Gateway to the Classics: Gods and Heroes by R. E. Francillon
Gods and Heroes by  R. E. Francillon

The First Man; or, The Story of Prometheus and Pandora

O NE of the Titans left two sons, Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus means Forethought, and Epimetheus means Afterthought. Now Prometheus was not big and strong like the other Titans, but he was more clever and cunning than all of them put together. And he said to himself, "Well, the gods have shown themselves stronger than we. We can't conquer them by fighting, that's clear. But there are cleverer ways of winning than by fighting, as they shall see."

So Prometheus dug up a good-sized lump of clay, more than six feet long, and nearly four feet round. And now, said he to himself, "I only want just one little spark of Heavenly Fire."

Now the Heavenly Fire is only to be found in the sky; and Jupiter had ordered that no Titan was ever to enter the sky again. But Prometheus was much too clever to find any difficulty about that. The great goddess Minerva, who is the goddess of Wisdom, happened to be on a visit to the earth just then, so Prometheus called upon her and said:—

"Great goddess, I am only a poor, beaten Titan, and I have never seen the sky. But my father and my father's father used to live there in the good old times, and I should like, just once, to see the inside of the beautiful blue place above the clouds which was once their home. Please, great goddess, let me go in just once, and I'll promise to do no harm."

Now Minerva did not like to break the rule. But she was very trusting and very good-natured, because she was very wise; and besides, Prometheus looked such a poor little creature, so different from all the other Titans and Giants, that she said:—

"You certainly don't look as if you could do us any harm, even if you tried. Very well—you shall have a look at the sky, and I'll show you round."

So she told Prometheus to follow her up Mount Olympus; but she did not notice a little twig that he carried in his hand: and if she had noticed it, she would not have thought it mattered. Wise people don't notice all the little things that cunning people do. Then she opened the golden gate of the sky, and let him in. She was very kind, and showed him everything. He went over the palace of the gods, and saw Jupiter's great ivory throne, and his eagle, and the brew-house where the nectar is made. He looked at the places behind the clouds, where they keep the rain and snow. Then they looked at all the stars; and at last they came to the Stables of the Sun. For you must know that the sun is a great fiery car, drawn by four white horses from the east to the west, and is put away in a stable during the night-time, where the four horses eat wheat made of gold.

"Now you have seen everything," said Minerva; "and you must go."

"Thank you," said Prometheus. And he went back to earth again. But just as he was leaving, he touched one of the wheels of the sun with his little twig, so that a spark came off upon the end.

The spark was still there when he got home. He touched his lump of clay with the spark of Heavenly Fire—and, lo and behold, the lump of clay became a living man!

"There!" said Prometheus. "There's Something that will give the gods more trouble than anything that ever was made!"

It was the First Man.

Jupiter very soon found out what Prometheus had done, and was very vexed and annoyed. He forgave Minerva, who was his favorite daughter, but he said to the god of Fire: "Make something that will trouble the man even more than the man will trouble me."

So the god of Fire took another lump of clay, and a great deal of Heavenly Flame, and made the First Woman.

All the gods admired her very much, for she had been made very nicely—better than the man. Jupiter said to her, "My child, go to Prometheus and give him my compliments, and tell him to marry you." The gods and goddesses thought it a good idea, and all of them made her presents for her wedding. One gave her beauty, another wit, another fine clothes, and so on; but Jupiter only gave her a little box, which was not to be opened till her wedding-day.

Prometheus was sitting one day at his door, thinking how clever he was, when he saw, coming down Olympus, the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. As soon as she came close—

"Who are you?" he asked. "From where do you come?"

"My name is Pandora," said she. "And I am come from the skies to marry you."

"With all my heart," said Prometheus. "You will be a very nice wife, I am sure. But—let me see—Pandora means 'All Gifts,' doesn't it? What have you got to give me, to keep house upon?"

"The gods have given me everything!" said Pandora. "I bring you Beauty, Wit, Love, Wisdom, Health, Wealth, Virtue, Fine Clothes—in a word, everything that you can wish for."

"And that little box—what have you in that?" asked he.

"Oh, that's only a little box that Jupiter gave me—I don't know what's in that, for it is not to be opened till after we're married. Perhaps it is diamonds."

"Who gave it you?" asked he.

"Jupiter," said Pandora.

"Oho!" thought the cunning Prometheus. "Secret boxes from Jupiter are not to my fancy. My dear," he said to Pandora, "on second thoughts, I don't think I will marry you. But as you've had so much trouble in coming, I'll send you to my brother Epimetheus, and you shall marry him. He'll do just as well."

So Pandora went on to Epimetheus, and he married her. But Prometheus had sent him a private message not to open the box that had been given by Jupiter. So it was put away, and everything went on very well for a long time.

But, at last, Pandora happened to be alone in the house; and she could not resist the temptation to just take one little peep into the box to see what was inside. Such a little box could not hold any harm: and it might be the most beautiful present of all. Anyhow, she could do no harm by lifting the lid; she could easily shut it up again. She felt she was doing what would displease Epimetheus, and was rather ashamed of her curiosity, but—well, she did open the box. And then—out there flew thousands and thousands of creatures, like a swarm of wasps and flies, buzzing and darting about with joy to be free. Out at the window, and over the world they flew. Alas! they were all the evil things that are in the world to torment and hurt mankind. Those flies from Pandora's box were War, Pain, Grief, Anger, Sickness, Sorrow, Poverty, Death, Sin. What could she do? She could not get them back into the box again; she could only scream and wring her hands. Epimetheus heard her cries, and did all he could: he shut down the lid, just in time to keep the very last of the swarm from flying away. By good luck, it was the only one worth keeping—a little creature called Hope, who still lives in the box to comfort us when the others are stinging us, and to make us say, "There is good in everything—even in the box of Pandora."

But Jupiter, when he heard how Prometheus had refused to marry Pandora, and had tried to outwit him again, was very angry indeed. He sent down one of the gods, who took Prometheus and carried him to Mount Caucasus, and bound him to the highest and coldest peak with chains. And a vulture was sent to gnaw his heart forever.

So cunning could not conquer the strength of the gods after all.

I have something to say about this story, which you may not quite understand now, but which you will, some day, when you read it again. Think how Man is made of dead common clay, but with one spark of Heavenly Fire straight from the sky. Think how Woman is made, with less clay, but with more of the Heavenly Fire. Think of that "Afterthought," which saved Hope when there was nothing else to be saved, and think of the Pain sent to gnaw the heart of Prometheus, who used all his cleverness to make himself great in wrong-doing.

You will be glad to hear that, a long time afterwards, the greatest and best man in all Mythology came and killed the vulture, and set Prometheus free. You will read all about it in time. But I want you to know and remember the man's name. It was Hercules.

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