Folktales and Mythology

Prometheus and Pandora – A Greek Mythological Folktale

prometheus and pandora's box
Written by Kiran Jhamb

In the beginning there was only one thing – chaos – a confused and shapeless mass. Out of it arose heaven, earth and sea, and then appeared fishes, birds and quadrupeds.

Prometheus and Epimetheus were two Titans belonging to a gigantic race, who lived on the earth before the creation of man. These two brothers were given the responsibility of making man and all other animals and equipping them with means to preserve themselves. Epimetheus was to work and Prometheus was there to inspect his work.

Epimetheus made different animals and gave them different gifts like wings, claws, shelly covering, strength, swiftness etc. so that they would be able to protect themselves and survive. By the time man’s turn came, Epimetheus found that he had used all the resources and had nothing to give man. He turned to his big brother Prometheus for help. Prometheus discussed the problem with Minerva who was the Goddess of wisdom, war, art and commerce and both of them came to a decision.

Prometheus with Minerva’s help went up to heaven and lighted his torch at the chariot of Sun and brought down the gift of fire to man. Now man became more than a match for all the animals. He could warm himself thus thumbing his nose at seasons. He could make tools, weapons, coins etc. Thus civilization and arts were cultivated by man.

Prometheus proved to be a friend of mankind but in helping mankind by stealing fire, he incensed Jupiter. As a punishment Jupiter got him chained to a rock on Mount Caucasus. A vulture prayed on Prometheus’ liver which got renewed as fast as the vulture ate it. If Prometheus had said ‘sorry’ he could have been taken back into favor by Jupiter but Prometheus was not ready to do so. Thus he has become a symbol of magnanimous endurance of unmerited suffering and strength of will which can resist oppression.

The myth goes that woman had yet not been made when Prometheus stole the fire. An angry Jupiter made her and sent her to earth to punish Epimetheus, Prometheus for stealing fire and man for accepting it. This woman was named Pandora. Since she was made in heaven different gods gave different gifts to this beautiful evil. Pandora then was sent to earth. Epimetheus gladly accepted her.

Epimetheus had in his house a jar full of noxious articles which he had not opened while making mankind. He wanted the man to be a happy creature. Pandora, out of (mind you) a woman’s insatiable curiosity opened this jar (pithos) to look into it. The moment she removed its lid out came gout, rheumatism, and colic for man’s body, envy, spite, and revenge for his mind. Pandora tried to put the lid back but by that time diseases and despair had escaped. Only one thing was left at the bottom of the jar and that was hope. Whatever ills torment mankind, hope always springs us back. Till there is hope we are not defeated and believe that life is worth living. Pandora’s myth explains why there is evil in the world. She is, in fact, the price of fire which Prometheus had got for man’s survival.

You are thinking of Pandora’s Box because you are familiar with the phrase ‘to open Pandora’s box’, right? The original Greek word ‘pithos’ which means a large jar, was mistranslated into ‘box’ and that is how this phrase came into existence. Today to open Pandora’s Box refers to doing a small act which will lead to endless complications and troubles.

Read more Tales from Mythology here.

About the author

Kiran Jhamb

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