|Greek and Roman Mythology > Prometheus and Pandora
Prometheus and Pandora
Before the earth and sea and the all-covering heaven, one aspect,
which we call Chaos, covered all the face of Nature,-- a rough
heap of inert weight and discordant beginnings of things clashing
together. As yet no sun gave light to the world, nor did the
moon renew her slender horn month by month,-- neither did the
earth hang in the surrounding air, poised by its own weight,--
nor did the sea stretch its long arms around the earth. Wherever
there was earth, there was also sea and air. So the earth was
not solid nor was the water fluid, neither was the air
God and Nature at last interposed and put an end to this discord,
separating earth from sea, and heaven from both. The fiery part,
being the lightest, sprang up, and formed the skies; the air was
next in weight and place. The earth, being heavier, sank below,
and the water took the lowest place and buoyed up the earth.
Here some god, no man knows who, arranged and divided the land.
He placed the rivers and bays, raised mountains and dug out
valleys and distributed woods, fountains, fertile fields and
stony plains. Now that the air was clear the stars shone out,
the fishes swam the sea and birds flew in the air, while the
four-footed beasts roamed around the earth. But a nobler animal
was needed, and man was made in the image of the gods with an
upright stature [The two Greek words for man have the root an,
"up], so that while all other animals turn their faces downward
and look to the earth, he raises his face to heaven and gazes on
the stars [Every reader will be interested in comparing this
narrative with that in the beginning of Genesis. It seems clear
that so many Jews were in Rome in Ovid's days, many of whom were
people of consideration among those with whom he lived, that he
may have heard the account in the Hebrew Scriptures translated.
Compare JUDAISM by Prof. Frederic Huidekoper.]
To Prometheus the Titan and to his brother Epimetheus was
committed the task of making man and all other animals, and of
endowing them with all needful faculties. This Epimetheus did,
and his brother overlooked the work. Epimetheus then gave to the
different animals their several gifts of courage, strength,
swiftness and sagacity. He gave wings to one, claws to another,
a shelly covering to the third. Man, superior to all other
animals, came last. But for man Epimetheus had nothing,-- he had
bestowed all his gifts elsewhere. He came to his brother for
help, and Prometheus, with the aid of Minerva, went up to heaven,
lighted his torch at the chariot of the sun, and brought down
fire to man. With this, man was more than equal to all other
animals. Fire enabled him to make weapons to subdue wild beasts,
tools with which to till the earth. With fire he warmed his
dwelling and bid defiance to the cold.
Woman was not yet made. The story is, that Jupiter made her, and
sent her to Prometheus and his brother, to punish them for their
presumption in stealing fire from heaven; and man, for accepting
the gift. The first woman was named Pandora. She was made in
heaven, every god contributing something to perfect her. Venus
gave her beauty, Mercury persuasion, Apollo music. Thus
equipped, she was conveyed to earth, and presented to Epimetheus,
who gladly accepted her, though cautioned by his brother to
beware of Jupiter and his gifts. Epimetheus had in his house a
jar, in which were kept certain noxious articles, for which, in
fitting man for his new abode, he had had no occasion. Pandora
was seized with an eager curiosity to know what this jar
contained; and one day she slipped off the cover and looked in.
Forthwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for hapless man,--
such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy,
spite, and revenge for his mind,-- and scattered themselves far
and wide. Pandora hastened to replace the lid; but, alas! The
whole contents of the jar had escaped, one thing only excepted,
which lay at the bottom, and that was HOPE. So we see at this
day, whatever evils are abroad, hope never entirely leaves us;
and while we have THAT, no amount of other ills can make us
Another story is, that Pandora was sent in good faith, by
Jupiter, to bless man; that she was furnished with a box,
containing her marriage presents, into which every god had put
some blessing. She opened the box incautiously, and the
blessings all escaped, HOPE only excepted. This story seems more
consistent than the former; for how could HOPE, so precious a
jewel as it is, have been kept in a jar full of all manner of
The world being thus furnished with inhabitants, the first age
was an age of innocence and happiness, called the GOLDEN AGE.
Truth and right prevailed, though not enforced by law, nor was
there any magistrate to threaten or punish. The forest had not
yet been robbed of its trees to furnish timbers for vessels, nor
had men built fortifications round their towns. There were no
such things as swords, spears, or helmets. The earth brought
forth all things necessary for man, without his labor in
ploughing or sowing. Perpetual spring reigned, flowers sprang up
without seed, the rivers flowed with milk and wine, and yellow
honey distilled from the oaks.
"But when good Saturn, banished from above,
Was driven to hell, the world was under Jove.
Succeeding times a Silver Age behold,
Excelling brass, but more excelled by gold.
Then summer, autumn, winter did appear,
And spring was but a season of the year.
The sun his annual course obliquely made,
Good days contracted and enlarged the bad,
Then air, with sultry heats, began to glow;
The wings of winds were clogged with ice and sno
And shivering mortals into houses driven,
Sought shelter from the inclemency of heaven.
Those houses then were caves, or homely sheds;
With twining osiers fenced; and moss their beds.
Then ploughs, for seed, the fruitful furrows broke,
And oxen labored first beneath the yoke.
To this came next in course the Brazen Age:
A warlike offspring, prompt to bloody rage,
Not impious yet! . .
. . . Hard Steel succeeded then;
And stubborn as the metal were the men."
Ovid's Metam, Book I. Dryden's Translation.
Crime burst in like a flood; modesty, truth, and honor fled. In
their places came fraud and cunning, violence, and the wicked
love of gain. Then seamen spread sails to the wind, and the
trees were torn from the mountains to serve for keels to ships,
and vex the face of ocean. The earth, which till now had been
cultivated in common, began to be divided off into possessions.
Men were not satisfied with what the surface produced, but must
dig into its bowels, and draw forth from thence the ores of
metals. Mischievous IRON, and more mischievous GOLD, were
produced. War sprang up, using both as weapons; the guest was
not safe in his friend's house; and sons-in-law and fathers-in-
law, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, could not trust
one another. Sons wished their fathers dead, that they might
come to the inheritance; family love lay prostrate. The earth
was wet with slaughter, and the gods abandoned it, one by one,
till Astraea [the goddess of innocence and purity. After leaving
earth, she was placed among the stars, where she became the
constellation Virgo The Virgin. Themis (Justice) was the mother
of Astraea. She is represented as holding aloft a pair of
scales, in which she weighs the claims of opposing parties. It
was a favorite idea of the old poets, that these goddesses would
one day return, and bring back the Golden Age. Even in a
Christian Hymn, the Messiah of Pope, this idea occurs.
"All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail,
Returning Justice lift aloft her scale,
Peace o'er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from heaven descend." See, also,
Milton's Hymn on the nativity, stanzas xiv, and xv] alone was
left, and finally she also took her departure.
Jupiter, seeing this state of things, burned with anger. He
summoned the gods to council. They obeyed the call, and took
The road to the palace of heaven. The road, which any one may
see in a clear night, stretches across the face of the sky, and
is called the Milky Way. Along the road stand the palaces of the
illustrious gods; the common people of the skies live apart, on
either side. Jupiter addressed the assembly. He set forth the
frightful condition of things on the earth, and closed by
announcing his intention to destroy the whole of its inhabitants,
and provide a new race, unlike the first, who would be more
worthy of life, and much better worshippers of the gods. So
saying he took a thunderbolt, and was about to launch it at the
world, and destroy it by burning it; but recollecting the danger
that such a conflagration might set heaven itself on fire, he
changed his plan, and resolved to drown the world. Aquilo, the
north wind, which scatters the clouds, was chained up; Notus, the
south, was sent out, and soon covered all the face of heaven with
a cloak of pitchy darkness. The clouds, driven together, resound
with a crash; torrents of rain fall; the crops are laid low; the
year's labor of the husbandman perishes in an hour. Jupiter, not
satisfied with his own waters, calls on his brother Neptune to
aid him with his. He lets loose the rivers, and pours them over
the land. At the same time, he heaves the land with an
earthquake, and brings in the reflux of the ocean over the
shores. Flocks, herds, men, and houses are swept away, and
temples, with their sacred enclosures, profaned. If any edifice
remained standing, it was overwhelmed, and its turrets lay hid
beneath the waves. Now all was sea; sea without shore. Here and
there some one remained on a projecting hill-top, and a few, in
boats, pulled the oar where they had lately driven the plough.
The fishes swim among the tree-tops; the anchor is let down into
a garden. Where the graceful lambs played but now, unwieldy sea-
calves gambol. The wolf swims among the sheep; the yellow lions
and tigers struggle in the water. The strength of the wild boar
serves him not, nor his swiftness the stag. The birds fall with
weary wing into the water, having found no land for a resting
place. Those living beings whom the water spared fell a prey to
Parnassus alone, of all the mountains, overtopped the waves; and
there Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, of the race of Prometheus,
found refuge he a just man, and she a faithful worshipper of
the gods. Jupiter, when he saw none left alive but this pair,
and remembered their harmless lives and pious demeanor, ordered
the north winds to drive away the clouds, and disclose the skies
to earth, and earth to the skies. Neptune also directed Triton
to blow on his shell, and sound a retreat to the waters. The
waters obeyed, and the sea returned to its shores, and the rivers
to their channels. Then Deucalion thus addressed Pyrrha: "O
wife, only surviving woman, joined to me first by the ties of
kindred and marriage, and now by a common danger, would that we
possessed the power of our ancestor Prometheus, and could renew
the race as he at first made it! But as we cannot, let us seek
yonder temple, and inquire of the gods what remains for us to
do." They entered the temple, deformed as it was with slime, and
approached the altar, where no fire burned. There they fell
prostrate on the earth, and prayed the goddess to inform them how
they might retrieve their miserable affairs. The oracle
answered, "Depart from the temple with head veiled and garments
unbound, and cast behind you the bones of your mother." They
heard the words with astonishment. Pyrrha first broke silence:
"We cannot obey; we dare not profane the remains of our parents."
They sought the thickest shades of the wood, and revolved the
oracle in their minds. At length Deucalion spoke: "Either my
sagacity deceives me, or the command is one we may obey without
impiety. The earth is the great parent of all; the stones are
her bones; these we may cast behind us; and I think this is what
the oracle means. At least, it will do no harm to try." They
veiled their faces, unbound their garments, and picked up stones,
and cast them behind them. The stones (wonderful to relate)
began to grow soft, and assume shape. By degrees, they put on a
rude resemblance to the human form, like a block half finished in
the hands of the sculptor. The moisture and slime that were
about them became flesh; the stony part became bones; the veins
remained veins, retaining their name, only changing their use.
Those thrown by the hand of the man became men, and those by the
woman became women. It was a hard race, and well adapted to
labor, as we find ourselves to be at this day, giving plain
indications of our origin.
The comparison of Eve to Pandora is too obvious to have escaped
Milton, who introduces it in Book IV, of Paradise Lost:--
"More lovely than Pandora, whom the gods
Endowed with all their gifts; and O, too like
In sad event, when to the unwiser son
Of Jupiter, brought by Hermes, she ensnared
Mankind with her fair looks, to be avenged
On him who had stole Jove's authentic fire."
Prometheus and Epimetheus were sons of Iapetus, which Milton
changes to Japhet.
Prometheus, the Titan son of Iapetus and Themis, is a favorite
subject with the poets. AEschylus wrote three tragedies on the
subjects of his confinement, his release, and his worship at
Athens. Of these only the first is preserved, the Prometheus
Bound. Prometheus was the only one in the council of the gods
who favored man. He alone was kind to the human race, and taught
and protected them.
"I formed his mind,
And through the cloud of barbarous ignorance
Diffused the beams of knowledge . . . .
They saw indeed, they heard, but what availed
Or sight or hearing, all things round them rolling,
Like the unreal imagery of dreams
In wild confusion mixed! The lightsome wall
Of finer masonry, the raftered roof
They knew not; but like ants still buried, delved
Deep in the earth and scooped their sunless caves.
Unmarked the seasons ranged, the biting winter,
The flower-perfumed spring, the ripening summer
Fertile of fruits. At random all their works
Till I instructed them to mark the stars,
Their rising, and, a harder science yet,
Their setting. The rich train of marshalled numbers
I taught them, and the meet array of letters.
To impress these precepts on their hearts I sent
Memory, the active mother of all reason.
I taught the patient steer to bear the yoke,
In all his toils joint-laborer of man.
By me the harnessed steed was trained to whirl
The rapid car, and grace the pride of wealth.
The tall bark, lightly bounding o'er the waves,
I taught its course, and winged its flying sail.
To man I gave these arts."
Potter's Translation from the Prometheus Bound
Jupiter, angry at the insolence and presumption of Prometheus in
taking upon himself to give all these blessings to man, condemned
the Titan to perpetual imprisonment, bound on a rock on Mount
Caucasus while a vulture should forever prey upon his liver.
This state of torment might at any time have been brought to an
end by Prometheus if he had been willing to submit to his
oppressor. For Prometheus knew of a fatal marriage which Jove
must make and by which he must come to ruin. Had Prometheus
revealed this secret he would at once have been taken into favor.
But this he disdained to do. He has therefore become the symbol
of magnanimous endurance of unmerited suffering and strength of
will resisting oppression.
Byron and Shelley have both treated this theme. The following
are Byron's lines:--
"Titan! To whose immortal eyes
The sufferings of mortality,
Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise,
What was thy pity's recompense?
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain;
All that the proud can feel of pain;
The agony they do not show;
The suffocating sense of woe.
"Thy godlike crime was to be kind;
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen man with his own mind.
And, baffled as thou wert from high,
Still, in thy patient energy,
In the endurance and repulse,
Of thine impenetrable spirit,
Which earth and heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit."