Pandora's Box: Wikis


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"Pandora" by Jules Joseph Lefebvre

In Greek mythology, Pandora's box is the large jar (πιθος pithos) carried by Pandora (Πανδώρα) that, when opened by her, unleashed many terrible things on mankind – ills, toils and sickness, – and hope.[1] Contrary to popular belief, in the original story, Pandora's "box" was not actually a box at all, but rather a jar. Hence, the historically correct term would be "Pandora's jar".


Etymology of "box"

The original Greek word used was pithos, which is a large jar, sometimes as large as a small human (Diogenes of Sinope was said to have once slept in one). It was used for storage of wine, oil, grain or other provisions, or, ritually, as a container for a human body for burying.[2][3] In the case of Pandora, this jar may have been made of clay for use as storage as in the usual sense, or of bronze metal as an unbreakable prison.[4]

The mistranslation of pithos is usually attributed to the 16th century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam who translated Hesiod's tale of Pandora into Latin. Erasmus rendered pithos as the Latin pyxis, meaning "box".[5] The phrase "Pandora's box" has endured ever since. This misconception was further reinforced by Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting Pandora.[6]

Feminist interpretations of Pandora's jar

Allegory of Vanity (Pandora) by Nicolas Régnier, c. 1626, showing a jar, not a box.

Following Jane Ellen Harrison,[7] in an earlier set of myths, Pandora was a manifestation of the Great Goddess (provider of the gifts that made life and culture possible) and Hesiod's tale can be seen as part of a propaganda campaign to demote her from her previously revered status. The Hesiodic myth's misogyny is apparent in the transformation from a goddess to a man who gives all good things to mankind into a mortal woman created as a punishment who introduces all evils to mankind.[8][9][10] Modern feminist literary criticism has also focused on the gendered symbolism inherent in the myth. Pandora's jar, according to this school of thought, represents the female womb. That the jar releases a myriad evils upon the earth suggests the topocentric culture's unease with friendly female sexuality.[11]


  1. ^ Although, in Hesiod's "Works and Days", these evils are not specified by name, except for Hope. Cf. lines 80 and on. "But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands [95] and scattered, all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to 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. [100] 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."
  2. ^ Cf. Harrison, Jane Ellen, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek history, Chapter II, The Pithoigia, pp.42-43. Cf. also Figure 7 which shows an ancient Greek pot painting in the University of ASs where Hermes is presiding over a body in a pithos buried in the ground. "In the vase painting in fig.7 from a lekythos in the University Museum of Jena we see a Pithoigia of quite other and solemn booty. A large pithos is sunk deep into the ground. It has served as a grave. ... The vase-painting in fig. 7 must not be regarded as an actual conscious representation of the rupent rite performed on the first day of the Anthesteria. It is more general in content; it is in fact simply a representation of ideas familiar to every Greek, that the pithos was a grave-jar, that from such grave-jars souls escaped and to them necessarily returned, and that Hermes was Psychopompos, Evoker and Revoker of souls. The vase-painting is in fact only another form of the scene so often represented on Athenian white lekythoi, in which the souls flutter round the grave-stele. The grave-jar is but the earlier form of sepulture; the little winged figures, the Keres, are identical in both classes of vase-painting."
  3. ^ Cf. Verdenius, p.64
  4. ^ Cf. Jenifer Neils, in The Girl in the Pithos: Hesiod’s Elpis, in "Periklean Athens and its Legacy. Problems and Perspectives", p.41 especially."Many scholars wish to see a close analogy between Pandora herself, made from clay, and the clay pithos which dispenses evils, and they have even identified the girl in the jar as Pandora. They ignore, however, Hesiod's description of Pandora's pithos as arrektoisi or unbreakable. This adjective, which is usually applied to be gooodobjects of metal, such as gold fetters and hobbles in Homer (Il. 13.37, 15.20), would strongly imply that the jar is made of metal rather than earthenware, which is obviously capable of being broken. ...". More arguments by Neils follow.
  5. ^ In his notes to Hesiod's Works and Days (p.168) M.L. West has surmised that Erasmus may have confused the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche.
  6. ^ Pandora by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
  7. ^ Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 1922:280-83, "The Making of a Goddess".
  8. ^ Cf. Athanassakis, pp.89-90
  9. ^ * Phipps, William E., Eve and Pandora Contrasted, in Theology Today, v.45, n.1, April 1988, Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary.
  10. ^ Cf. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Literature; From Homer to the Age of Lucian, Chapter III, Hesiod and the Hesiodic Schools, p.61. "Its attitude towards women is decidedly more illiberal than that of epic; a good wife is indeed the best prize a man can win (702), but a bad one is the greatest curse; generally speaking women are a snare and a temptation (373-5) and Pandora was the origin of all our woes".
  11. ^ See, for example, Reeder 2005, 195-99 and 277-279; Zeitlin 1995 passim, but particularly the chapter on Pandora: "Signifying Difference: The Case of Hesiod's Pandora." For an extensive bibliography on women in ancient Greek myth and society, see the list of references compiled by John Porter: "Women in Drama"


Further reading


Simple English

In Greek mythology, Pandora's box was a large jar (πιθος pithos) carried by Pandora. It contained the evils to be let loose on mankind. When the box was empty, hope remained. The actual evils are not specified by Hesiod.[1]

Where the word box is from

The word used in the original text is pithos, which usually refers to a large container; used to store wine or other things. Such containers were also used for funerals. In the case of Pandora, this jar may have been made of clay for use as storage as in the usual sense, or, instead, of bronze metal as an unbreakable prison.[2]

The mistranslation of pithos as "box" is usually attributed to the 16th century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasums is thought to have made the error when he translated Hesiod's tale of Pandora into Latin. Hesiod's pithos refers to a storage jar for oil or grain. Erasmus, however, translated pithos into the Latin word pyxis, meaning "box".[3] The phrase "Pandora's box" has endured ever since. This error was further backed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting Pandora.[4]



  • Neils, Jenifer, The Girl in the Pithos: Hesiod’s Elpis, in "Periklean Athens and its Legacy. Problems and Perspectives", eds. J. M. Barringer and J. M. Hurwit (Austin: University of Texas Press), 2005, pp. 37–45.


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