Bible Characters in Greek Mythology - Eve and Pandora
One interesting aspect of Greek mythology is that is contains many of the same stories that you would read within the first eleven books of the Bible. These include stories about the creation of man and his fall from grace, the disobedience of the woman, stories about figures that resemble Cain and the sons of Lamech, and a great flood account. There are also stories of great migrations of people following the flood. Interestingly enough, most Ancient Greeks created their time lines according to the flood.
Greek mythology begins with the story of Kaos, and how the gods and goddesses were created. It then moves to the creation of mankind and how man disobeyed the gods and fell from grace. The Greeks taught that this first man and woman lived in paradise, much like gods. They were free from disease, work or sorrow, and never wanted for anything.
Actually only one thing was asked of them. In the account of Hesiod, in his Theogony, we are told that they were entrusted with a jar that contained the evils of the world. According to Hesiod, writing about 570 BC, humans received gifts from the god of fire, Prometheus, which was not well accepted by Zeus. He decided to punish men by giving them a gift that would limit the gifts that Prometheus had given to them. He commanded Hephaestus, the god of artisans, to craft a woman out of the ground. She was in fact to be referred to as the “beautiful evil,” and her role was to torment men. After Hephaestus created her Athena came and dressed her in silvery gowns and garlands. This made her irresistible to men. In this particular account we are not told her name, but we are told that when she was first presented to man and gods that “wonder seized them.” Hesiod then tells us in Theogony 590-93:
From her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth.
Interestingly Hesiod tells us that men who tried to avoid women by refusing to marry them did no better. Theogony 604-7 tells us:
He reaches deadly old age without anyone to tend his years, and though he at least has no lack of livelihood while he lives, yet, when he is dead, his kinsfolk divide his possessions amongst them.
This is the root of where we get the saying, “can't live with 'em; can't live without ‘em.”
Hesiod provided no additional details about her in Theogony, but he did return to tell more about her in his poems Work and Days. In these poems Hesiod teaches more about the misery that women caused upon men. He tells us that many gods came and finished in her the work that was started by Athena and Hephaestus. Aphrodite added grace, Charites gave her jewelry and necklaces, Horae a garland crown, and Hermes gave her a shameful mind full of deceit. Hermes then names her Pandora, which means “all gifted.”
One of the last gifts she is given is a jar that contained “burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men (Work and Days 91-2).” It is also contained disease (102) and a myriad of other pains (100). It is told that Prometheus warned his brother not to accept the gift of Zeus, knowing that she would destroy men, but he refused to listen.
Pandora then opens the jar and makes “the earth and sea full of evils.” (101) There is one item in the jar that does not escape however. 96-9 tells us:
Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house, she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not fly away. Before [she could], Pandora replaced the lid of the jar. This was the will of aegis-bearing Zeus the Cloudgatherer.
Homer also tells us a story of the fall of mankind, but his story is a bit different, and also quite similar to the Bible account. In his story, the man, whose name is never given, and Pandora, whose name is also not given, are given two jars by Zeus. One was the jar of good things, while the other was the jar of evil ways. In his tale the woman is simply too tempted not to open the jar of evil and once she does she corrupts the whole earth.
This account clearly bears a great deal of resemblance to the story of Adam and Eve. There is one significant difference that is presented by the Greeks that Paul attempted to correct in his writings. Greek mythology attributed the unleashing of sin on the world to Pandora, while the Bible is very clear that Adam was the one that was responsible for this. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:22:
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
While Eve may have been the first sinner (1 Timothy 2:14), it was Adam who brought sin into the world. Greek mythology presents that Pandora was the one who brought sin and evil into the world.
I did want to mention that there are, of course, a group of scholars and feminists who have vehemently battled with the established belief that Pandora was evil in nature. Jane Ellen Harrison, a British author and scholar living in the later 19 th century, states that earlier myths present her originally as a great goddess. I have not found these earlier myths, but I will take Ms. Harrison at her word. What I find interesting about her analysis is that she states that these earlier myths call Pandora a “life-giver.” That I find interesting, because Eve means “life-giver.”
She may be right that Hesiod added a male perspective to the story of Pandora, and that Pandora was originally an amazing woman who brought life. Even if she did open the jar and unleash evil, that still does not mean that she was not amazing. It is quite likely that Hesiod presented her with an extreme point of view.
There is no doubt that the Greeks have drawn off the Biblical account however. They have simply modified the story. What makes this more interesting is that Homer's account was written prior to Hesiod's. I think this shows that there was a tendency over the years to make Pandora a greater culprit in the story than should have been attributed to her. That as time went on she became a bigger villain in the story.