Ogygia or Archeology and Pandora’s “Box”

In 1815, a Greek scholar and author by the name of Athanasios Stagiritis[1] (1780 – 1840) published in Katharevousa (an early form of the modern Greek language) one of the most important texts on the Ancient Greek tradition titled Gr. Ὠγυγία ἤ Ἀρχαιολογία (En. Ogygia or Archeology).  This 5-volume text explores the ancient Greek tradition, its customs and society, including numerous annotations of poets and writers of that time.  The original text is extremely rare to find and was only recently reprinted in Modern Greek after almost 200 years in obscurity.  Moreover, it has never been translated into English.  Even though it is impossible to transfer the totality of its wealth here, it is important to share some of its content in order to inspire interest in the author and in the text, specifically on his transmission of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box – a myth which first appears in written form in Hesiod’s Theogony (800-700 BCE) (lines 560–612)[2], and is later elaborated upon in his Works and Days (700 BCE) (lines 60–105)[3]. The Pandora myth offers a timeless message of hope that is as relevant today as it ever was, while providing a meaningful connection to the divine. The text that follows is an English translation of Pandora’s myth as it appears in Stagiritis’ first volume of Ogygia or Archeology. 

Pandora’s “Box”

(English Translation from the original Katharevousa Greek, by Tony Crisos)

When Prometheus stole fire from Ouranos (sky or the heavens), he provoked the wrath of Zeus who said to Prometheus: “Prometheus you fooled me and stole the fire because you wanted to give fire to Earth.  So, I will give you fire but not the kind of fire that will be beneficial, but destructive to you and all of your descendants.”  Then he asked from Hephaestus to create a beautiful woman from clay, because there were no women yet, and all the Gods gave her valuable gifts.  Aphrodite gave her beauty, Athena gave her women’s duties, the Graces gave her necklaces, the Hours flowers, and Hermes [gave her] words of beauty and talkativeness, but he also gave her the ability to lie and a character inclined to deception and sneakiness.  Then he gathered all these evils, closed them in a box and gave it to her.  After that, he asked Hermes to take her to Epimetheus.  Some say that he (Zeus) sent her first to Prometheus, but realizing the act of sneakiness, he did not accept her, and she was sent to Epimetheus.  Upon seeing her exceptional beauty, Epimetheus forgot all about his brother’s warnings and accepted her.  Seeing her box also made him very curious about what was inside and he urged her to open it.  So in order to please him, she opened the box and all the evils stormed out like a stream.  When Pandora saw this, she immediately closed the box.  Unnecessarily so, since everything managed to get out besides hope, since all the others were light and flexible but she (hope) was heavy, slow moving, negligent, and she fell asleep resulting in her remaining closed in the box.  All the other evils spread everywhere and illnesses and old age and everything else spread out to the whole world, while before that humans lived peacefully and happily, having everything that was good for them.   

Philosophical Analysis of the Myth

(by Tony Crisos and Angelo Nasios)

The name Pandora is understood today as the “giver of all.[4]”  Etymologically speaking, it is also closely related to the frequently used epithet of the Earth, “Pandoros” (Gr. Πάνδωρος), clarifying the true nature of Pandora even further.  In its feminine or female form, the name can also be explained as all-endowed (i.e. by the gods).[5]  In another and more rare variation that can be seen in an Attic white ground kylix[6] dating approximately 470 – 460 BCE, Pandora’s name makes its appearance as Anesidora, which literarily means sending up gifts[7].  Ansesidora also happened to be a known epithet of the Earth[8].  In ancient polytheistic Greece, the people and especially the philosophers and priesthood of the mystery traditions did not view Earth exclusively as one of the natural elements, but also as the entire world of creation and formation at the sensible level of reality.  This sensible level of reality, in essence, comprises all that can be perceived by human senses, as the word sensible denotes, and it is subject to observation and scientific analysis.  So Pandora as an archetype represents the richness of Earth, as explained above, as well the lower part of our humanity, the Chthonic.   Therefore any misconceptions and misogynistic interpretations deriving from the myth need to be put to rest now that we have separated the symbol (Pandora) from what it symbolizes (the richness of the Earth), and not to confuse the two, believing Pandora to be truly sneaky or even evil.

In a similar manner, we can understand Pandora’s “box” using a more appropriate noun: “jar”. The jar is an ancient symbol of the vessel (our mortal bodies) that holds the gifts of the Gods as told in the myth above.  In Hesiod’s Works and Days, the word appears as jar, not box, hence the preference for the more accurate noun.  The Greek word πίθος (En. jar)[9], as it is found in the ancient text, has been wrongly translated as box.  This mistranslation has been perpetuated across generations and up to our times, leading to various misconceptions and misunderstandings of this great symbol.  This final piece of information properly adjusts our understanding of Pandora and her jar with the ancient Greek tradition, making her true nature and purpose clear.

Continuing with the analysis, we see the creator God Zeus, the Divine mind of the Cosmos, creating like a master builder does, and in unison with the lord of forms Hephaestus, he forms Pandora out of clay.  Clay as a symbol here can be understood as the mixture of primordial Earth and Water, the Protomatter, as well as the causality of cosmic life.  However, human life needs a spirit in order to become animated, so a new event takes place.  It is only through the use of Fire/Logos by Hephaestus, the master craftsman of Olympus who acts upon the clay, that Zeus activates life in human form out of clay, bringing Pandora to life.

Up to this point, the mythmaker seeks to reveal – to those worthy of unraveling it – a lesson concerning the nature of human life, mind, and soul as we understand them from our experience here on earth, while pointing directly to their divine origin.  In the myth, Prometheus is the archetypal aspect of the mind that can comprehend consequences and avoid them.  Epimetheus, on the other hand, reflects the part of ourselves that trusts the senses too easily, leading us astray. Eventually, the myth reveals that when the emotive part of the soul obeys the appetitive part, we harm ourselves.

Nevertheless, the soul can be mended and healed in the end. The one thing left in the box is hope.  Hope harmonizes and resolves the tension created by the mythmaker.  While the contents of the jar are labeled evil in this version of the story, we should not conclude that the contents are all evil.  Hope is singled out as the only good that can aid us in living life in a world full of suffering.  Hope is comforting and healing.

In Odysseus’ long journey home to Ithaca, the one thing he had was hope in the Gods.  Hope should not be without effort however, as Hesiod tells us in Works and Days (line 500) that “[a] man who does not work, waiting upon an empty hope, in need of the means of life, says many evil things to his spirit.”[10]  Idle hope does not provide; we must work towards that which we hope for.  Hope without action leads to the sayings of “evil things to the spirit,” resulting in not cultivating the soul to fulfillment, and letting it fall into chaos.  Odysseus hoped and worked his way home.

The myth also teaches that we each have a Pandora’s jar of our own. Symbolizing the richness of the Earth, we are to protect, maintain, and cultivate the gifts given to us by the divine.  Using reason as our guide to prevent us from falling victim to ignorance, we can and must work to avoid releasing evils into the world through our words and actions.

References

“Αθανάσιος Σταγειρίτης.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Jan. 2018, https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/Αθανάσιος_Σταγειρίτης

“Πανδώρα.” LSJ: The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=79757&context=lsj&action=from-search.

“cup.” Collection Online, the British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=461511&partId=1&searchText=pandora&page=1

“ἀνησιδώρα.” LSJ: The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=9004&context=lsj&action=from-search

“πίθος.”  LSJ: The Online Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon, Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=85635&context=lsj&action=from-search

“Hesiod, Theogony.” Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text.jsp?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0130%3Acard%3D585

“Hesiod, Works and Days.” Perseus Digital Library, Tufts University, www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0132:card=59

Hesiod. Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia. Edited & Translated by Glenn W. Most, Harvard Univ Press, 2018.

[1] Αθανάσιος Σταγειρίτης

[2] Hesiod, Theogony

[3] Hesiod, Works and Days

[4] Πανδώρα

[5] Πανδώρα

[6] cup

[7] ἀνησιδώρα

[8] ἀνησιδώρα

[9] πίθος

[10] Hesiod & Most, 2018

Tony Crisos is a guitarist, educator, philosopher, and esoteric arts practitioner, born in Greece and now living in the USA.
Angelo Nasios is an author, blogger, and graduate student in history studying ancient cultures and religions.

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