The myth of Pandora is one of the first myths that I can remember learning about. I distinctly recall when I discovered my mother’s book of ancient Greek myths on an upper shelf of our living room bookcase. I climbed up two shelves to retrieve it and took it down to the couch, where I poured over the scratchy pictures of humans that looked more bird than man, decked inflowy robes with faded coloring. I’m sure that I asked my mother to read me other myths first, but the legend of Pandora and her box stuck. I can still picture the illustration at the end. Poor Pandora, her hair awry, thrusting away the ornate gold box filled with evil eyes and monsters as they rushed out at her.
According to my memory of the book that I had as a child, the Pandora story was fairly simple. She received a box from the gods who told her not to open it, took it home to her husband who wouldn’t accept it, and then, thanks to her foolish curiosity, disobeyed the gods and released suffering into the world. The bit about hope being left behind didn’t make that much of an impression on my little 4 year old mind.
But the beauty of Mahonri Stewart’s play is that he takes familiar (and not so familiar) mythological characters and incorporates them into his play for very specific purposes. Pandora is such a character. And because of her story’s function, Stewart uses more of the myth than I learned about as a child. Pandora was used specifically by Zeus and his fellows to punish Prometheus (the creator of humankind) by inflicting suffering and pain upon his children. She was flattered and groomed, sent on her way to deliver the box to Prometheus’ brother, and left to battle with her insatiable curiosity. In Stewart’s version it isn’t much of a battle, really. Just two lines of unbearable torture before the box is opened. But instead of leaving the story there, where Pandora is left to be cursed by mankind for inflicting horrors upon them, Stewart latches onto the idea of hope and turns myth into allegory and Titan into a type and shadow of Christ. “What have I done?” cries out Pandora, in despair. Prometheus appears, chained to his rock of torment. “Come to me,” he asks. “Look in the box.” And Pandora does so, seeing the hope that Zeus left behind. This hope is a major theme that Stewart explores with his other characters and their dilemmas throughout the play: Erysichton’s decision to – as much as he tries to deny it – have hope in Phoebe’s quest, Phoebe’s hope in her gift, Prometheus’ hope in the children that he chooses to fulfill his mission to save humankind.
I adore the story of Pandora even more now that I remember the hope that’s a part of it. I haveloved the opportunity I’ve had to really get to know the character and her story these past two weeks as I’ve rehearsed her scene. She’s a girl – a human – just like the rest of us, a girl who – just like the rest of us – makes mistakes. And yet, despite her terrible crimes, she lets hope light up her face and her heart. It’s a beautiful thing, hope is. It’s what makes the myth of Pandora one worth re-telling over, and over, and over again. And it’s my favorite thematic element ofPrometheus Unbound.