A Book of Myths

Page: 6

But Prometheus looked to Zeus in vain; compassion he had none. Then, in infinite pity, Prometheus bethought himself of a power belonging to the gods alone and unshared by any living creature on the earth.

“We shall give Fire to the Man whom we have made,” he said to Epimethus. To Epimethus this seemed an impossibility, but to Prometheus nothing was impossible. He bided his time and, unseen by the gods, he made his way into Olympus, lighted a hollow torch with a spark from the chariot of the Sun and hastened back to earth with this royal gift to Man. Assuredly no other gift could have brought him more completely the empire that has since been his. No longer did he tremble and cower in the darkness of caves when Zeus hurled his lightnings across the sky. No more did he dread the animals that hunted him and drove him in terror before them.

Armed with fire, the beasts became his vassals. With fire he forged weapons, defied the frost and cold, coined [Pg 4] money, made implements for tillage, introduced the arts, and was able to destroy as well as to create.

From his throne on Olympus, Zeus looked down on the earth and saw, with wonder, airy columns of blue-grey smoke that curled upwards to the sky. He watched more closely, and realised with terrible wrath that the moving flowers of red and gold that he saw in that land that the Titans shared with men, came from fire, that had hitherto been the gods’ own sacred power. Speedily he assembled a council of the gods to mete out to Prometheus a punishment fit for the blasphemous daring of his crime. This council decided at length to create a thing that should for evermore charm the souls and hearts of men, and yet, for evermore, be man’s undoing.

To Vulcan, god of fire, whose province Prometheus had insulted, was given the work of fashioning out of clay and water the creature by which the honour of the gods was to be avenged. “The lame Vulcan,” says Hesiod, poet of Greek mythology, “formed out of the earth an image resembling a chaste virgin. Pallas Athené, of the blue eyes, hastened to ornament her and to robe her in a white tunic. She dressed on the crown of her head a long veil, skilfully fashioned and admirable to see; she crowned her forehead with graceful garlands of newly-opened flowers and a golden diadem that the lame Vulcan, the illustrious god, had made with his own hands to please the puissant Jove. On this crown Vulcan had chiselled the innumerable animals that the continents and the sea nourish in their bosoms, all endowed with a marvellous grace and apparently alive. When he had [Pg 5] finally completed, instead of some useful work, this illustrious masterpiece, he brought into the assembly this virgin, proud of the ornaments with which she had been decked by the blue-eyed goddess, daughter of a powerful sire.” To this beautiful creature, destined by the gods to be man’s destroyer, each of them gave a gift. From Aphrodite she got beauty, from Apollo music, from Hermes the gift of a winning tongue. And when all that great company in Olympus had bestowed their gifts, they named the woman Pandora—“Gifted by all the Gods.” Thus equipped for victory, Pandora was led by Hermes to the world that was thenceforward to be her home. As a gift from the gods she was presented to Prometheus.

But Prometheus, gazing in wonder at the violet blue eyes bestowed by Aphrodite, that looked wonderingly back into his own as if they were indeed as innocent as two violets wet with the morning dew, hardened his great heart, and would have none of her. As a hero—a worthy descendant of Titans—said in later years, “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes,”—“I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.” And Prometheus, the greatly-daring, knowing that he merited the anger of the gods, saw treachery in a gift outwardly so perfect. Not only would he not accept this exquisite creature for his own, but he hastened to caution his brother also to refuse her.

But well were they named Prometheus (Forethought) and Epimethus (Afterthought). For Epimethus it was enough to look at this peerless woman, sent from the gods, for him to love her and to believe in her utterly. She was the fairest thing on earth, [Pg 6] worthy indeed of the deathless gods who had created her. Perfect, too, was the happiness that she brought with her to Epimethus. Before her coming, as he well knew now, the fair world had been incomplete. Since she came the fragrant flowers had grown more sweet for him, the song of the birds more full of melody. He found new life in Pandora and marvelled how his brother could ever have fancied that she could bring to the world aught but peace and joyousness.

Now when the gods had entrusted to the Titan brothers the endowment of all living things upon the earth, they had been careful to withhold everything that might bring into the world pain, sickness, anxiety, bitterness of heart, remorse, or soul-crushing sorrow. All these hurtful things were imprisoned in a coffer which was given into the care of the trusty Epimethus.

To Pandora the world into which she came was all fresh, all new, quite full of unexpected joys and delightful surprises. It was a world of mystery, but mystery of which her great, adoring, simple Titan held the golden key. When she saw the coffer which never was opened, what then more natural than that she should ask Epimethus what it contained? But the contents were known only to the gods. Epimethus was unable to answer. Day by day, the curiosity of Pandora increased. To her the gods had never given anything but good. Surely there must be here gifts more precious still. What if the Olympians had destined her to be the one to open the casket, and had sent her to earth in order that she might bestow on this dear world, on the men who lived on it, [Pg 7] and on her own magnificent Titan, happiness and blessings which only the minds of gods could have conceived? Thus did there come a day when Pandora, unconscious instrument in the hands of a vengeful Olympian, in all faith, and with the courage that is born of faith and of love, opened the lid of the prison-house of evil. And as from coffers in the old Egyptian tombs, the live plague can still rush forth and slay, the long-imprisoned evils rushed forth upon the fair earth and on the human beings who lived on it—malignant, ruthless, fierce, treacherous, and cruel—poisoning, slaying, devouring. Plague and pestilence and murder, envy and malice and revenge and all viciousness—an ugly wolf-pack indeed was that one let loose by Pandora. Terror, doubt, misery, had all rushed straightway to attack her heart, while the evils of which she had never dreamed stung mind and soul into dismay and horror, when, by hastily shutting the lid of the coffer, she tried to undo the evil she had done.