Pandora and the birth of civilization
Posted by Fredsvenn on December 4, 2015
In Greek mythology, Pandora (derived from pān, i.e. “all” and dōron, i.e. “gift”, thus “the all-endowed”, “the all-gifted” or “the all-giving”) was the first human woman created by the gods, specifically by Hephaestus and Athena on the instructions of Zeus. As Hesiod related it, each god helped create her by giving her unique gifts.
Zeus ordered Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes, to mold her out of earth as part of the punishment of humanity for Prometheus’ theft of the secret of fire, and all the gods joined in offering her “seductive gifts”.
In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was the son of Zeus and Hera, the king and queen of the gods. In another version, he was Hera’s parthenogenous child, rejected by his mother because of his deformity and thrown out of heaven and down to earth. His Roman equivalent is Vulcan.
Aside from being the sculptor of man and the giver of fire, Prometheus is also said to have fathered the Greek Noah, Deucalion, who in turn married Pyrrha, the daughter of Epithemeus and Pandora, namesake to Thessaly, and the first mortal who was born.
In some versions of the story, Pyrrha would have a daughter who was also called Pandora, and she would become mother of Graecus, father of the Greeks, and Latinus, father of the Latins.
Her other name is Anesidora, “she who sends up gifts” (up implying “from below” within the earth). More commonly, however, the epithet anesidora is applied to Gaea or Demeter.
The figures of Eve in the Book of Genesis and Pandora in the Works and Days have some striking similarities. Each is the first woman in the world; and each is a central character in a story of transition from an original state of plenty and ease to one of suffering and death, a transition which is brought about in revenge for a transgression of divine law.
Both Eve and Pandora were given only one “divine prohibition” in their otherwise idyllic lives, and both found themselves irresistibly drawn to “violate” their one prohibition, thus risking/ inviting dire and profound consequences for all.
There are also major differences. Eve was created to help Adam, Pandora to bring punishment to the men who benefited from the crime (Prometheus having been punished separately).
According to the myth, Pandora opened a jar (pithos), in modern accounts sometimes mistranslated as “Pandora’s box”, releasing all the evils of humanity – although the particular evils, aside from plagues and diseases, are not specified in detail by Hesiod – leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again.
Epimetheus, alarmed by his brother’s fate, hastened to marry Pandora, whom Zeus had made as foolish, mischievous, and idle as she was beautiful – the first of a long line of such women.
Presently she opened a jar, which Prometheus had warned Epimetheus to keep closed, and in which he had been at pains to imprison all the spites that might plague mankind: such as old age, labour, sickness, insanity, vice, and passion.
Out these flew in a cloud, stung Epimetheus and Pandora in every part of their bodies, and then attacked the race of mortals. Delusive hope, however, whom Prometheus had also shut in the jar, discouraged them by her lies from a general suicide.
In Sumerian mythology, a me or ñe, also known as parşu, is one of the decrees of the gods foundational to those social institutions, religious practices, technologies, behaviors, mores, and human conditions that make civilization, as the Sumerians understood it, possible. They are fundamental to the Sumerian understanding of the relationship between humanity and the gods.
Each me represented some kind of cultural art, but also included many different abstract concepts, including: heroism, power, righteousness and wickedness, forthright and deceitful speech, rejoicing and lamenting, priestly and kingly offices, shrines and taverns, various jobs, rituals, inventions like the sword and the club, the plundering of cities, arts of love-making, cultic and non-cultic prostitution, music, and most notably, the kindling of fire.
Not all the mes are admirable or desirable traits. Alongside functions like “heroship” and “victory” we also find “the destruction of cities”, “falsehood”, and “enmity”. The Sumerians apparently considered such evils and sins an inevitable part of humanity’s lot in life, divinely and inscrutably decreed, and not to be questioned.
The mes were originally collected by Enlil and then handed over to the guardianship of Enki who was to broker them out to the various Sumerian centers beginning with his own city of Eridu and continuing with Ur, Meluhha, and Dilmun.
This is described in the poem, “Enki and the World Order” which also details how he parcels out responsibility for various crafts and natural phenomena to the lesser gods.
Here the mes of various places are extolled but are not themselves clearly specified, and they seem to be distinct from the individual responsibilities of each divinity as they are mentioned in conjunction with specific places rather than gods.
After a considerable amount of self-glorification on the part of Enki, his daughter Inanna comes before him with a complaint that she has been given short shrift on her divine spheres of influence. Enki does his best to placate her by pointing out those she does in fact possess.
There is no direct connection implied in the mythological cycle between this poem and that which is our main source of information on the mes, “Inanna and Enki: The Transfer of the Arts of Civilization from Eridu to Uruk”, but once again Inanna’s discontent is a theme.
She is the tutelary deity of Uruk and desires to increase its influence and glory by bringing the mes to it from Eridu. She travels to Enki’s Eridu shrine, the E-abzu, in her “boat of heaven”, and asks the mes from him after he is drunk, whereupon he complies.
After she departs with them, he comes to his senses and notices they are missing from their usual place, and on being informed what he did with them attempts to retrieve them. The attempt fails and Inanna triumphantly delivers them to Uruk.
In the Sumerian story of Inanna and Enki: The Transfer of the Arts of Civilization from Eridu to Erech, Inanna goes to Enki’s temple in the Abyss, where she gets him drunk and seduces him into giving her the secret arts called me’s.
Inanna loaded these me’s into her Boat of Heaven and takes them to Uruk despite Enki sending 50 giants out to stop her. Like Prometheus, Enki is said to have been reluctant in allowing Pandora’s box to be opened. Although Enki is at first angry when Uruk receives the magical arts and begins to practice them, he eventually relents and decides to declare a festival in Uruk.
The Book of Enoch and other Dead Sea Scrolls give a very similar interpretation as well, identifying weapons, cosmetics, jewelry, and other tools of burgeoning civilization as being the cause for the primal Fall of Man.
The story of Inanna’s descent to the underworld is a relatively well-attested and reconstructed composition.The attested laws of the underworld dictate that, with the exception of appointed messengers, those who enter it could never leave.
Inanna dresses elaborately for the visit, with a turban, a wig, a lapis lazuli necklace, beads upon her breast, the ‘pala dress’ (the ladyship garment), mascara, pectoral, a golden ring on her hand, and she held a lapis lazuli measuring rod. These garments are each representations of powerful mes she possesses. Perhaps Inanna’s garments, unsuitable for a funeral, along with Inanna’s haughty behavior, make Ereshkigal suspicious.
Following Ereshkigal’s instructions, the gatekeeper tells Inanna she may enter the first gate of the underworld, but she must hand over her lapis lazuli measuring rod. She asks why, and is told ‘It is just the ways of the Underworld’. She obliges and passes through. Inanna passes through a total of seven gates, at each one removing a piece of clothing or jewelry she had been wearing at the start of her journey, thus stripping her of her power.
Ereshkigal, too, is bound by the laws of the underworld; she can not leave her kingdom of the underworld to join the other ‘living’ deities, and they can not visit her in the underworld, or else they can never return. Inanna symbolized erotic love and fertility, and contrasts with Ereshkigal.
Demons of Ereshkigal’s followed (or accompanied) Inanna out of the underworld, and insisted that she wasn’t free to go until someone took her place. They first came upon Ninshubur and attempted to take her. Inanna refused, as Ninshubur was her loyal servant, who had rightly mourned her while she was in the underworld. They next came upon Cara, Inanna’s beautician, still in mourning. The demons said they would take him, but Inanna refused, as he too had mourned her. They next came upon Lulal, also in mourning. The demons offered to take him, but Inanna refused.
They next came upon Dumuzi, Inanna’s husband. Despite Inanna’s fate, and in contrast to the other individuals who were properly mourning Inanna, Dumuzi was lavishly clothed and resting beneath a tree. Inanna, displeased, decrees that the demons shall take him, using language which echoes the speech Ereshkigal gave while condemning her. Dumuzi is then taken to the underworld.
Ekur is a Sumerian term meaning “mountain house”. It is the assembly of the gods in the Garden of the gods, parallel in Greek mythology to Mount Olympus and was the most revered and sacred building of ancient Sumer.
In the Hymn to Enlil, the Ekur is closely linked to Enlil whilst in Enlil and Ninlil it is the abode of the Annuaki, from where Enlil is banished. The fall of Ekur is described in the Lament for Ur.
The Anunnaki (also transcribed as: Anunaki, Anunna, Anunnaku, Ananaki and other variations) are a group of deities in ancient Mesopotamian cultures (i.e., Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian).
The name is variously written “da-nuna”, “da-nuna-ke-ne”, or “da-nun-na”, meaning “princely offspring” or “offspring of Anu”. According to The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, the Anunnaki: “…are the Sumerian deities of the old primordial line; they are chthonic deities of fertility, associated eventually with the underworld, where they became judges. They take their name from the old sky god An (Anu).”
The Sumerian en is translated as a title equivalent to “lord”. Ensí (spelled PA.TE.SI in Sumerian cuneiform, hence occasionally transliterated as patesi; possibly derived from <en si-k>, “lord of the plowland”; borrowed into Akkadian as iššakkum) is a Sumerian title designating the ruler or prince of a city state.
In ancient Greek religion, Ananke, also spelled Anangke, Anance, or Anagke (from the common noun for “force, constraint, necessity”), was the personification of inevitability, compulsion and necessity, depicted as holding a spindle. In the philosophical sense it means “necessity”, “logical necessity” or “laws of nature”.
One of the Protogenoi, Ananke marks the beginning of the cosmos, along with her father and consort, Chronos (Chronos protogenos — not the titan Cronus). She was seen as the most powerful dictator of all fate and circumstance which meant that mortals, as well as the Gods, respected her and paid homage. Considered as the mother of the Fates according to one version, she is the only one to have control over their decisions (except, according to some sources, also Zeus).
According to the ancient Greek traveller Pausanias, there was a temple in ancient Corinth where the goddesses Ananke and Bia (meaning violence or violent haste) were worshipped together in the same shrine. Her Roman counterpart was Necessitas (“necessity”).
Uttu (weaver or spider, the weaver of the web of life) in Sumerian mythology is the goddess of weaving and clothing. She is both the child of Enki and Ninkur, and she bears seven new child/trees from Enki, the eighth being the Ti (Tree of “Life”, associated with the “Rib”). When Enki then ate Uttu’s children, Ninhursag cursed him with eight wounds and disappears. Uttu in Sumerian means “the woven” and she was illustrated as a spider in a web.
In Hurrian mythology, the Hutena are goddesses of fate. They are similar to the Norns of Norse mythology or the Moirai of ancient Greece. They are called the Gul Ses (Gul-Shesh; Gulshesh; Gul-ashshesh) in Hittite mythology.
Hannahannah (from Hittite hanna- “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess Inanna. She was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat. Christopher Siren reports that she is associated with the Gulses.
The mother goddess Hannahannah promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara then disappears. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahannah with a bee. The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth.
Inara’s mother is probably Hebat, also transcribed, Kheba or Khepat, the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living”. She is also a Queen of the deities. During Aramaean times Hebat also appears to have become identified with the goddess Hawwah, or Eve.
Ninti, the title of Ninhursag, also means “the mother of all living”, and was a title given to the later Hurrian goddess Kheba. This is also the title given in the Bible to Eve, the Hebrew and Aramaic Ḥawwah (חוה), who was made from the rib of Adam, in a strange reflection of the Sumerian myth, in which Adam — not Enki — walks in the Garden of Paradise.
In mythology, the Ekur was the centre of the earth and location where heaven and earth were united. It is also known as Duranki and one of its structures is known as the Kiur (“great place”).
The Ekur was seen as a place of judgement and the place from which Enlil’s divine laws are issued. The ethics and moral values of the site are extolled in myths, which Samuel Noah Kramer suggested would have made it the most ethically-oriented in the entire ancient Near East.
Peter Jensen also associated the Ekur with the underworld in “Die Kosmologie der Babylonier”, where he translated it as a settlement of demons. The location also appears in Ludlul bēl nēmeqi and other myths as a home of demons who go out into the land.
It is noted by Wayne Horowitz that in none of the bilingual texts do the demons appear to be “going upwards” but “outwards”, contrary to what would be expected if Ekur referred to later concepts such as Sheol, Hades and Hell, which were believed to be located under the surface of the earth.
In Mesopotamian mythology, Kur (Sumerian) or Ersetu (Akkadian) is the underworld from which there is no return. It was also called earth of no return, Kurnugia in Sumerian and Erset la tari in Akkadian. Kur is ruled by the goddess Ereshkigal and her consort, the death god Nergal.
Irkalla was originally another name for Ereshkigal, who ruled the underworld alone until Nergal was sent to the underworld and seduced Ereshkigal (in Babylonian mythology). Both the deity and the location were called Irkalla, much like how Hades in Greek mythology is both the name of the underworld and the god who ruled it.
The Sumerian netherworld was a place for the bodies of the dead to exist after death. One passed through the seven gates on their journey through the portal to the netherworld leaving articles of clothing and adornment at each gate, not necessarily by choice as there was a guardian at each gate to extract a toll for one’s passage and to keep one from going the wrong way.
Morris Jastrow discussed the place of the Ekur in Sumerian cosmology, “Another name which specifies the relationship of Aralu to the world is Ekur or ‘mountain house’ of the dead. Ekur is one of the names for the earth, but is applied more particularly to that part of the mountain, also known as E-khar-sag-kurkura (É.ḪAR.SAG.KUR.KUR-‘a’ “house of the mountain of all lands”) where the gods were born.
The cosmogenic myth common in Sumer was that of the hieros gamos, a sacred marriage where divine principles in the form of dualistic opposites came together as male and female to give birth to the cosmos.
Before the later speculative view was developed, according to which the gods, or most of them, have their seats in heaven, it was on this mountain also that the gods were supposed to dwell. Hence Ekur became also one of the names for temple, as the seat of a god.”
Hursag (transcribed cuneiform: ḫur.saḡ(HUR.SAG)) is a Sumerian term variously translated as meaning “mountain”, “hill”, “foothills” or “piedmont”. Thorkild Jacobsen extrapolated the translation in his later career to mean literally, “head of the valleys”.
In a myth variously entitled by Samuel Noah Kramer as “The Deeds and Exploits of Ninurta” and later Ninurta Myth Lugal-e by Thorkild Jacobsen, Hursag is described as a mound of stones constructed by Ninurta after his defeat of a demon called Asag.
Ninurta’s mother Ninlil visits the location after this great victory. In return for her love and loyalty, Ninurta gives Ninlil the hursag as a gift. Her name is consequentially changed from Ninlil to Ninhursag or the “mistress of the Hursag”. In Sumerian mythology, Ninhursag was a mother goddess of the mountains.
According to legend her name was changed from Ninmah to Ninhursag by her son Ninurta in order to commemorate his creation of the mountains. As Ninmenna, according to a Babylonian investiture ritual, she placed the golden crown on the king in the Eanna temple. Inanna’s primary temple of worship was the Eanna, located in Uruk (c.f. Worship).
Ishara (išḫara) is an ancient deity of unknown origin from northern modern Syria. She first appeared in Ebla and was incorporated to the Hurrian pantheon from which she found her way to the Hittite pantheon. In Hurrian and Semitic traditions, Išḫara is a love goddess, often identified with Ishtar. Her main epithet was belet rame, lady of love, which was also applied to Ishtar.
Ishtar is the East Semitic Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. She is the counterpart to the Sumerian Inanna, and the cognate for the Northwest Semitic Aramean goddess Astarte.
Ishara is the Hittite word for “treaty, binding promise”, also personified as a goddess of the oath. As a goddess, Ishara could inflict severe bodily penalties to oathbreakers, in particular ascites.
In this context, she came to be seen as a “goddess of medicine” whose pity was invoked in case of illness. There was even a verb, isharis- “to be afflicted by the illness of Ishara”.
Her astrological embodiment is the constellation Scorpio and she is called the mother of the Sebitti (the Seven Stars), a group of seven minor war gods in Babylonian and Akkadian tradition. They are the children of the god Anu and follow the god Erra into battle. They are, in differing traditions, of good and evil influence.
Variants of the name appear as Ašḫara (in a treaty of Naram-Sin of Akkad with Hita of Elam) and Ušḫara (in Ugarite texts). In Ebla, there were various logographic spellings involving the sign AMA “mother”. In Alalah, her name was written with the Akkadogram IŠTAR plus a phonetic complement -ra, as IŠTAR-ra.
One of the most important goddesses of reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion is the personification of dawn as a beautiful young woman. Her name is reconstructed as Hausōs (PIE *hewsṓs- or *hausōs-, an s-stem), besides numerous epithets.
The name *h₂ewsṓs is derived from a root *h₂wes / *au̯es “to shine”, thus translating to “the shining one”. Both the English word east and the Latin auster “south” are from a root cognate adjective *aws-t(e)ro-. Also cognate is aurum “gold”, from *awso-. The name for “spring season”, *wes-r- is also from the same root.
Besides the name most amenable to reconstruction, *h₂ewsṓs, a number of epithets of the dawn goddess may be reconstructed with some certainty. Among these is *wenos- (also an s-stem), whence Sanskrit vanas “loveliness; desire”, used of Uṣas in the Rigveda, and the Latin name Venus and the Norse Vanir. The name indicates that the goddess was imagined as a beautiful nubile woman, who also had aspects of a love goddess.
Other epithets include Erigone “early-born” in Greek. In Greek mythology, Erigone was the daughter of Icarius of Athens. Icarius was cordial towards Dionysus, who gave his shepherds wine. They became intoxicated and killed Icarius, thinking he had poisoned them. His daughter, Erigone, and her dog, Maera, found his body. Erigone hanged herself over her father’s grave.
Dionysus was angry and punished Athens by making all of the city’s maidens commit suicide in the same way. Dionysus placed Erigone in the sky as the constellations Virgo, Icarius as the constellation Boötes, and Maera as the star Procyon, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Minor.
The abduction and imprisonment of the dawn goddess, and her liberation by a heroic god slaying the dragon who imprisons her, is a central myth of Indo-European religion, reflected in numerous traditions.
The dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring, involved in the mythology of the Indo-European new year, where the dawn goddess is liberated from imprisonment by a god (reflected in the Rigveda as Indra, in Greek mythology as Dionysus and Cronus).
The more famous version of the Pandora myth comes from another of Hesiod’s poems, Works and Days. In this version of the myth, Hesiod expands upon her origin, and moreover widens the scope of the misery she inflicts on humanity.
As before, she is created by Hephaestus, but now more gods contribute to her completion: Athena taught her needlework and weaving; Aphrodite “shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs”; Hermes gave her “a shameful mind and deceitful nature”; Hermes also gave her the power of speech, putting in her “lies and crafty words”; Athena then clothed her; next she, Persuasion and the Charites adorned her with necklaces and other finery; the Horae adorned her with a garland crown. Finally, Hermes gives this woman a name: Pandora – “All-gifted” – “because all the Olympians gave her a gift”.
In this retelling of her story, Pandora’s deceitful feminine nature becomes the least of humanity’s worries. For she brings with her a jar (which, due to textual corruption in the sixteenth century, came to be called a box) containing “burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men”, diseases and “a myriad other pains”.
Prometheus had (fearing further reprisals) warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus. But Epimetheus did not listen; he accepted Pandora, who promptly scattered the contents of her jar. As a result, Hesiod tells us, “the earth and sea are full of evils”.
One item, however, did not escape the jar: Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house, she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not fly away. Before [she could], Pandora replaced the lid of the jar. This was the will of aegis-bearing Zeus the Cloudgatherer. Hesiod does not say why hope (elpis) remained in the jar. He closes with this moral: “Thus it is not possible to escape the mind of Zeus.”
Hesiod also outlines how the end of man’s Golden Age, (an all-male society of immortals who were reverent to the gods, worked hard, and ate from abundant groves of fruit) was brought on by Prometheus, when he stole Fire from Mt. Olympus and gave it to mortal man, Zeus punished the technologically advanced society by creating woman.
Thus, Pandora was created as the first woman and given the jar (mistranslated as ‘box’) which releases all evils upon man. The opening of the jar serves as the beginning of the Silver Age, in which man is now subject to death, and with the introduction of woman to birth as well, giving rise to the cycle of death and rebirth. The civilization has begun.
Shamhat (or Šamhat, also called Shamkat in the old Babylonian version of Gilgamesh”) is a female character who appears in Tablets I and II of the Epic of Gilgamesh and is mentioned in Tablet VII. She is a sacred prostitute who plays a significant role in bringing the wild man Enkidu into contact with civilization.
Sacred prostitution, temple prostitution, or religious prostitution is a sexual ritual consisting of sexual intercourse or other sexual activity performed in the context of religious worship, perhaps as a form of fertility rite and divine marriage (hieros gamos).
Shamhat plays the integral role in Tablet I, of taming the wild man Enkidu, who was created by the gods as the rival to the mighty Gilgamesh. Shamhat is a sacred temple prostitute or harimtu. She uses her attractiveness to tempt Enkidu from the wild, and his ‘wildness’, civilizing him through continued sexual intercourse.
Unfortunately for Enkidu, after he enjoys Shamhat for “seven days and seven nights”, his former companions, the wild animals, turn away from him in fright, at the watering hole where they congregated.
Shamhat persuades him to follow her and join the civilized world in the city of Uruk, where Gilgamesh is king, rejecting his former life in the wild with the wild animals of the hills. Henceforth, Gilgamesh and Enkidu become the best of friends and undergo many adventures (starting with the Cedar Forest and the encounter with Humbaba.)
When Enkidu is dying he expresses his anger at Shamhat for making him civilized, blaming her for bringing him to the new world of experiences that has led to his death. He curses her to become an outcast. The god Shamash reminds Enkidu that Shamhat fed and clothed him. Enkidu relents and blesses her saying that all men will desire her and offer her gifts of jewels.
Shamat’s name means literally “the luscious one”. Her role in bringing Enkidu from nature to civilization through sex has been widely discussed. Rivkah Harris argues that “the intermediate role of the prostitute in transforming Enkidu from one at home with nature and wild animals into a human being is crucial”.
According to classicist Paul Friedrich, Shamhat’s sexual skills establish “the connection between artful, or sophisticated sensuousness and civilization”. Her sexual arts lead Enkidu to understand how basic animal urges can be transformed into something sophisticated, or “civilized”.
Mesopotamians believed that prostitution was one of the basic features of civilization: “a prime representative of urban life”. Shamhat then becomes Enkidu’s urbane “mother”, teaching him the basics of civilized life, eating, drinking wine, and dressing himself.