The Story: Opening Pandora's Box
'Opening Pandora's Box' is a metaphor for our time. It is a story about how one of two brothers, Epimetheus, is seduced by appearances and his own desires. He did not have the forethought to look into the true nature of what he saw, or to understand the implications of his actions beyond himself. The moral of the story is that once the Earth is opened, she cannot be closed, and what we spoil we spoil forever. Mining the last remaining wildernesses and the critical ecosystems of our Earth is irreversible. The other brother, Prometheus, in the story, warns us that hindsight is too late and hoping for the best is ignorant and impotent. What the story recommends is foresight: from this come the gifts of a true civilisation and right relation towards the Earth, our source of life.
Once upon a time in ancient Greece there were two brothers, grandsons of Gaia, Mother Earth: Prometheus (whose name means 'forethought' or 'foresight') and Epimetheus (whose name means 'afterthought' or hindsight').
Zeus, belonging to the next generation, who became king of the gods in Olympus, hid fire from human beings. Prometheus, closer to the source, stole that fire back from the gods, concealing it in a stalk of fennel, and gave it to humans. He also taught humans all the civilising arts, such as writing, mathematics, agriculture, medicine and science.
But Zeus, in revenge for the theft of the fire, played a cruel trick on humans. He ordered the gods - who did not dare refuse him - to create a beautiful woman in the image of a goddess. Hephaestus, the smith god from beneath the Earth, made her from Earth mixed with water; Athena, goddess of wisdom, taught her crafts and weaving; Aphrodite, goddess of love, gave her irresistible charm; Hermes, god of imagination, gave her a deceitful nature, and mischievously called her 'Pandora' ('pan' meaning 'all' and 'dora' meaning 'gifts'), because 'all her gifts' had been given her by the gods, showing her to be a parody of the only true Giver of All Gifts, who was Gaia, Mother Goddess Earth.
Now Prometheus, looking in advance into the nature of things, warned his brother not to accept any gift from Olympian Zeus, the new patriarch, who was reversing the order of life. But when Zeus tempted Epimetheus with Pandora, he forgot his brother's warning, and took the gift from Zeus with great delight. After all, she looked so promising: she was clothed in a silver robe and an embroidered veil; she wore on her head a crown of gold garlanded with flowers and new grown herbs and patterned with the many creatures of land and sea. Gods and mortals were seized with wonder. How could mere humans withstand such temptation?
There was an urn, a mighty jar (only later called a box), which had always been forbidden to be opened, for the sake of the whole world. It contained powers beyond human capacity to understand and control. These are 'all the gifts' of life and death, which Gaia alone can give, as 'Mother of All.' But Pandora, not knowing what she was doing, seeing it, opened it, and out came all the troubles known to mortals: sicknesses by day and by night, old age, harsh toil and death. Only Hope did not fly out, remaining under the lip of the jar, as Zeus had allowed Pandora to put the lid back just in time. Yet, before this, the people on Earth lived in peace, free from the suffering that now plagues them.
This is a tale of 'mythic inversion' - a patriarchal reversal of an earlier goddess myth - where the original awe and respect due to Gaia is inverted. Mother Earth was herself celebrated as the Giver of All Gifts in an earlier time when her order was supreme, as Hermes recognises in the play upon her name. Now Zeus, not Gaia, has become the creator, and creates a woman who is the parody of the goddess she is designed to resemble: Pandora was a 'beautiful evil,' a false treasure, an inverted image of the feminine. Her superficial outer image is attractive to those who, like Epimetheus, have lost the foresight to see into the depths of things. Instead of giving, she takes - as we do - releasing evils we do not understand and cannot take back.