Study Guide

Prometheus and Pandora Context

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Let's trust our friend Maria, and start at the very beginning.

The earliest version of the myth of Prometheus and Pandora was written by Hesiod in his Theogony, but the more famous version appears in Works and Days by—wait for it—Hesiod. Yep. Either way you shake it, Hesiod has the jump on all the later writers who took a crack at the story, and all those other versions owe a debt to Hesiod's original.

Step Over, Hesiod

Okay, so Hesiod has the monopoly on this one. We've got it. But his story sure isn't the most famous. That honor probably goes to Prometheus Boundthe tragedy by Aeschylus, in which we see poor old Prometheus chained to his rock, nobly defying Zeus. Aeschylus's version expands on the original, saying that Prometheus not only gave fire to mankind, but also taught humanity all the skills of civilization: language, mathematics, science, technology—the whole nine yards.

Aeschylus also deviates from Hesiod by totally leaving Pandora out of the play. (Poor Pandora always gets the short end of the stick.) Later on, though, Pandora got her moment on the stage in a satyr play written by Sophocles. Unfortunately, though, no copy of that play is still in existence. (Once again, short end of the stick.)

Pandora's Part

The Pandora part of the whole story—i.e., the most important part—has come under a lot of scrutiny over the years. See, the whole idea of Pandora's jar full of evil is a little more complicated than it seems. When you really start to think about it, a couple of big questions come to mind:

(1) Why in the world is Hope put in a jar of terrible stuff? Was this intended as some kind of mercy from Zeus, or is Hope another kind of curse?

(2) Everything that escapes the jar is inflicted on mankind, right? So if Hope never made it out of the jar, does that mean that we actually don't have Hope?

To answer these questions, some later versions of the story actually invert the whole thing. Aesop, for example, says that the jar was full of all kinds of good stuff; and when the jar was opened, all the good stuff flew up to heaven out of the reach of humanity. Hope, again, was the one thing left in the jar. So human beings live with the hope that they'll someday regain these greater blessings.

Is it just us, or does that version make a lot more sense?

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