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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Non-comic-related: Thoughts on Greek Legends...

I mentioned in my last post that I'm a little too literal-minded for religion most of the time. I don't necessarily think I lack imagination, but I admit, sometimes the symbolism is beyond me and I start focusing on tiny bits that don't make sense to me.

Take the Pandora story from Ancient Greek myth/religion. Ragnell's tried to explain this to me for ages.

Okay, I get the part where she's cursed with curiosity and opens the box and lets out all the evil and slams it shut with hope inside. But why is it a good thing that she slammed hope inside? I thought the big deal with the evils was that they were trapped there and she released them. Wouldn't she then have just trapped hope when she slammed it shut again? Wouldn't it have been better to let hope out too?

Ragnell tried to explain it to me as symbolism, as the box being the human heart. So letting evil out (i.e. acting on that evil upon others) is bad, but keeping hope in the heart is good. Which I kind of get, but still, wouldn't it be better to let hope out?

I mean, assuming that opening the box and letting out the evil means inflicting it on other people. Wouldn't it be better to spread hope to other people instead of selfishly keeping it locked away? I think hope can be spread, as evidenced by politicians' speeches, priests' sermons and the like, so why not let it out too?

Moreover, harboring evil in your heart even unexpressed seems like a bad idea. Anyone who's prone to repression knows how unhappy that sort of thing makes you and how much it festers and poisons...

Maybe it loses something in translation?

Actually, that brings me to another matter I've always been curious about. Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus/forethought is the smart one, right? Steals fire, brings it down, teaches people how to sacrifice, et cetera. Epimetheus/afterthought is the dumb one. He married Pandora, when Prometheus is all "Eek, don't, she's a trap" and I guess helps facilitate the whole unleashing evil thing in that respect.

Though considering that, at least in the stories *I* read, the Pandora thing was in retaliation for Prometheus's actions, then I'd still place as much culpability on him as his brother.

But anyway, if you think about it. Prometheus, who's the smart one, ends up chained to a rock with a vulture eating his organs every day until some thug with a mother complex breaks him out. Epimetheus on the other hand...gets a hot wife and gets to be the father of one of the versions of the human race.


So really, if you think about it, who's really the smart one? Mr. Vulture-food? Or guy-with-hot-wife-and-kids?

I'm just saying I know which one sounds better to me.

I think what this says about me is that, origins of my name aside, I would be remarkably ill-suited to life in Ancient Greece. :-P I'd totally have gotten smited.


  • At June 12, 2008 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Whoever said there weren't evil gods? More precisely, some gods didn't care about right or wrong much, cause they're gods. Power and influence perhaps, but not right and wrong.

    Gods are not the human's buddies, gods want to be worshipped and feared.

    Ancient Greek gods were notorious for being fickle.

    Somehow though, I could easily see you doing the Vestal Virgin thing for some reason. ^_^ (though I think that's more Roman, didn't the Greeks have a variation of it?)

  • At June 12, 2008 1:24 AM, Blogger K. D. Bryan said…

    Huh. The way I heard it, Pandora left the box open and everything in it ran out EXCEPT Hope, which she found lying at the bottom of the box. She then proceeded to share with others to make up for her misdeed.

    I have nothing else to add except that I really liked the Prometheus story in Hercules/Xena. :P

  • At June 12, 2008 7:57 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Arstal: My issue with the stories isn't right and wrong though. My issue is the (percieved) logical fallacy. That has nothing to do with morality.

    If evil escaping the box causes it to go out in the world and that's bad, why is keeping hope locked inside good?

    K.D.Bryan: That version makes more sense than the ones I heard. :-)

  • At June 12, 2008 8:25 AM, Blogger Greg Sanders said…

    The hope thing always confused me too. k. d. bryan's version definitely makes more sense, but it isn't the one I've heard.

    As for Prometheus, perhaps he gave fire to humanity full well knowing the consequences. Makes him more of a hero I suppose.

  • At June 12, 2008 8:34 AM, Blogger elad said…

    I always took the story as a tragedy, as in it wasn't a good thing that pandora closed the box before hope got out, she just didn't know that was the only thing left in the box.

  • At June 12, 2008 8:56 AM, Blogger Jer said…

    Actually, look up Pandora on Wikipedia and you get a gist that the story isn't so straightforward. There's a good discussion about the origins of the Pandora myth there, along with various interpretations of what it's supposed to mean. I've read a number of these interpretations before (books about the ancient roots of mythology are one of my favorite non-fiction areas to read), but the wikipedia page is a good refresher.

    One idea is that the original story had all of the "blessings" of the gods in the box and that Pandora's opening of the box let all of those blessings leave humanity - except for hope that remained trapped.

    In general, a lot of ancient myths run together to create other myths. The impression I got years ago was that the Pandora myth stemmed from the same place as the Eve myth. In both myths a woman does something she was explicitly told NOT to do by some divine figure and unintentionally releases evil into the world. And in some versions of the myth, Pandora is even identified as the first woman. (Even though Prometheus gave fire to mankind before Pandora showed up).

  • At June 12, 2008 9:10 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    I always equated the Epimetheus and Pandora characters with Adam and Eve. Same basic results, and as usual, it was always the woman's fault. But then again, all four of them were dumb as rocks.

  • At June 12, 2008 12:58 PM, Blogger Moriarty said…

    Oh Kalinara... everyone knows hope isn't trapped in a box. It's trapped in a blue ring.

  • At June 12, 2008 1:19 PM, Blogger Brainfreeze said…

    I always felt that it had more to do with possession and control--that once the evils were out in the world, they were out of human hands and out of human control. Hope, which stayed on its own, is still within our grasp.

  • At June 12, 2008 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I read somewhere that hope was grouped with all the other "evils" in the Pandora myth because hope was considered evil. Hope was considered to be a delusion that prevented people from dealing with and accepting reality.

    Oh, and the reason that Epimetheus was considered to get a raw deal was because, according to Hesiod, women were inherently evil. (Pandora is described as having the mind of a b****, among other things.) So Epimetheus got a hot wife, but one with a . . . less than pleasant disposition.

  • At June 12, 2008 5:05 PM, Blogger Will Staples said…

    All I wanna know is how a Titan like Epimetheus could get it on with a reg'lar-size woman...

  • At June 13, 2008 3:16 AM, Blogger Flidget Jerome said…

    Ooooh, don't diss Prometheus or it's on!

    Actually if you look at Prometheus' literary history he just increasingly becomes this angsty Marty Stu for the ancient Greek writers, the unappreciated great guy who did all these awesome things for people only to be whaled on even more by the powers that be just for being cooler and nicer than they were.

    He's like a shoujo manga hero in a toga. Anyway, that's why he doesn't get the blame.

  • At June 16, 2008 4:11 PM, Blogger Joe said…

    Well, as jer noted, myths and legends go through many reinterpretations over the years--even in the same generation (the ancient Athenian playwrights didn't characterize mythic figures the same way from play to play). That's why I'm a big fan of things like the Marvel Ultimate line, or Elseworlds/What If stories, etc.--these characters are our modern mythology, and can (and should) be reinterpreted to address our society, not shackled to whatever 1930s or 1960s ideals originally inspired them.

    Like most myths and legends, the story of Prometheus and Pandora probably wasn't originally conceived to be literature (in all likelihood it was part of an oral tradition first), but to explain something about the world. And yes, it does parallel the Adam and Eve story:

    1) Humanity receives a spark of the divine. Prometheus gives humanity fire (which can symbolize reason, intellect, or civilization)/Eve partakes of the Fruit of Knowledge (which most probably symbolizes humanity's ability to consciously make moral choices).

    2) The god(s) are upset and punish humanity.

    3) Humanity is now subject to the evils and sufferings of existence.

    Thus, the myth explains why life is hard and some people are bad even though there are supposedly powerful, benevolent beings watching over us.

    Both are "fall from grace" myths, in that they suggest in the golden past human existence was easy and idyllic, but at some point our ancestors screwed up and ruined it for everyone. This would have made sense to the ancients, whose role in society would have been largely dictated by who their father or grandfather was (hence concepts like hereditary title and "the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son"), but as our society officially preaches equality and individuality, we see this as a horrible concept.

    And I think lady-h hits it on the nose that the ancient Greeks would have either considered hope to be evil, or that humanity has been denied hope. Look at their concept of the afterlife: a dull, dreary eternity as a forlorn, largely mindless shade in Hades.


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