Pandora’s dilemma

I was having a conversation today that touched on the concept of “Pandora’s box” — the ancient Greek myth about the first woman, who through simple curiosity opened a container (actually a “pithos“, or jar, not a box) that unleashed evil into the world.

Of course there is a parallel here with Eve partaking of the apple from the tree of knowledge. I find the Greek version more compelling, since the act of opening a jar to see what is inside is such a perfect metaphor for our quest for knowledge.

Pandora was facing a dilemma. If she left the pithos unopened, then all of the human potential that arises from our wonderfully curious minds would have been left unexplored. Yet if she opened it (a metaphor for leaving childhood behind if there ever was one), the world could never again be innocent.

In my mind this story paints Pandora as a very positive figure, although Greek and Christian philosophy often paint Pandora and Eve in a negative light. For what defines us, as humans, if not our quest for knowledge? If the gods punish us for this quest, it is because the gods are jealous.

Should Pandora have left the jar unopened? If you embrace enlightenment, curiosity, science and the quest to honestly try to understand the world around you, then you come to the conclusion that her only choice was to embrace the tragedy, and to open the damned thing.

2 thoughts on “Pandora’s dilemma”

  1. Mormonism reinterprets the story in Genesis in the same way– that it was a defiance of the law of God, but a good and necessary thing to do to become fully human.

  2. Thanks Doug. It’s also a fundamental component of the Enlightenment view that encompasses our modern acceptance of empirically based science. To be a scientist requires, on some level, fundamentally rejecting the cautionary advice not to wander too close to the provenance of the gods. That cautionary advice variously shows up in such varied forms as the myth of Prometheus, the tale of the Golem, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, James Cameron’s Terminator series and a good number of stories by Michael Crichton.

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