The TARDIS library is big. It has to be, because it contains most of the published books in history, along with quite a few that weren't ever published. In it one might find, for instance, the twelfth Harry Potter novel, the completed Silmarillion, or the complete works of Aristotle and Euclides. In another section, Louis XVI's memoirs nestle comfortably next to some letters by Shakespeare. The Agatha Christie shelves are stacked triple with first editions, ultimate editions, and heavily thumbed paperbacks. In fact, most shelves are stacked at least double. Still, the casual wanderer would, after several days, finally come to the conclusion that big as it might be, the library is finite.
And they'd be wrong.
If you turn charm from any shelf past the swimming pool, you will find yourself in a maze of books that, in this universe at least, could never have existed. Explore far enough (should you get lost, keep turning strange until you run into an orang-utan – he'll guide you back if you give him a banana), and somewhere, in the distant reaches of the Alternate History section, you might find something like this:
Ace, X W, Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents
Classics Review, Issue 57, June 26, 1996, accepted for publication April 5, 1996
Pandora's Box is often used as a synonym or at best a poetic term for the puzzle box more correctly known as the Pandorica. In accurate terms, the name 'Pandora's Box' applies to the myth or set of myths surrounding the box. This review delineates the origins of the myth and the historical basis for the persons and events depicted in it, based on the earliest available sources.
Fig. 1; The Pandorica Papyrus20
Marcellinus' histories of the Roman Empire must have gained him considerable renown and Imperial trust. The Pandorica was a central object to the star cults of the time4. With star worship, long tolerated in the Empire, being suppressed due to the rise of Christianity5, any and all access to the Pandorica would have been severely limited.
Marcellinus makes the distinction between the myth and the box itself quite clearly6, though even he fails to explain why there is such a distinction. References to the myth and the box from contemporary literature seem to indicate that the myth may be older even than the box itself7,8,9. There remains no solid historical evidence for this, however. All known historical references to the myth of Pandora's box also reference the Pandorica10.
In the current body of Greek myths, legends and literature, the myth of Pandora's box is, in fact, unknown until the approximate time the Romans (re)discovered the Pandorica in 115 CE13. Some earlier versions are known, in pictorial form14,15 or from oral histories recorded many centuries after the fact16, in the northwest of Europe, most notably the British Isles. Even these versions, however, do not far predate the first century CE.
Apart from the total lack of historical record prior to approximately 100 CE, the second main argument for the Roman consensus is the term centurion, as used in Marcellinus' transcription2. In his descriptions of the discovery of the box and its transport back to Rome, Marcellinus describes the warriors and priests of the British tribes and the druidic star worshipper cults that populated the area around Stonehenge with relative accuracy17. He was certainly aware of the distinction between a Roman soldier, a Roman centurion and a Britannic warrior or even chieftain. Yet nowhere in his account does Marcellinus cast doubt on his interpretation of the word 'centurion', where he does go as far as interpreting other terms in his transcription of the myth1819.
This certainty may have been caused by the descriptions of the Pandorica being brought to Rome such as Pliny the Younger's22. Not too much credit can be given to Pliny's account in this case, however, because the Pandorica was brought to Rome under heavy guard. This would have certainly provided any number of centurions for Pliny to remark on. However, Marcellinus' confidence is also supported by early pictorial evidence. Illustrations of the Pandorica carved in stone near Stonehenge also show a figure with the distinctive helmet-crest of a Roman officer14. Decorated pottery found nearby also shows this figure, and where the stone carving is possibly indistinct, the painting in the clay is unmistakable15.
It seems safe to conclude, therefore, that the centurion was a part of the original myth. That, in turn, means the myth itself cannot be older than the Roman invasions of Britain. Charitably, that puts the time the myth could have originated in approximately 55 BCE with Caesar's invasion of Britain. Why such a myth would originate from a failed invasion is difficult to imagine or explain. More likely, according to the current consensus11, is that the myth originated with the later invasions by Plautius and Vespasian, when the Britannic way of life , the Britannic world, was in the process of being destroyed.
Quite where the sympathetic figure of the Roman centurion comes from, then, is still a mystery. If the myth was truly Roman in origin, there is no world ending that the Romans would want to protect against. If the myth were Britannic in origin, then the Roman would have been a symbol of the force that destroyed their world. Some scholars speculate that the centurion could have been a Germanic or Gallic conscript who reconverted to the star worship of his ancestors once in Britain23,24, but the evidence to support this is thin at best.
Fig. 2; The Centurion and the Pandorica on a neoclassical frieze25
Most modern research, with some of the most prominent examples coming from the groups of Kapoor29,30 and McCrimmon31,32 holds that there was no true 'Lone Centurion', based on the reasoning described above. In the past few years, however, the group led by Smith has written several papers examining the appearance of the Centurion figure throughout history33,34,35. They conclude that there must have been at least some truth to the myth. Their theory is that the centurion may be a priest or ceremonial figure in one of the ancient star worshipping cults. The mode of dress would then be inspired by the legend. The Smith group is all but alone in supporting these theories, but with the recent reappearance of star cults, their work has received quite a lot of interest.
Tracing the myth of the wise man/teacher through the literature is no simple task. He does not appear in the early art, and Marcellinus does not truly discuss the teacher. We are forced to turn to the oral histories and later Latin sources for what little description they offer. There it becomes difficult to distinguish the Wise Man of Pandora's Box from the wizards and wise men found in other myths, legends and fairy tales. Doctor is an even more common term in Latin. Without reference to the Pandorica nearby in the text, it is virtually impossible to determine which doctor or Wise Man is intended, and so not much literature on the subject exists.
McCrimmon, in one of his early papers, proposes that the Wise Man was a metaphor for the wisdom of the tribe or tribes that originally created the Pandorica37. Unfortunately he has so far not chosen to revisit the subject, instead focusing on the Lone Centurion legend.
Casting their net widely, Smith et al investigated legends from non-Western European sources. They found several Far-Eastern legends that referenced a western Wise Man. One early Chinese transcription of some of these legends features a name for the man that could be a phonetic rendition of doctor38, though even Smith et al point out that the characters used to render the name also carry a literal meaning39. By cross-referencing these myths with European ones, Williams compiled an image of the Wise Man as a traveller, involving himself with the local populace whenever disaster strikes,40. While this fits with the Wise Man as mentioned in the Pandora's Box, the support for which myths should or should not be included is often rather thin.
Instead, we turn back to Marcellinus, who describes several attempts to open the box by successive emperors, each as fruitless as the others42. In medieval times, either no attempts were made, or no information about them survived. Queen Victoria founded the Torchwood Institute to study the Pandorica, but the state-of-the-art technology of the period got as far as the Romans did43. This has been the story ever since. X-rays have been proven unable to penetrate it44,45, as have other forms of radiation46. Right up until the present day, the contents of the box remain a mystery.
Fig . 4. X-ray images of the Pandorica44
That is not to say that the study of this box has been without fruit. Cryptography has made leaps and bounds trying to decipher the glyphs on the side of the box47 and the crystal structures obtained by the X-ray scattering off the surface of the Pandorica45 have provided us with radiation-absorbing48 and otherwise superstrong materials49 that have changed the way we live our lives.
If one were inclined to be philosophical, one might even say that the hope the Pandorica is supposed to contain is the hope we build for ourselves.
The author would like to thank M H Dune and R Williams for their extended discussions during the writing of this review, and the editor of Classics Review, R U Riggers, for their invaluable assistance in preparing it for publication.
1. Warner, A , Marcellinus' Annales Pandoricae; original text and annotated translation, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989
2. Ibid, 46
3. Ibid, 12-13: The dedication of Marcellinus' work starts: "To Theodosius Augustus and Nonius our Consul" meaning it was finished in 397 CE, Nonius' consular year.
4. Little, S, et al, An Overview of Roman Star Cults, Cambridge, Cambridge Press, 1987
5. Pius, Q M, An end to religious freedom in the Roman Empire, Journal of Philology (54), March 14, 1992, 67-98
6. Warner (note 1), 50
7. Mucius Scaevola, G, Cantus Romanorum, tr. Warner, A, Boston, Harvard Latin Press, 1982, 13, 25, 37
8. Artorus Mummius, P, De Scientia Latinum, tr. Christenson, F U,Boston, Harvard Latin Press, 1976, 9, 22, 24, 33
9. Decimius Strabo, Gn, Fabulae Graece, tr. Parker, W, Princeton, Academic Press, 1980, 8-16
10. Brown, D. The Pandorica Through the Ages, Mediterranean Historical Review (56) , December 5, 1990, pp 234-250
11. Warner, A, et al. Latin Origins of Pandora's Box; a summary, Journal of Philology (58), June 12, 1994, 23-125
12. Plinius, Letters, tr. Parker, W, Oxford, Oxford Classical Publishers, 1978, pp 242
13. Warner (note 1), 16
14. Lardinois, G, et al, Stone images around Stonehenge, Historical Archaeology (20), October 25, 1967, pp 42-64
15. Potter, L, et al, Pottery Myths, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986
16. Beurskens, H, The Witch, the Wizard, and the Big Bad Wolf; the original fairytales, Nijmegen, Radboud Uitgeverij, 1991, 45-56, 77, 98-103, 112, 134-138, 180-183, 225, 267-272
17. Warner (note 1), 53-56
18. Ibid, 66: We cannot define hope. What may be hope to us may be despair to others, yet all who know of the box say its contents to be as valuable as the Empire itself.
19. Ibid, 54: Prison, our myths tell us; strongbox, our eyes.
20. Pandorica Papyrus, British Museum, Department of Egyptian Antiquities, London
21. Young, P et al, Carbon dating of the 'Pandorica' papyrus, Historical Archaeology (77), May 5, 1995, 678-689
22. Plinius (note 12) p 240-254
23. Rothmann, W G H, Der Germanische Centurio, Zeitschrift des Archäologischen Vereins (98), Oktober 26, 1993, 45-48
24. Goscinny, R G, Restoration of pre-Roman religions in Gaul, Paris, Publications Académiques, 1992
25. Pandorica Frieze, Neues Museum, Klassische Sammlung, Berlin
26. Pandorica on Ship, Maritime History Museum, London.
27. Campbell, J, The Immortal Centurion: Pandora's Centurion in Popular Culture, New York, Cornell University Press, 1986
28. Warner (note 1), 77 "The guards stand at their duty every hour of every day. Any visitor, even those granted access by the Emperor, will suffer the inspection by Tertius Regius Rufus Roranicus, their centurion, or be turned away."
29. Kapoor, A et al, Examination of the Centurion Myth, Journal of Philology (43), June 6, 1990, 78-90
30. Kapoor, A et al, Not just Mythical but Apocryphal; A rebuttal of the Centurion Myth, Journal of Philology (52), May 3, 1994, 113-125
31. McCrimmon, J et al, Believing is seeing; Influences of myths on our perceptions of everyday reality, Royal Journal of Psychology (76), March 20, 1990, 55-68
32. McCrimmon, J et al, The Role of the classical hero figure in modern society, Journal of Sociology (45), October 6, 1992, 43-66
33. Smith, S J et al, The Centurion and the Stars; The influence of the Pandorica on the Star Cults, English Historical Review (55), April 5, 1988,
34. Grant, J et al, 2000 Years in Waiting; the Lone Centurion through the ages, Journal of Philology (50), June 12, 1993, 67-96
35. Smith, S J et al, Arguments for the reality of the Lone Centurion, Historical Archaeology (71), June 21, 1994, 89-105
36. White, T H, Merlin, Uther's Guide and Downfall, Cambridge, Cambridge Press, 1991, 23-25, 43, 56-59, 128, 140-142
37. McCrimmon, J; The Wise Men of Long Ago; singular or plural? , Classics Review (32), July 6, 1983
38. Smith, S J et al, Pandora's Box in the Far East, Journal of Philology (56), May 3, 1993, 126-145
39. Smith, S J (note 38), 140 - 142: "The characters forming the phonetic 'doctor' would, in their literal interpretation mean something more along the lines of 'Threatening Storm' or 'Looming Chaos'."…. "As demonstrated, the literal interpretation of the characters does not fit with other known versions of the legend, and therefore we judge the phonetic interpretation the more likely."
40. Williams, R, Pandora's Doctor in other myths, Birmingham, Birmingham University Press, 1995
41. Gould, S J, The Ultimate Hope: Pandora's Box and the contents of the Pandorica, Classics Review (55), December 15, 1995, 123-137
42. Warner (note 1) 45, 56-58, 73, 123
43. Harkness, J, Unsolved Puzzles: The Torchwood Institute and the Pandorica, London, Torchwood Science Publishing, 1965
44. Sato, T, et al, X-ray studies of the Pandorica, Journal of the Röntgen Society (125), May 4, 1989
45. Fyodorov, Y, et al, The perfect mirror: X-ray reflection using novel crystal structures based on those of the Pandorica, Science (266), December 9, 1994
46. Sato, T et al, Radiation Penetration Experiments on Pandora's Box, Journal of the Röntgen Society (137), May 16, 1990
47. LaFortier, M, Decrypting the Pandorica: Advances in Character-based decoding, Cryptology (87), September 5, 1993
48. Guzman, D I, Radiation absorbtion in hybrid crystal lattices, Materials Science (156), July 7, 1995, 2223-2245
49. Lee, X H, A novel high-tensile strength ceramic based on structures from the Pandorica outer shell, Inorganic Chemistry (122), June 23, 1994, 112-127