Who is Pandora?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

In Greek mythology, Pandora holds an important place in the story of Prometheus and his defiance of Zeus. Prometheus is a Titan, one of the sons of the Titan Iapetus and the nymph Clymene. Depending on the story version, Prometheus is either the mentor of humankind or also its creator, along with his brother Epimetheus.

The myth of Pandora begins with Prometheus stealing fire from the gods.
The myth of Pandora begins with Prometheus stealing fire from the gods.

At any rate, in the beginning, humankind was very literally “mankind.” That is, it was composed entirely of men. And Prometheus was their champion, working on their behalf against the domination of Zeus. His first act for mankind was to trick Zeus into choosing the less valuable portion of ox — a choice that was made once, but lasted forever. In retaliation, Zeus withheld the knowledge of fire-making from mankind.

After Hephaestus made Pandora out of clay, Athena brought her to life.
After Hephaestus made Pandora out of clay, Athena brought her to life.

Prometheus was not happy with this decision and stole fire to give to man — either hiding it in a fennel stalk as he brought it from Heaven to Earth, or stealing it from the forge of the god Hephaestus, depending on which version you read. Then Prometheus began to teach mankind how to do all kinds of things. And it is at this point that Pandora enters the story, with the greatest detail given by Hesiod in Works and Days.

Zeus was furious and plotted a clever revenge to destroy mankind. He had Hephaestus fashion Pandora, the first woman, out of clay. Athena brought her to life, and the gods bestowed gifts on her to make her irresistibly attractive. Athena teaches her crafts, Hermes gives her speech and guile, and Aphrodite gives her grace. And she was named Pandora, meaning “all-giving.”

Zeus armed Pandora with a sealed jar that contained every possible evil and ill that could beset humans. Knowing that Prometheus was too smart to have anything to do with Pandora, Zeus sent her to Epimetheus. And despite Prometheus’s warning that he should never accept any gift from Zeus, Epimetheus welcomed Pandora. And then Pandora opened the jar.

Out poured diseases, hardships, and misery, with nothing remaining inside the jar except hope. And, according to Hesiod, the moral of the Pandora story is that there is no escape from the will of Zeus.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


@anon128880 – I think you’re both wrong and right. In Greek mythology, it’s clear that people’s choices are often controlled by the gods (although people are usually punished for those choices).

Pandora was created for the sole purpose of opening the box and bestowing misery upon humankind. Zeus created her so he could teach Prometheus a lesson in humility.

She had no choice in the matter. Her will was Zeus’ will, and she therefore meant to open the box.

However, I think that if she had been given the choice and had known the consequences of opening the box, she probably wouldn’t have done so.


I don't believe that Pandora opened the box on purpose.


@dega2010: Pandora’s name means the “one who gives all gifts”. In earliest times, she may have been perceived as a bountiful earth goddess whose gifts were all good.


Where did the name Pandora come from?

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