Pandora’s Jar

The goddess Pandora -- Zues' beautiful, cunning, seductive yet deceitful punishment to  Prometheus

The goddess Pandora — Zues’ beautiful, cunning, seductive yet deceitful punishment to Prometheus. Painting by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

History may have trouble fitting a square peg into a round hole, but it has no problem changing a round object into a square one. What we think of as Pandora’s box is actually a jar (Greek word “pithos”). According to Hesiod, Pandora, like Eve, was the first woman ever created. She was very beautiful, extremely clever and a little too curious. When she was given a large jar that contained all the world’s evils, plagues, sorrows and despair (as well as hope), she got very excited and opened the jar—letting out all of those terrible things in the world. Only ‘Hope’ stayed under the lid of the jar.

The jar didn’t become a box until the 16th century when Erasmus of Rotterdam translated the myth of Pandora into Latin.  Nobody’s perfect, and the intelligent Erasmus made a slip of the pen and the “pithos” became the Latin “pyxis”—meaning “box.” The mistranslation has endured ever since and has inspired countless pieces of art that show Pandora with a box instead of a jar.


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