Athena doesn’t create, give birth, or nurture. She has no mother and intends to have no offspring, and she’s as removed from the cycle of life as it’s possible for any woman to be. So when Zeus asks the gods to fashion a woman to send to the world of humans, she intends to take no part in this, either.
But when Hephaestus has created this wonder, he sets her lifeless form in front of Athena and asks her to give it life, as she gave life to Prometheus’ creation. This reminder of her earlier transgression, she knows, is meant to insure her compliance. But in truth, she is captivated with this creation.
Athena touches its – her – forehead and endows her with a mind, as she had done for Prometheus’ first man and wills it to life, but nothing happens. Prometheus’ man was created in his image, with care and tenderness, but Athena knows that Hephaestus’ creation – beautiful as it is – was fashioned with all the cool mastery of his limitless skills and none of Prometheus’ warmth.
She runs her fingers along her lifeless form, finally letting her hand rest against its heart. She aligns her lips with hers, and breathes her life into it. And as the heart beneath her hand starts to beat, and the woman opens her eyes to stare into Athena’s eyes, she feels her own heart racing and tightening, and well, Athena might as well have created her herself. Zeus allows Athena to name her, and she calls her Pandora. All-gifted, but she is meant to be anything but a blessing.
“He intends her as a punishment, you know,” Hera says to her, “As if the company of women is such a misfortune.”
Aphrodite laughs and says, “The way men lose their heads in the presence of a beautiful woman is a misfortune.”
“It is not as if Epimetheus has much of a mind to begin with,” replies Athena.
“Prometheus won’t be taken in as easily with beauty,” Hera warns.
“You overestimate him,” Aphrodite says.
“Perhaps,” replies Hera, “but beauty isn’t all she’ll have, is it?”
And as Hera looks at her, Athena already knows that she will send Pandora into the world of men better armed than Zeus would like her to be.
They give her beauty, grace, and guile before they give her awareness. So the first thing Pandora remembers being aware of is her own vanity. But that’s not as bad a thing as men make it out to be, Aphrodite tells her, “They’d just as well not have you know your own strengths.”
But that is not her only strength, she learns from Athena, who teaches her to knit and weave.
Hera warns her against the evils of men, “And there will only be men where you’re going.”
She takes all of this in, but without fully understanding the weight of their words or warnings.
When she’s made pleasing enough through the lessons and the gifts of these goddesses, Zeus cannot wait to put his plan in motion.
He gives her a jar – intricately painted in golds and reds – to take with her. “I cannot send you into the world empty-handed,” he tells her, “Take this jar with you, filled with all the blessings I can endow upon mankind.”
Pandora’s hands graze over the jar, and her fingers play with its latch. “Take care,” Zeus warns her, “to never open this jar. If you let out the blessings contained within, mankind will despair and eradicate itself.”
Zeus smiles and relies on Athena’s final gift – curiosity and not wisdom – to compel Pandora into transgressing against his decree.
Athena smiles as she touches Pandora’s forehead and endows her with this last gift. And Zeus does not realize that curiosity can lead to wisdom.
She is given to Epimetheus in marriage, and the gods themselves make up her wedding procession.
Once the festivities are over, the gods make their way back to Olympus. Athena lingers on after everyone has left, and Pandora clings to her, reluctant to be left behind in this unfamiliar place.
She understands the jar to be a wedding present now. In the emptiness of Epimetheus’ house, it’s the only thing that’s a reminder of her previous life. She traces the patterns on its surface and knows that they were painted by Athena. The jar has its lure, and it sings to her sometimes, so that she spends her wedding night with the jar in her bed, her ear pressed against its earthen surface, listening to all the creatures buzzing inside.
She does not open it; she remembers Zeus’ warning.
Epimetheus spends most of his time out in the fields, teaching men the use of cattle and land, or out assembling with them. When he is there, he does not say much, but she often catches his gaze lingering on her, so she does not retrieve the jar from its hiding place inside her armoire when he’s there. She knows he has seen it, but he has yet to question her about it.
He comes to her bed on most nights, but is gone almost always before she wakes.
She finds herself constantly alone, and misses the company of the goddesses, and remembers both Aphrodite’s words and Hera’s warnings.
But she knows that it’s the unspoken warning from Athena that she needs to decipher.
One morning, she awakens to the sound of men arguing, and it’s such a novel occurrence that she’s startled out of sleep and is out of her bed before she can even wonder who is out there.
Other men are forbidden from entering her house by Epimetheus. She is not sure if he mistrusts her or them, but the only time she has seen anyone other than Epimetheus was at her wedding, where everyone had gathered.
The door is closed, but she can hear the voices through it. Even so, she presses her ear against the wooden door and listens.
“I warned you, Epimetheus,” says an unfamiliar voice, “And you defied me.”
“I am your equal, Prometheus,” she hears her husband’s voice, “and not yours to command. I will choose who I let into my house and my life.”
“It’s a trick,” says Prometheus, “and a mistake you’ll come to regret. And mankind will pay for your lust. As if there weren’t a hundred lovelier nymphs to choose from.”
“She’s far lovelier than any,” counters her husband, defending her form but not her character.
She’s heard enough, so she pulls herself away from the door and releases the latch to step outside, and Prometheus halts what he was about to say, and she sees the anger in his eyes soften as he looks at her, and bows, and says, “Forgive me. I did not mean to wake you.”
She looks to her husband, who introduces Prometheus as his brother. And Pandora searches her memory for what she had heard the goddesses say about this wiser brother.
His anger seems to return as he turns back to her husband, and says, “Remember what I said, Epimetheus. Before it’s too late.” And with that warning, he turns and leaves.
“What was he angry about?” Pandora asks Epimetheus.
“You have a curious mind,” he tells her, smiling at her indulgently. But he does not answer her question.
She tries again, “Was he angry about me being here?”
“These things are not your concern, Pandora,” he tells her firmly, before following his brother out the door.
That night, Epimetheus returns home to find his wife in bed with the strange jar, her ear pressed against its surface, and her fingers tracing the outside lovingly.
“What is in that jar?” he asks her, startling her out of her thoughts.
This is not the first time he’s found her with the jar, but it is the first time he questions her about it, and she can’t help but think back to the visit from his brother.
“Why do you ask me this now?” she says, sitting up and drawing the jar close to her.
“Because I want to know now.”
“Tell me why your brother came here.”
“I cannot,” he says.
“Cannot or will not?” she asks.
“I will not play your word games,” he replies.
“Then I can’t tell you about this,” she takes the jar with her and places it inside the armoire, locking it and checking the lock again.
He does not come to her bed that night and is nowhere to be found the next morning or the one after. When the silence of the house and the loneliness begin to claw at her, she locks the door to her room and unlocks her armoire. She takes out the jar and sets it on the floor, and, laying herself beside it, she presses her ear to the jar and lets the creatures inside whisper to her.
Three days later, and still no sign of her husband, she places the jar back inside her armoire, and locking it, sets out to go find him.
She says a prayer to Zeus before stepping outside and lets the path guide her away from her home and into the village.
The men stare at her once she enters the village, and she draws her cloak closer to her and over her head. No one approaches her, however, and she herself is afraid to approach them.
She stands on the outskirts of the fields, and shielding her eyes from the sun, tries to look for a man who might be her husband.
She hears her name and turns around, expecting to see her husband, but it is Prometheus instead.
“What are you doing here?” he asks her.
She has no pleasantries for this man who seems to have turned her husband against her, so she turns the question on him, “Have you seen Epimetheus?”
“Not today,” he says.
“And the day before?”
He shakes his head again, and she allows him to see a fraction of her despair and says, “Where could he be?”
It is not that she loves Epimetheus, but he is her only connection to this world of men. The gods haven’t spoken to her since they abandoned her here, and she cannot stand the silence of the house or the whispers inside the jar.
He touches her arm and turns her around, away from the staring men, who seemed to have stopped their work to examine her. She has no doubt that they have been warned of her presence and by Prometheus most likely. “Let me take you home,” he says now, gently nudging her away from the fields, “I will go look for my brother afterward.”
She’s not sure if he’s protecting her from the men or the men from her, and she tells him as much.
He laughs and says, “I am not sure, either.”
At least he is honest, and she finds that refreshing.
Epimetheus comes home the next morning, but he spends the day outside, only coming in for food. When night falls and he comes to her bed, he asks, “Will you tell me about the jar now?”
She says, “Will you tell me why the men in the village fear me?”
He scoffs and says, “No one is afraid of you. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Then why do they stare and refuse to talk to me?”
“Because you’re lovely and they have never seen a woman before. They don’t know what to do with one.”
Pandora smiles at his flattery, but she’s not fooled.
“Come now,” he says, “What’s in that jar?”
The contents of the jar are no secret. Zeus had warned her against opening it, but there’s nothing stopping her from telling her husband about what she suspects is contained within. Nothing except her knowledge that he’s lying to her. So she tells a lie in return, repeating what Zeus told her, “It is filled with blessings for mankind, and I must protect them from fleeing.”
He seems satisfied with that answer.
The truth is that she had begun to suspect Zeus’ lie the moment she had lain next to the jar and pressed her ear against its surface. “Be bold, be bold,” the creatures inside would whisper to her, begging to be let out, and asking her to break her promise.
When Epimetheus goes out again the next morning, Pandora locks her jar again, locks her room, and sets out again for the fields.
“Looking for Epimetheus?” Prometheus asks her when he sees her.
She shakes her head and says, “No, I am here for you.”
She has caught him off-guard, so she pushes her advantage and asks, “What did you say to him to make him come back?”
“Only that you were as much a pawn in Zeus’ scheme as he is.” Prometheus replies, “I told him that you were harmless.”
Pandora doesn’t like being dismissed as such, but she lets it go, and asks, “And what scheme is that?”
“His elaborate plan to make mankind forfeit the gifts that I granted them and the ones I won for them by tricking him.”
“And what part do I play in that?”
“I am not sure. I know only that you were sent here after I angered Zeus by tricking him.”
“What did you do?”
Prometheus considers her question, and for a moment, she thinks that he is going to refuse to answer like Epimetheus. Instead, he holds out his hand and says, “Come with me.”
She places her hand in his and lets him guide her into the village and inside a temple with sacrifices burning on an altar.
“Zeus tasked Epimetheus and me with populating the earth with creatures, giving us a set of attributes and gifts to bestow our creations with. Epimetheus created birds and gifted them with flight, created and gifted the cattle, the bees, and other creatures while I worked on a creature to rival them all. But Epimetheus had given away everything, leaving my creation without any blessings. So I stole fire from Olympus to bestow upon men,” he pauses briefly before explaining, “With fire comes…”
“Reason, invention, and the ability to control time by creating light,” Pandora finishes for him. “You gave them the ability to control their lives.”
Prometheus nods, “Precisely. Their only use to Zeus was that their sacrifices give him honor, even the animals were more useful to him than the creatures I had created. When Zeus found out about the theft of fire, he exiled me from Olympus, away from the company of gods, to live among humans.”
“To punish you,” Pandora says, understanding this much.
“In his mind, he does see it as punishment. But I like the company of humans better than serving Zeus’ whims.”
Pandora considers this new knowledge and keeps it for another day. “And me?” she asks, “Am I being punished too?”
He shakes his head, and says, “Afterwards, I tricked Zeus into giving away the best portion of the sacrifices to feed humans, and he left the altar without retaliating.”
“And you think I am his retribution?”
She finds her answer in his silence, and turns away from the altar and leaves the temple behind.
Sometimes, if she places her hand on the jar at just the right place, she can feel movement inside it. There’s a kind of violence to these movements, as if whatever is inside is growing in force.
Her fingers linger on the latch, and she wonders why there’s a latch if she was never meant to open it and she thinks back to what Prometheus told her.
She prays to Athena that night, but there’s no revelation that comes to her. In truth, her time on Olympus has started to feel like a dream, and her memories are becoming harder to recall.
She stands outside the temple as the men celebrate at the altar, Epimetheus presiding over the sacrifices made in Zeus’ name.
She has not seen Prometheus since their conversation at the temple, but still, she is not surprised when she finds him standing next to her, his eyes at the altar.
“I suppose they do not know that Zeus has already sent a plaque to mankind, if they continue to worship him?” she asks.
He turns to look at her and says, “I have been meaning to apologize for that day. You misunderstood me. I do not think you’re here to harm us, but Zeus will use you to bring men misfortune.”
“I think I would rather be an accomplice than a foolish pawn,” she says, indicating the men kneeling at the altar.
“Are you an accomplice?” he asks.
“What does it matter,” she says, “You have all decided to mistrust me anyway.”
“They don’t know you,” he says, “You hold yourself above them, still seeing yourself as part of Olympus and allied with the gods.”
“And you don’t?” She says, “The gods abandoned me, but you chose your exile. You would rather rule over these miserable sheep who can’t see through the wrath of their vengeful deities than serve Zeus’ whims.”
He turns to look at her, but does not say anything.
She holds his gaze until he turns away to walk inside the temple.
There’s a knock on their door in the middle of the night, and Epimetheus goes to see who it is. When he does not come back for long moments and she cannot will herself back to sleep, she slips out of the bed to go see what’s keeping him.
A wounded man lies on the floor just inside their door, and Epimetheus is leaning beside him, tending his wound. There are other men outside, cowering in fear and confusion, but they stay back, as if they can catch by proximity whatever is wrong with the fallen man.
When his condition does not improve, the men start to slowly leave, and Pandora goes back inside her room, leaving her husband with the man.
She hears the buzzing sound coming from inside her armoire as soon as she enters, and she turns around to lock the door before opening the armoire and taking out the jar. She sets it on her bed and sets her ear against it and listens to the whispers from inside. “Let me out,” it says, “Let me out and I will help the man.”
Her fingers close around the latch, but before she could peek inside, she hears Prometheus outside. So she puts the jar away, and steps outside her room.
She’s surprised to find that the sun is out already. The wounded man looks worse than before, and her husband is nowhere in sight.
“Epimetheus has gone to the temple to speak with Zeus,” Prometheus tells her. “He is more likely to listen to him than to me.”
“It’s just one man,” she says, not fully understanding why this matters.
Prometheus shakes his head and she expects him to admonish her, but he says, “Whatever befalls him will befall others, in time.”
“Can you create more of them?”
“Not without Athena giving them life, and she would not go against her father.”
Pandora isn’t certain of that, but she nods. And then she asks, “So you would just replace them, if you could, one man being as good as another?”
He hesitates before answering, considering his words. Finally, he says, “They’re not like you, Pandora. They don’t…think, question, or struggle.”
His fingers brush her forehead, and she looks up at him. He says, “I gave them fire, gave them the ability to invent, to create, and yet, they refuse to do anything without guidance. Not unless I show them.”
“And they don’t even worship you.” She says, and then: “But I won’t either.”
“I think,” he says, his fingers lingering in her hair, “I think you were right before. I was never meant to serve, and Zeus could not see me having any power. But that does not mean that I don’t want to help them.”
She can see that he needs her validation for this, and there’s a great sense of power in that, in being able to grant absolution to this man who is the closest on Earth to the gods on Olympus. And this is what first draws her in, so she lays her hand on his and entwines her fingers with the ones still in her hair, and she repeats, “I won’t worship you.”
And maybe, it’s that that draws him in, too, because he leans in and kisses her.
She’s the one to pull away first, and she says, “Epimetheus will be home soon.”
She turns away and goes inside her room, only to hear the buzzing of the jar. “Let me out,” another voice whispers to her, “Let me out and I will help you.”
This time, she does not need to wonder what spirit is trying to lure her.
And so she sets out to name all the creatures in the jar. She names them for the things she saw on Olympus but she has not found on earth. But they are not all blessings, she knows this now.
The day her husband returns home late and does not come to her bed, she wonders if he knows about Prometheus, but she finds him outside early the next morning with a lovely forest nymph and she can hear the words of Hera in her mind. She goes back inside and names the creature now whispering to her Jealousy. Strangely, it has no lure for her.
A week later, and Epimetheus stops coming home. In the silence of the empty house, the whispers get louder and louder until Pandora wakes up in the middle of one night, her hands pressed against her ears and screams for them to stop.
They quiet down for a few moments, and then the whispers of "Let me out," and "Be bold, be bold" start again.
She slips out of her bed and does not care about the time of night. Grabbing her cloak, she goes out wandering, away from the voices.
As dawn breaks, she finds herself in the field where she had encountered Prometheus before.
"Pandora?" She hears him call her, and turns to find him behind her, as if thinking of him had summoned him from the ether, like one of the gods.
"Are you looking for Epimetheus?" He asks, "Or did you come here for me?"
She wonders if he would lie to her about Epimetheus or tell her the truth for his own purposes, but she is not sure that she is ready to lose the only bit of honesty she has found here, so she says, "I know where Epimetheus is," before he can say anything else.
"Did he tell you?" He asks in such a way that she knows he is aware of Epimetheus’ transgression.
"I don't think honesty is one of his virtues," she replies.
"Nor courage," he says.
"No, I found out myself," she says.
He gives her a smile that's equal parts affection and sadness, and says, "Of course, you did."
When she returns his smile, he asks, "Then why did you come here?"
She knows what he wants to hear, but she won't repay his honesty with a lie, so she says, "I did not want to be in the house by myself."
"Did you," he starts, hesitating at first, and then says, "Do you want me to come back with you?"
"No!" she says with more force than necessary, but seeing the stricken expression on his face, amends gently, "No. I want to stay here for a while."
He nods and she stays.
When night falls again and she would still not go home, he asks, "Is it Epimetheus you fear?"
"I don't think he is coming back," she replies.
And maybe it's because he doesn't question her or ask her to explain her fears that she's compelled to tell him about the jar. So she does, starting with Zeus’ words and ending with her own observations.
When she is done, he only says, “You must never open that jar.”
“You and Zeus seem to agree on that, it seems,” she says, knowing that the comparison would not please him.
“He gave you the jar and made it forbidden and gifted you with a questioning mind. He is relying on you to solve its mystery.”
These are all things she has considered herself, but she is not ready to concede. So she says, “It was not Zeus who gifted me with curiosity. It was Athena.”
“And you think one is very different from another?”
“Why would Zeus ask me to keep the blessings in the jar, when doing so would ensure that I never open it? Why not simply ask me to never open it and leave it at that?”
“You have a curious mind,” he says, “He knows you would never have been satisfied with a lack of an explanation. Besides, opening a jar to peek inside is the act of a foolish person, but to open the jar to let the blessings escape would be the work of a malicious person. He wants you to commit a transgression, so you can share the punishment with humanity.”
When she does not reply, he says, “Promise me, Pandora, that you will not open that jar.”
And he seems to think that she would honor a promise made to him over one she made to the king of gods.
She wakes up in the middle of the night to someone whispering her name, and she’s filled with terror at the thought that the voices have found her out here, so far away from their source.
But as her mind awakens, she realizes that it’s a single voice and not the buzz of multiple creatures whispering.
Prometheus seems to be oblivious to them in his slumber, so she gets up and follows the voice to its source, behind the field and into the village. When she comes to a clearing, the form of Athena materializes before her and she’s filled with such reverence and longing that she’s made speechless.
She knows that she shouldn’t question Athena and that to ask Athena to place her loyalty with her father or her creation would be akin to blasphemy.
But she is as she was made, and so she says, “Have you come to test me further? Have I not done marvelously with the task I was given?”
“At the task given by Zeus or the one you have set out on yourself?” Athena asks.
“Do not speak to me in riddles. I have had enough of those to decipher here.”
“And have you? Deciphered them?”
“I know that jar is not filled with blessings,” she says. “But is it filled with something I should guard?”
Athena smiles and says, “You already know what is inside the jar.”
“Desire, despair, jealousy, plague, need,” says Pandora, naming all of the spirits she has identified, “And something that will grant relief to a wounded man whose body will not heal itself.”
“Death,” Athena says and names it for her.
“Death?” Pandora questions.
“Something to set humans apart from gods. To make their lives limited.”
“So it’s a mercy as well as a curse,” Pandora says.
“It is whatever humanity will make of it. As are other spirits.”
“But to unleash these creatures on men who are like children and cannot fend for themselves would be…malicious,” Pandora says, thinking back to Prometheus’ words.
“They won’t be children forever. Learning comes from suffering,” Athena says, “It is the eternal law.”
And just like that, she feels that she can trust Athena. So she asks, “What should I do?”
She does not expect an answer, not when Athena gave her the ability to question and the persistence to look for answers.
And she does not really get one, “You should continue your adventure,” Athena says. “You should…”
“Be bold?” Pandora asks.
“Be bold,” Athena confirms. And then says, “But not too bold, Pandora.”
Pandora nods and lets her lips curve into a smile, and as she watches Athena flicker out of sight, she hears the goddess’ departing words in her mind, “There’s still one spirit left to name. And you must name it first.”
She knows she has to return to her house, if she is to name the last spirit. So she lets Prometheus come back with her.
They do not talk about Epimetheus or Zeus, or even the jar, but these things are never far from either of their minds.
The spirits still talk to her, even as the jar remains locked inside her armoire. Prometheus never asks to see it, and she feels compelled to keep it to herself.
One day, he finds her tilting her head towards the armoire as he talks to her and feels her drifting off, so he says, “We should bury the jar.”
“Far away, so you can have some peace.”
When she shakes her head at that suggestion, he says, “I can take it away, so you would not know where it is, would not be lured by the spirits.”
“Do you not trust me?”
“I want to help you,” he says, “You should not have to guard this secret alone, nor be subjected to this madness.”
“I need more time,” she says, and he lets it go for now.
When she finds herself with child, in the coming months, she is glad to have Prometheus with her. He is the first to realize what she is suffering from and tells her what to expect.
She does not know if the child belongs to Prometheus or his brother, and in truth, she does not care. As she lies awake in her bed these nights, she expects the child to whisper to her, to make its existence known to her in some way, like the spirits inside the jar. But for now, she only has Prometheus’ words to confirm what she is going through.
As her belly begins to grow, the only thing she finds herself hoping for is that she is carrying a girl. A boy will belong to his father, to this world of men where she finds herself utterly alone. But a girl will be all hers; created in her own image, and perhaps then she’ll understand the vanity Prometheus sees in humanity.
Between the baby waking her up at night, and the voices keeping her from sleeping, her already tenuous hold on her mind seems to be slipping.
She does not know how long she’ll be carrying the baby, not even after Prometheus explained the passage of time in this instance, but she knows that she can let the spirits free whenever she wants.
But after months of listening to them, she is starting to doubt even Athena. Perhaps, she played a trick on her in telling her that there’s an unnamed spirit inside the jar, because even when she coaxes the voices to talk to her, to tell her about themselves, there’s nothing to be heard there that she hasn’t catalogued and identified already.
So she lets the months pass, lets Prometheus heal the pain inside her head, and lets the voices go on whispering.
One afternoon, when the silence of the house and the noise of the voices get to be too much for her, she goes out looking for Prometheus and finds herself at the temple.
She has avoided coming here in the past months, for the fear of running into Epimetheus. Prometheus does not speak of him being at the temple, but in her mind, her husband is not much different from the men who seem to occupy the temple at all times. There’s a simplicity to them both that she cannot help but feel disdain for, and she is not sure if this feeling came after Epimetheus left her, or if Prometheus is right and she has always held herself above these men.
She forgets that Prometheus, too, is inherently connected to these men, in his mind and deeds, at least, if not in hers. So she knows that she would find him here, before she ever sets foot inside the temple.
The wounded man from so long ago, whom she had completely forgotten, is still at the temple, and there are more there now. None of them ever recover, but they cannot die either. She finds Prometheus in a room filled with such men, and she wonders if maybe this is Zeus’ retribution and not whatever is in her jar.
As she waits for Prometheus to notice her presence and watches over these men, Pandora, for the first time perhaps, feels something other than indifference for these men. She feels pity, and she feels responsible for them, knowing that their fate lies in her hands. There is a sense of power in that, too, in being able to define the destiny of this race.
Her hand sits gently on her belly as she considers them, knowing that the fate of her child, too, will be linked to them.
When Prometheus notices her, he leaves their side and comes to her, placing his hand on her elbow and leading her out of the room.
She laughs and says, “I will not catch their wounds by looking at them.”
“You should not add to your worries,” he replies.
“Their fate does not concern me,” she says, and it is the closest she has come to lying to him. But the half-lie is more for her than for him.
“No, but the fate of your child does. And you worry that he’ll share these weaknesses.”
“I can help them, you know,” she offers.
“By unleashing Zeus’ curse on these men you have nothing but contempt for?” he asks, but his words are not an accusation.
“It does not have to be a curse. You are starting to become like them, in thinking everything a curse,” Pandora says, “The men say that my curiosity is a curse, but it is what sets me apart from them.”
“They mistrust what they have no experience of,” he says, “And you still think you are better than them.”
She says, “I do not compare myself to them. You think I am better than them.”
“I do think you are better than everyone else,” he agrees with a smile, and she can let this be the end of it.
But she says, “You cannot want these men to simper like sheep for all of their existence? They cut themselves with axes more than build anything for themselves, burn themselves with fire more often than use it for invention. Does it flatter you to have them be this far below you, so you can always hold yourself above them?”
“Does it flatter you to think you can save them?”
“I have never denied my vanity,” she says. “It is you who insists on wanting to be humble. Besides, I do not want to save them,” she says, “I want them to be worthy of your gifts, and they will never learn their use, not without these spirits you call curses.”
He considers her words for a time, before saying, “Pandora, you must not open that jar.”
“And you must never presume to tell me what to do,” she says, before turning away and tracing back her steps out of the temple.
The voices are already buzzing when she returns home, and it is easy to put the argument with Prometheus behind her with the spirits demanding her attention.
She knows they will always be at odds on this matter. Pandora has seen the gods, lived with them, and envied them. She would like nothing more than for her child to be blessed with the gifts of Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera, for her to have all the potential of the gods.
But Prometheus has seen the gods, too, and he has nothing but contempt for them. He needs his creation to be free of the taint of corruption that he sees in the gods.
And she will never know which one of them has it right until she opens that jar. The words of Athena echo in her mind, and merge into the whispers of the voices asking her to be bold, to let them out. And suddenly, she needs to know if her goddess had tricked her, if Prometheus was right about Athena.
She needs to know if Prometheus’ love for her will survive her doing something that goes against his principles, needs to know if he is worthy of her love, that she has guarded as closely as the jar itself.
And she must know the name of the last spirit, the one who seems to have eluded her thus far.
So in the end, it is her curiosity that compels her, but it is anything but a thoughtless choice.
She unlocks the armoire, takes out the jar and places it on her bed. Placing her hands on its intricately curved surface, she coaxes the voices to speak to her. But as if they can read her mind, they hold their peace in anticipation.
The silence is unnerving, and she hesitates. She knows that much suffering would come from this, even if she is right about this, before anything good comes. And she knows that she – and her child – will share in this suffering. The men will say that they were right about her, about her being a curse, being the form that Zeus’ retribution took. And they will never forgive her, but she does not need their adoration the way Prometheus does.
So she takes a deep breath, unhinges the latch, and opens the lid.
She is instantly taken aback by the force with which the spirits rush out of the jar, toppling it over, and she herself staggers backwards from it. They are louder now, as they escape from the jar and disappear once in the air.
She watches them leave, one by one, and they blur into each other. She cannot name them all now, even if she wanted to. The baby grows restless and Pandora places a hand on her belly to sooth it, and reaches for the jar with her other hand.
She peeks inside it as the spirits continue to rush out and through her, and she feels all of the things she’s held inside as they pass through her until she’s filled with a sense of despair. And so it is now that she sees, rather than hears, the last spirit. It is crawling its way out of the jar, unlike the other spirits, who had wings and took to the wind.
And she knows why this spirit has never spoken to her: it has no lure of its own, but it is inevitable in a world filled with death, despair, destruction, and with other spirits she’s let out. She knows also that the crux of Zeus’ plan rests on this spirit escaping. She names it Hopelessness and closes the jar before it can escape out into the world.
She will take whatever punishment Zeus has in store for her.
(It will always be said, later, that she played into Zeus’ hands. In truth, however, Hopelessness was Zeus’ main weapon against humanity. Having unleashed the spirits on mankind, it was going to be the last spirit that was going to ensure that men would give up on life and fade into oblivion, forfeiting the gifts given to them by Prometheus.)
The jar is still in her bed when the birth pangs start, and she drags herself into the bed. With her husband, Prometheus, and even the voices of the spirits gone, she’s utterly alone. But placing her hands on her belly, and feeling the tremors there, she has never felt so wholly connected to anything else.
She drifts into a restless sleep before another pang wakes her up, and she opens her eyes to find Athena sitting beside her, stroking her hair. She grimaces through the pain and tries to keep her eyes open and on Athena’s face, searching it for guidance in this.
“I think…,” Athena says, “I think you are supposed to push.”
“You think?” Pandora questions her.
“This is my first experience with birthing, too, Pandora,” Athena reminds her. “This has always been more of Artemis’ realm.”
And Pandora remembers that, like her, Athena is a motherless child, and a goddess who has chosen chastity and has deliberately removed herself from this sphere. Still, she is here now, for her.
She knows that she can call upon Artemis to come aid her in this, but she does not even wish to share this moment with Prometheus. So she tells Athena, “We will figure it out together.”
Athena smiles, and Pandora drifts off again.
When the baby comes, Athena herself pulls her out of Pandora’s womb, and she holds the baby to her chest and touches her forehead first with her fingers and then with her lips, blessing the infant with reason and curiosity.
This is the first human being that Athena herself hasn’t breathed life into, but the affection she feels for the child isn’t any less for that fact. She places the baby in Pandora’s arms and lets her rest.
“What does Zeus have in store for us?” Pandora asks, when she finds Athena still by her side upon waking.
“Nothing good,” says Athena.
“Will we survive it?” Pandora asks.
“Your daughter will,” Athena says, “I will protect her, and your descendants will have the potential to become like the gods, under my guidance.”
“Like the gods,” Pandora repeats, “I do not think Prometheus will be pleased with that.”
“Prometheus will have other things to concern him, in the coming days, and when time comes, he’ll be grateful for what you have set in motion.”
Before Pandora can ask more questions, Athena says, “Enough, Pandora. You must let life hold some of its mysteries. Or figure them out yourself.”
Athena runs the back of her fingers on the baby’s forehead, clasping Pandora’s hand in her other hand. As she slowly flickers out of sight, Pandora knows that she will not see her again.
She names her daughter Pyrrha and hopes for that to be the last time she names anything.
She finds Prometheus on a deserted mountaintop, after months of wandering around. She learned of his new punishment from Epimetheus. And even though she was warned, she is still surprised to see him chained to the rocks, being fed upon by a vulture.
The vulture takes flight as she approaches, and she watches as Prometheus’ wounds heal in front of her eyes.
“You opened the jar,” he says, as a way of greeting.
“You knew I would,” she replies.
“And now we must all pay the price.”
“Why are you being punished for what I did?”
“Did Athena not tell you this?” he asks.
She hasn’t seen Athena since she gave birth, but she has been having dreams that she attributes to the goddess. It was the dreams that led her here. Still, she shakes her head.
“Pandora,” he says, “At least, let me take some blame for this. My feud with Zeus is older than your creation.”
“But he was content to have you in exile,” she points out.
“Until you defied him, and he tried to punish you by punishing me,” Prometheus says. “Or Athena intervened on your behalf, made Zeus think you were harmless, and so directed his wrath towards me instead.”
“At least,” Pandora says, “You don’t think I am harmless anymore.”
He laughs and says, “I cannot blame you, not when what led you to open the jar are the things that drew me in.”
“And not when you wanted the same thing as me, to mold mankind to your liking.”
“Much suffering will come from your way,” he says.
“And your men will be better for it,” she says.
“Better at treachery, deceit, and all the pettiness of the gods,” he replies.
“And their wisdom, creativity, and aspirations,” she says, “We will never agree on this.”
“Given eternity, we might. I am not going anywhere.”
She hesitates, and then says, “I do not have an eternity,” thinking back to the spirit Athena named Death and to Athena’s prophecy about her daughter being the only human to survive Zeus’ planned retribution, but she does not tell him that.
“And that is as you wished it,” he tells her.
“It is,” she says, and maybe, she’s lying to him, but what she really regrets, more than her own coming doom, is that she will not get to see what she has set in motion.
“It is okay to admit regrets,” he tells her.
“You want me to have regrets so you can feel that your view of it was right, but I told you before, I will not be like your creation and bend to your will that easily.”
“That’s not what I want,” he says, and as if to prove his point, he says, “I regret not listening to you when you offered to help the men at the temple.”
“I do not regret opening the jar,” she says, and then gesturing towards his chains, adds, “But I do regret this.”
“I am to be rescued by one of your descendants, when the time comes, by one of these humans who will be like the gods,” he tells her.
“I am glad,” she says, knowing that she will not be there for that day.
For now, she stays there till nightfall, giving him respite from that day’s punishment.
Now that it's quiet, Pandora lets the jar sit outside her room, on a window sill. The intricate cravings on it are once again just a reminder of Athena, and she still traces her fingers along their ridges sometimes.
The men come to her now, when they need help with the harvest or need to show off some new invention. They still respect the rules set down by Epimetheus, and never step inside her house. So even out in the open, the jar is as safe as it was locked in her armoire.
When Pyrrha is old enough to start reaching above her head, and Pandora finds her tiny fingers just starting to touch the bottom of the jar, she knows that it is time for even this reminder of Olympus to go.
She remembers Prometheus' words, but she does not think that she wants the jar hidden too far away from her. So she finds an empty patch of grass just outside the window of her room, and she digs into the earth as far as she can, and she buries the jar inside.