One of my readers and I were bantering back and forth via e-mail one day. The subject of restoring mankind back to its idyllic, almost pastoral origins was raised, couched within the construct of myth: “Maybe we can start life all over again, make it better the second time around; no eating of apples, get rid of the snakes. Pandora’s box stays closed.”
My reply? Let’s save that for the end of this post. I think it is better suited there.
Soon you will see the review of a book I recently read, The Greek And Roman Myths: A Guide To The Classical Stories by Philip Matyszak. Ever since reading the Iliad in high school I’ve been intrigued by Greek mythology. The Greek and Roman Myths happened to coincide nicely with the e-mail supposition above. I have also been taking a course on myth throughout human history; interweaving the book and course made the posit of a human reboot intriguing.
I think most of us have at least heard the expression of ‘Pandora’s Box.’ Here’s an interesting tidbit: The Greeks of antiquity would never have used a box for such a thing; according to the ancient myth the gods sent her to earth with an urn.
The myth of Pandora begins with Prometheus and Zeus. The king of the gods had decreed that mankind—as Prometheus had recently created—were forbidden to have knowledge of fire. Long story short, Prometheus tried to pull a fast one and snuck fire to his creations hidden in a hollow reed. Zeus caught on when he saw the stars reflecting the light of fire on earth below in human settlements. He was furious. For starters he chained Prometheus to a mountain and sent an eagle to eat his liver every day. Being immortal, Prometheus’s liver would regenerate overnight, and he would suffer the torment all over again the next day.
But this wasn’t good enough for Zeus. He was really pissed. Clearly, it didn’t take an Olympian god to see that mankind was prepared to make all kinds of trouble now that he had fire. Zeus asked another god, Hephaestus, to create a woman. He wanted something evil to befall humans to balance out the gift of fire . . . the way he saw it a woman was just what the doctor ordered. Until Pandora, all humans were male. Hesiod, in his book Theogony, misogynistically refers to the ancient time of life without women as the “Golden Age.” Things were perfect; men ate what they wanted, did what they wanted, had very little to fret over. Life was good.
Zeus had bigger plans.
Now, remember, the pantheon of Greek gods contained goddesses as well—female deities, and these feminine divinities gave to Pandora many a gift for mankind so as to soften the impact of Zeus’s fury. These gifts were carefully placed in an urn, and were not to be released until they could be properly trained by Pandora to benefit humanity.
But Zeus, per usual, had an ace up his sleeve. He gave Pandora a gift of his own—an abiding sense of curiosity
From the book:
Hardly had Pandora arrived on the earth, when she opened the lid to see what the urn contained. Immediately the creatures in the container flew out, and being as yet untrained to serve humanity they became instead despair, jealousy and rage, and the myriad diseases and infirmities that inflict humanity, All that remained was hope, which became trapped under the unbreakable rim of the urn, and which mankind was able to train and make a friend, as the other ‘gifts’ in the urn had intended to be, though in ways which we cannot now imagine.
So there was Zeus’s ‘gift’ to mankind. According to Hesiod, the party was over.
Pandora went on to have a daughter named Pyrrha—incidentally, the root of the word we now use to convey the idea of a large fire, a “pyre.” If you recall, fire started all this.
There are myths aplenty throughout recorded history which allude to a similar fate for man. In many myths male gods become a means of restoring fertility cycles to goddesses, who themselves were responsible for assuring plentiful harvests of crops. Slowly, though, male gods began to subjugate their female counterparts, and the feminine deities gave up a lot of their power to the ever-renewing pantheon of gods, regardless of culture or evolving society.
Could we possibly find a way to assuage Pandora’s curiosity if offered a second chance to do it all over? Would we want to? Think about it.
In Egyptian mythology there is the story of Isis and Osiris. At one point Osiris (Isis’s male consort) is killed by his brother, Seth. Later, Osiris’s son, Horus, has a fierce battle with his uncle and eventually defeats him. Wanting revenge for his father’s murder, he brought Seth before his mother, the Pharaoh Queen, and asks what she would like him to do with Seth. She gave the matter grave thought, and eventually told Horus to let him go.
Isis understood that the cosmos requires a balance between good and evil. There must be Yin and Yang, black and white.
In light of such considerations, how could man possibly turn away as divine a gift as woman?
Many cultures believe that humans were initially one asexual entity which eventually split in two as male and female, which helps explain how some of us feel about finding (or having found) our “soul mate,” that singular person who seems to make us feel ‘whole’.
How can we make subservient, or even place beneath us, that which was meant to bring us such wonder, such passion, so close to touching Heaven itself with our mortal being? How could we not melt in our embrace of Pandora . . .
The Old Testament tells us that God created Eve out of Adam (notice the placing of man over woman again, as well as the similarity to the two-from-one type of creation myth?). He didn’t want Adam to be lonely. Just as Pandora affected mankind so too did Eve, who eats from the Tree of Knowledge and gets humans banished from the Garden of Eden for eternity, with the added onus of mortality.
And yet . . .
Adam lives his mortal days in the presence of a creature whose very existence balances a great number of other woes and misfortunes. Epimetheus, the Greek version of Adam, winds up with Pandora, and despite all she has done for (or to) mankind they become ancient Greek mythology’s first human couple—one in harmony, each meant for the other.
I hope you have read this far to get to my response to the supposition that started this post. I replied:
“Pandora would be ever-present in the guise of woman, would she not? Potent, magical, irresistible. Man would only suffer the weight of loneliness without the silken luster of woman.”