In the far-away days, before men had learned many truths which they now know, they believed that for a long time man lived by himself without the companionship of wife or sister; and sometimes, when vexed by their fair companions, or tormented, it may be, by their own selfishness, they would invent stories telling that woman was sent upon earth to bring evil into their lives. Evidently they did not wish to remember the many blessings which they owed to her.
Some of these stories remind us of our first mother, and the one I am going to tell is about a fair woman who, like Eve, brought misfortune to her husband as well as blessings.
But it was not entirely her fault, because she was sent by Jupiter to do this; and his first intention was that she should bring evil only. In the end, as you will hear, she also brought a very precious gift.
Jupiter was very angry with the earth-dwellers. Another god, in pity of their toilsome lives, had stolen from heaven the sacred fire which had been denied to them, and in jealous wrath Jupiter determined to send another gift to man which should seem to be even more desirable than the first, but which should work him great harm. And the god laughed within himself at the thought of the trick he would play upon puny man.
First he called upon Vulcan to mould from clay a female form which should rival in its perfect beauty the very goddesses themselves. Now Vulcan was the artist-god, and not even the statue which Pygmalion carved and which Venus changed into a living woman was so beautiful as the figure which took shape under his hands. Nor did the other godi and goddesses stand idly by. Each added some grace and some adornment to this masterpiece, until at last the figure of a beauteous maid, most gifted of her kind, full of life and vigour, and in every way fulfilling the command of Jupiter, stood before him,
But Vulcan, though proud of his handiwork, was not yet satisfied. He was a famous worker in metals, and possessed a wonderful forge, upon which he could forge the thunderbolts of Jupiter or any smaller thing, and he resolved to crown the maiden with a gift such as even he had never excelled.
And well did he fulfil his purpose. Upon her head he placed a golden mitre wrought with such skill that the very figures upon its ornamented border seemed to be alive.
And now, sure that so beautiful a gift could not be refused, Jupiter commanded that the maiden should be called Pandora and that she should be taken to the palace of Epimetheus.
She was quickly borne to earth by the ever-ready Mercury, and if the gods were delighted with her, much more did Epimetheus receive her with joy. True, he had been warned not to accept a gift from heaven lest he should bring woes upon the earth. But if he remembered this it seemed easier to risk future ills than to resign so much present happiness; and so he did not hesitate to take Pandora for his bride.
For a long time they lived happily together in their beautiful home in sunny Greece, and it must have seemed to Epimetheus that the woes predicted would not come to pass. Perhaps, even, he laughed at the thought of anything unpleasant coming through his charming wife. But the gods do not forget their purposes. Jupiter had sent another gift to the palace of Pandora's husband in the shape of a finely carved casket, and inscribed on this was a warning that it must not be opened until the gods permitted.
Pandora often felt a great desire to open this casket, but she tried not to yield to the temptation. She loved her husband dearly, and would not for the world have brought misfortune upon him. However, the purpose of Jupiter was stronger than her will, and so one day her curiosity got the upper hand, and in a weak moment she raised the lid.
Poor Pandora! The air was immediately filled with strange fluttering shapes, many of which, too well she knew, would carry dark ills abroad and scatter diseases throughout the earth. Full of horror, and very much frightened, Pandora shut down the lid as quickly as she could, but everything had escaped, save the spirit of Hope, which Jupiter, perhaps a little sorry at the last, had willed should remain.
And so to this day, as a poet has sung, "hope springs eternal in the human breast"; and man strives against evil and misfortune with courage born of the hope which Pandora brought from the gods, and which happily she preserved for her husband and mankind.