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN, IT COULD BE A FORMIDABLE FORCE FOR GOOD, FORMIDABLE INDEED ONCE UNLEASHED.
Perhaps, thanks to this crisis, some of those hopes are already emerging from Pandora’s box.
With all that we are experiencing today and as we realize how interconnected we all are, common hopes are arising.
Access to food that nourishes us, to be more easily available
Housing, education, basic services, good health care for all and not just for a few privileged ones who can afford.
Leadership that prioritizes people’s needs over and above all other things.
A better future for our children.
A secure future, free from fears and anxieties as we go through life and age.
Pandora’s box need not remain shut.
Today, what comes out of it is ours to hope and work for.
Footnotes: (sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica)
1. The Theogony i.e.”the genealogy or birth of the gods is a poem by Hesiod (8th – 7th century BC) describing the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods, composed c. 730–700 BC. It is written in the Epic dialect of Ancient Greek and contains 1022 lines.Hesiod’s Theogony is a large-scale synthesis of a vast variety of local Greek traditions concerning the gods, organized as a narrative that tells how they came to be and how they established permanent control over the cosmos. It is the first known Greek mythical cosmogony. Theogonies are a part of Greek mythology which embodies the desire to articulate reality as a whole; this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first later projects of speculative theorizing.
2. The Works and Days is a didactic poem written by the ancient Greek poet Hesiod around 700 BC. It is perhaps best known for its two mythological aetiologies for the toil and pain that define the human condition: the story of Prometheus and Pandora, and the so-called Myth of Five Ages.
From: Hesiod, Works and Days “
For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sicknesses which bring the Fates upon men … Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within 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. But the rest, countless plagues, wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently; for wise Zeus took away speech from them.”
3. Theognis of Megara was a Greek lyric poet active during the sixth century BC. Along with Homer, Hesiod and the authors of the Homeric Hymns, he is among the earliest poets whose work has been preserved in a continuous manuscript tradition.
4. Andrea Alciato (8 May 1492 – 12 January 1550) was an Italian jurist and writer, regarded as the founder of the French school of legal humanists. An emblemata is a book collecting allegorical illustrations with accompanying explanatory text, typically morals or poems. This type of books was popular in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Emblem books are collections of sets of three elements: an icon or image, a motto, and text explaining the connection between the image and motto.Emblem books descended from medieval bestiaries that explained the importance of animals, proverbs, and fables.
5. Gabriele Faerno (ca. 1512/13–1583 F was an Italian meticulous scholar and an elegant Latin poet who is best known now for his collection of Aesop’s Fables in Latin verse.