Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods

L5-Prometheus & Pandora (Hesiod’s Theogony and Works & Days)

Lesson 5 Primary Readings: Prometheus and Pandora

Notes:

  • Hesiod recounts the myth of Prometheus’ theft of fire and the creation o1f the first woman, Pandora, twice: first in the Theogony and then again in the Works and Days. The two versions each contain unique information and have different emphases. It is important to read each version carefully to compare them and to build a fuller version of the myth by taking both accounts into consideration.
  • The Theogony version emphasizes the events that happen at Mekone concerning the shared meal and the origins of the sacrificial ritual.
  • The Works and Days version has a fuller description of the creation of Pandora by all the gods, with an explanation of her name related to this. She is call “Pan-dora” (All-Gifts) because all the gods gave her gifts, according to Hesiod. This version also includes Pandora’s famous jar in which Hope is contained.

Hesiod, Theogony (lines 507-616)

(translated by S. Ahmed and A. Rappold)

Iapetos brought home the daughter of Ocean — enticing, beautiful-ankled Clymene
and carried her straight into their shared bed. She bore him these children:

Atlas, strong-hearted
Menoitios, obsessed with fame510
Prometheus, with pre-planning, clever
in hindsight, ignorant: Epimetheus.

Epimetheus:

first brought suffering to working men
when he accepted the gift: Zeus’s woman moulded515
in the form of a young virgin.

arrogant Menoitios:

blasted into Darkness by far-seeing Zeus,
— with a flash of lightning and the lingering smell of sulphur —
destroyed by his reckless, out-of-control aggression.520

Atlas:

stands before the clear-voiced Hesperides, at the ends of the earth.
he labours under the heaviest of obligations: the wide heavens
press down on his head and hands, without rest
such was the duty allotted to him by cunningly intelligent Zeus.525

Subtle-planning Prometheus:

shackled by Zeus with punishments unbreakable
and excruciating: Zeus drove a spike right through his chest
and sent a long-winged eagle to torture him.

Again and again the eagle gorged on his immortal liver:530
every day, the long-winged bird feasted, but
each night, the liver grew back, exactly as before.

That bird was killed by the son of enticing, beautiful-ankled Alkmene:
Herakles. He cured this plague, this living death,
and freed the son of Iapetos from his maddening pain.535
This was not opposed by the will of the one who rules on high: Olympian Zeus.
After all, Zeus had always planned that the glory of Theban-born Heracles
would spread far and wide across the earth.
So Zeus multiplied the honour of his legendary son
by setting aside his old anger, though bile still filled his heart because,540
though he was Kronos’ heir, and held clear superiority,

Prometheus had, so many times, tried to outwit him.
As had happened, once upon a time:
The gods and mortals could not decide on a fair division of sacrificial honours
at Mekone.

545Prometheus eagerly cut a large bull into two portions
and offered this as a compromise, seeking to outwit Zeus.

To Zeus he offered one portion: the best meat and the entrails rich with fat
but all hidden inside a sack of skin and stomach.

To men he offered another: the white bones of the bull but cleverly arranged 550
and all hidden under a covering of delicious, shining-white fat.

The father of gods and men said to him:
“Well, son of Iapetus, you never miss a chance to show off your status to the other kings,
but you might be a bit ripe in the head — this solution is needlessly partisan.”
As he spoke, there was a sneer on the face of Zeus, who knows immovable plans.555

Crooked-minded Prometheus responded,
though he couldn’t help smiling softly, keeping in mind his greater deception:
“Zeus, most glorious, most magnificent among the gods who are forever:
choose whichever portion best suits you.”

He spoke, planning deception. . Zeus who knows imperishable plans560
knew already — how could he have failed to recognize the deception?
His mind had already foreseen how suffering would first
come to mortal men and how this choice would bring it about.
So, with both hands, he chose the second portion, wrapped in white fat.

Anger chased out every other thought and bile choked his heart,565
when, out in the open, he saw the white bones of the bull and their clever arrangement.
By that decision, even now, men and women across the earth honour the immortals,
by offering them the smoke of white bones from blazing altars.

Cloud-gathering Zeus spoke, his expression strained:
“Son of Iaptetus, you never miss a chance to show off your intellect.570
But you’re a bit ripe in the head; you just can’t stop playing tricks.”

His anger simmered as he said this, Zeus who knows imperishable plans.
From that point onwards, his mind was occupied, plotting a response to the deception

First, he withheld the power of weariless fire from the people of the ash-spear:

mortal men,575
who inhabit the earth
but the helpful son of Iapetos outwitted him
by stealing back weariless fire. Though its blaze was clear from far away,
he hid it in a hollow fennel stalk. This provocation gnawed at the deepest core
of high-thundering Zeus. And his heart again filled with bile
when, out in the open, he saw the clear blaze of fire — now in the hands of men.580

As a trade for the fire, Zeus devised wicked suffering for mankind.
The renowned, broken-footed smith moulded Earth into
the shape of a virginal girl, cheeks blushing modestly, according to the plans of Kronos’ son.
The owl-eyed goddess Athena was in charge of her clothing and adornment:

for her body, a dress of silver-white, nearly transparent585
over the face: a veil woven by Athena’s own hands — its appearance, miraculous.
throughout her hair: a crown of wild-flowers, newly blossomed,
provoking desire-. All was arranged by Pallas Athena.
Onto her head: a golden diadem made by the renowned, broken-footed-god.
He shaped and perfected it with his own hands, to please his father Zeus:590
Across it, he overlaid intricate scenes — their appearance, miraculous—

of monsters of earth and sea, many and massive,
but all contained within the diadem. He depicted them with such allure,
so miraculous, that you’d swear the animals were alive.

The woman was Zeus’ trick: a beautiful evil in return for something good.595

Next, he revealed her to the gathered assembly of gods and men.
Her appearance was a testament to the skill of the owl-eyed daughter of a mighty father.
All the immortal gods and mortal men gazed upon he r— her appearance, miraculous —
as they beheld this inescapable trap, irresistible to men.

The species of female women originated with her and600
she was the start of that whole destructive race,
this terrible plague for mankind. They squat within the homes of mortal men,
unbearable in Poverty, barely tolerable in Plenty:
Just like:

bees, within their domed hives,605
work to feed the drones — where they go, hard work follows.
Every moment of the day, from dawn to dusk
the bees exhaust themselves, laying out white honeycomb
while the drones lounge inside the domed hives,
the work of one goes straight into the belly of the other.
610

It’s just the same for mortal men: women are the bearers of suffering,
created by high-thundering Zeus.
Wherever women go, hard work follows.
Zeus gave one more evil in return for the good:

[Option 1:]
Let’s say someone manages to avoid marriage, women, and all those anxieties —615
disaster then comes in old age: since he chose not to marry,
who takes care of him at life’s end? And even if his needs are met
in life — well then, after death
there are no children to carry on his legacy. His hard work profits
only distant relatives.620

[Option 2:]
Let’s say someone chooses the fate of marriage:
Either he manages to find a wife he can trust, their hearts perfectly matched
but still lives in fear that this comfort will one day give way to suffering.
Or he marries an abusive type, a troublemaker —
that is a source of chest-clutching anxiety for the rest of his life.625
Headache and heartache too. Trust me, this suffering is incurable.

The moral: you can’t deceive or outwit the mind of Zeus.
Not even the son of Iapetos, Prometheus, the helpful-trickster
could get out from under his anger. Instead, he was crushed by a heavy sentence
and despite his slippery mind, was shackled in chains.630

Hesiod, Works and Days (lines 1-106)

(translated by S. Ahmed, R. Nickel, and A. Rappold)

Muses from Pieria, you who bestow fame through song
come and tell of Zeus, celebrating your father in song.
Through him, mortal men are famous and not famous,
spoken of and not spoken of, by the will of great Zeus.
With ease he makes a man strong; with ease he crushes the mighty.5
With ease he degrades a distinguished man and exalts the obscure.
With ease he straightens one who is bent over and shrivels the arrogant.
High-thundering Zeus, who dwells in lofty palaces.
Hear, see, and listen; with justice keep our laws straight,
you for your part; I for mine would tell Perses the way things are.10

There’ss not only one kind of Strife. On Earth
there are two. The one, when you see her, you would praise;
the other deserves blame. They possess diverse natures.
The one promotes war — that evil — and division,
the cruel one. No mortals love her, but by Necessity,15
through the plans of the immortals, they honour this Strife, this burden.
The other one, dark Night bore her first.
The high-throned son of Kronos who dwells in the Sky,
set her down in the roots of Earth, and for men she is far better.
Even a deadbeat, even him, she’s able to rouse to work.20
A person in need of work sees another man,
a rich man eager to plow and to sow
and build a good house. One neighbour competes with another
as he rushes toward riches. This Strife is good for mortals.
Potter vies with potter, carpenter with carpenter.25
Beggar is jealous of beggar, poet of poet.

Perses, set these words in your heart.
Don’t allow Strife, who rejoices in evil, keep you from work,
as you watch for quarrels and eavesdrop in the marketplace.
The season for marketplace quarrels is short30
for the man who hasn’t yet stored up this year’s crop,
harvested in season, the crop that Gaia brings, the grain of Demeter.
Once you have enough of this, you can promote quarrels and division
over others’ possessions. You’ll get no second chance
to do this work.

 

So come, let’s settle our dispute35
with straight judgments, which come from Zeus and are best.
We’d already divided the farm. But you kept on taking
and carried off almost everything, always flattering the kings,
bribe-eaters; they specialize in making these kinds of judgments.

They’re fools: when asked to divide in half, they give the whole thing,40
and soft — unfamiliar with the value of a hard day’s work.
For most men, the gods hide the way to make a living —
the easy way, at least. Otherwise, you’d work only a single day,
harvest food for the year and spend the rest relaxing.
Soon you’d hang up your plow-handles to dry,45
finished with the work of oxen and much-enduring mules.

Any hope for this carefree life was concealed by an angry Zeus —
his heart, filled with bile at crooked-minded Prometheus’ deception —
his mind, focused on a scheme: how to bring painful suffering to mankind.

First, Zeus hid fire. But the helpful son of Iapetos,50
stealing from wise-minded Zeus, gave it back to mankind
by hiding it in a fennel stalk, deceiving Zeus who delights in thunder.

In anger, cloud-gathering Zeus addressed him:

“Son of Iapetus, you never miss a chance to show off your intellect.
You’re pleased with yourself, because you stole fire and outwitted me.55
This will prove disastrous for you. For mankind too.
In exchange for fire, I’ll devise a truly wicked trade: a gift all
will choose to accept with open arms, willingly embracing their own suffering.”
As he said this, he couldn’t stop laughing: the father of men and of gods.

Next, Zeus issued these commands: 60

to Hephaistos, famous for his creations:

“make a mixture of earth and water and pour into it a human voice
and the same spirit as well. Mould its face to resemble a goddess
and shape its body like that of a young virgin, innocently exciting desire.”

to Athena:65

“teach her to craft and weave careful art upon the loom”

to gold-adorned Aphrodite:

“anoint her with allure, body-devouring longing and painful need.”

to Hermes, Watchdog Slayer and Guide, he commanded:

“install a bitch’s mind and a criminal’s heart.” 70

They all obeyed the commands of Kronos’ son, king Zeus.
The renowned, broken-footed god swiftly moulded from Earth
the shape of a virginal girl, cheeks blushing modestly, according to the plans of Kronos’ son.
divine, owl-eyed Athena was in charge of clothing and adornment:

the divine Graces and queenly Persuasion set onto75
the inviting skin of her neck golden bands. For her hair,
a crown of spring blossoms from the beautifully-coiffed Seasons.

All was arranged invitingly across her naked skin by Pallas Athena.
But in her breast, Hermes the Guide, Watchdog Slayer, installed
a tricky, lying tongue and a criminal’s heart.80
All was done according to the plans of loud-thundering Zeus.

Last of all, the gods’ messenger placed a voice in her and announced her name:
Pandora: because because all the Olympian gods gave her gifts,
though she would be a plague for labouring men.

Finally, when he’d completed his inescapable trap, irresistible to men,85
father Zeus sent out Hermes, the Watchdog Slayer, to Epimetheus.
The swift messenger of the gods brought the gift. But Epimetheus
only considered in hindsight Prometheus’ forewarning:

“Never accept gifts from Olympian Zeus. Send everything back,
Don’t bring it into your house, or I fear mortals will suffer for it.”90

Only after Epimetheus accepted the gift, after he held suffering in his arms, did he understand.

Before:

all men, across the earth, used to prosper
free from suffering, hard work
and painful disease: for men, these are death-bringers
because those who weather these evils become old before their time.95

Then:

The woman removed the heavy lid of the jar with her own hands, and
driven by her own thoughts, unleashed sorrows for men, death-bringers.
Hope alone remained in its unbreakable home,
caught underneath the lip of the jar. Its escape
was only a short flight away, but, just in time, she slammed the lid down. 100
All according to the plan of aegis-bearing, cloud-gathering Zeus.

Now:

Ten thousand or more sorrows roam free among all mankind.
Suffering is inescapable on land and sea.
Worse, diseases stalk human beings day and night,
spreading everywhere, out of control; for men, they bring wails of grief, 105
silently since their divine voice was removed by cunningly wise Zeus.
The moral: in the end, there is no way to evade the mind of Zeus.

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Myths of the Greek and Roman Gods by Edited by Roberto Nickel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.