Age Of Fable Or Beauties Of Mythology
Author: Bulfinch, Thomas

Chapter II: Prometheus And Pandora.

The creation of the world is a problem naturally fitted to excite the
liveliest interest of man, its inhabitant. The ancient pagans, not having the
information on the subject which we derive from the pages of Scripture, had
their own way of telling the story, which is as follows: -

Before earth, and sea, and heaven were created, all things wore one
aspect, to which we give the name of Chaos - a confused and shapeless mass,
nothing but dead weight, in which, however, slumbered the seeds of things
Earth, sea, and air were all mixed up together; so the earth was not solid,
the sea was not fluid, and the air was not transparent. God and Nature at
last interposed, and put an end to this discord, separating earth from sea,
and heaven from both. The fiery part, being the lightest, sprang up, and
formed the skies; the air was next in weight and place. The earth, being
heavier, sank below and the water took the lowest place, and buoyed up the

Here some god - it is not known which - gave his good offices in
arranging and disposing the earth. He appointed rivers and bays their places,
raised mountains, scooped out valleys, distributed woods, fountains, fertile
fields, and stony plains. The air being cleared, the stars began to appear,
fishes took possession of the sea, birds of the air, and four-footed beasts of
the land.

But a nobler animal was wanted, and Man was made. It is not known
whether the Creator made him of divine materials, or whether in the earth, so
lately separated from heaven, there lurked still some heavenly seeds.
Prometheus took some of this earth, and kneading it up with water, made man in
the image of the gods. He gave him an upright stature, so that while all
other animals turn their faces downward, and look to the earth, he raises his
to heaven, and gazes on the stars.

Prometheus was one of the Titans, a gigantic race, who inhabited the
earth before the creation of man. To him and his brother Epimetheus was
committed the office of making man, and providing him and all other animals
with the faculties necessary for their preservation. Epimetheus undertook to
do this, and Prometheus was to overlook his work, when it was done. Epimetheus
accordingly proceeded to bestow upon the different animals the various gifts
of courage, strength, swiftness, sagacity; wings to one, claws to another, a
shelly covering to a third, etc. But when man came to be provided for, who
was to be superior to all other animals, Epimetheus had been so prodigal of
his resources that he had nothing left to bestow upon him. In his perplexity
he resorted to his brother Prometheus, who, with the aid of Minerva, went up
to heaven, and lighted his torch at the chariot of the sun, and brought down
fire to man. With this gift man was more than a match for all other animals.
It enabled him to make weapons wherewith to subdue them; tools with which to
cultivate the earth; to warm his dwelling, so as to be comparatively
independent of climate; and finally to introduce the arts and to coin money,
the means of trade and commerce.

Woman was not yet made. The story (absurd enough!) is, that Jupiter made
her, and sent her to Prometheus and his brother, to punish them for their
presumption in stealing fire from heaven; and man, for accepting the gift.
The first woman was named Pandora. She was made in heaven, every god
contributing something to perfect her. Venus gave her beauty, Mercury
persuasion, Apollo music, etc. Thus equipped, she was conveyed to earth, and
presented to Epimetheus, who gladly accepted her, though cautioned by his
brother to beware of Jupiter and his gifts. Epimetheus had in his house a
jar, in which were kept certain noxious articles, for which, in fitting man
for his new abode, he had had no occasion. Pandora was seized with an eager
curiosity to know what this jar contained; and one day she slipped off the
cover and looked in. Forthwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for
hapless man, - such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy,
spite, and revenge for his mind, - and scattered themselves far and wide.
Pandora hastened to replace the lid; but, alas! the whole contents of the jar
had escaped, one thing only excepted, which lay at the bottom, and that was
hope. So we see at this day, whatever evils are abroad, hope never entirely
leaves us; and while we have that, no amount of other ills can make us
completely wretched.

Another story is, that Pandora was sent in good faith, by Jupiter, to
bless man; that she was furnished with a box, containing her marriage
presents, into which every god had put some blessing. She opened the box
incautiously, and the blessings all escaped, hope only excepted. This story
seems more probable than the former; for how could hope, so precious a jewel
as it is, have been kept in a jar full of all manner of evils, as in the
former statement?

The world being thus furnished with inhabitants, the first age was an age
of innocence and happiness, called the Golden Age. Truth and right prevailed,
though not enforced by law, nor was there any magistrate to threaten or
punish. The forest had not yet been robbed of its trees to furnish timbers
for vessels, nor had men built fortifications round their towns. There were
no such things as swords, spears, or helmets. The earth brought forth all
things necessary for man, without his labor in ploughing or sowing. Perpetual
spring reigned, flowers sprang up without seed, the rivers flowed with milk
and wine, and yellow honey distilled from the oaks.

Then succeeded the Silver Age, inferior to the golden, but better than
that of brass. Jupiter shortened the spring, and divided the year into
seasons. Then, first, men had to endure the extremes of heat and cold, and
houses became necessary. Caves were the first dwellings, and leafy coverts of
the woods, and huts woven of twigs. Crops would no longer grow without
planting. The farmer was obliged to sow the seed, and the toiling ox to draw
the plough.

Next came the Brazen Age, more savage of temper and readier to the strife
of arms, yet not altogether wicked. The hardest and worst was the Iron Age.
Crime burst in like a flood; modesty, truth, and honor fled. In their places
came fraud and cunning, violence, and the wicked love of gain. Then seamen
spread sails to the wind, and the trees were torn from the mountains to serve
for keels to ships, and vex the face of ocean. The earth, which till now had
been cultivated in common, began to be divided off into possessions. Men were
not satisfied with what the surface produced, but must dig into its bowels,
and draw forth from thence the ores of metals. Mischievous iron, and more
mischievous gold, were produced. War sprang up, using both as weapons; the
guest was not safe in his friend's house; and sons-in-law and fathers-in-law,
brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, could not trust one another. Sons
wished their fathers dead, that they might come to the inheritance; family
love lay prostrate. The earth was wet with slaughter, and the gods abandoned
it, one by one, till Astraea ^* alone was left, and finally she also took her

[Footnote *: The goddess of innocence and purity. After leaving earth, she
was placed among the stars, where she became the constellation Virgo - the
Virgin. Themis (Justice) was the mother of Astraea. She is represented as
holding aloft a pair of scales, in which she weighs the claims of opposing

It was a favorite idea of the old poets, that these goddesses would one
day return, and bring back the Golden Age. Even in a Christian Hymn, the
Messiah of Pope, this idea occurs.

"All crimes shall cease, and ancient fraud shall fail,
Returning Justice lift aloft her scale,
Peace o'er the world her olive wand extend,
And white-robed Innocence from heaven descend."

See, also, Milton's Hymn to the Nativity, stanzas xiv. and xv]

Jupiter, seeing this state of things, burned with anger. He summoned the
gods to council. They obeyed the call, and took the road to the palace of
heaven. The road, which any one may see in a clear night, stretches across
the face of the sky, and is called the Milky Way. Along the road stand the
palaces of the illustrious gods; the common people of the skies live apart, on
either side. Jupiter addressed the assembly. He set forth the frightful
condition of things on the earth, and closed by announcing his intention to
destroy the whole of its inhabitants, and provide a new race, unlike the
first, who would be more worthy of life, and much better worshippers of the
gods. So saying he took a thunderbolt, and was about to launch it at the
world, and destroy it by burning; but recollecting the danger that such a
conflagration might set heaven itself on fire, he changed his plan, and
resolved to drown it. The north wind, which scatters the clouds, was chained
up; the south was sent out, and soon covered all the face of heaven with a
cloak of pitchy darkness. The clouds, driven together, resound with a crash;
torrents of rain fall; the crops are laid low; the year's labor of the
husbandman perishes in an hour. Jupiter, not satisfied with his own waters,
calls on his brother Neptune to aid him with his. He lets loose the rivers,
and pours them over the land. At the same time, he heaves the land with an
earthquake, and brings in the reflux of the ocean over the shores. Flocks,
herds, men, and houses are swept away and temples, with their sacred
enclosures, profaned. If any edifice remained standing, it was overwhelmed,
and its turrets lay hid beneath the waves. Now all was sea, sea without
shore. Here and there an individual remained on a projecting hill-top, and a
few, in boats, pulled the oar where they had lately driven the plough. The
fishes swim among the tree-tops; the anchor is let down into a garden. Where
the graceful lambs played but now unwieldy sea calves gambol. The wolf swims
among the sheep, the yellow lions and tigers struggle in the water. The
strength of the wild boar serves him not, nor his swiftness the stag. The
birds fall with weary wing into the water, having found no land for a
resting-place. Those living beings whom the water spared fell a prey to

Parnassus alone, of all the mountains, overtopped the waves; and there
Deucalion, and his wife Pyrrha, of the race of Prometheus, found refuge - he a
just man, and she a faithful worshipper of the gods. Jupiter, when he saw
none left alive but this pair, and remembered their harmless lives and pious
demeanor, ordered the north winds to drive away the clouds, and disclose the
skies to earth, and earth to the skies. Neptune also directed Triton to blow
on his shell, and sound a retreat to the waters. The waters obeyed, and the
sea returned to its shores, and the rivers to their channels. Then Deucalion
thus addressed Pyrrha: "O wife, only surviving woman, joined to me first by
the ties of kindred and marriage, and now by a common danger, would that we
possessed the power of our ancestor Prometheus, and could renew the race as he
at first made it! But as we cannot, let us seek yonder temple, and inquire of
the gods what remains for us to do." They entered the temple, deformed as it
was with slime, and approached the altar, where no fire burned. There they
fell prostrate on the earth, and prayed the goddess to inform them how they
might retrieve their miserable affairs. The oracle answered, "Depart from the
temple with head veiled and garments unbound, and cast behind you the bones of
your mother." They heard the words with astonishment. Pyrrha first broke
silence: "We cannot obey; we dare not profane the remains of our parents."
They sought the thickest shades of the wood, and revolved the oracle in their
minds. At length Deucalion spoke: "Either my sagacity deceives me, or the
command is one we may obey without impiety. The earth is the great parent of
all; the stones are her bones; these we may cast behind us; and I think this
is what the oracle means. At least, it will do no harm to try." They veiled
their faces, unbound their garments, and picked up stones, and cast them
behind them. The stones (wonderful to relate) began to grow soft, and assume
shape. By degrees, they put on a rude resemblance to the human form, like a
block half finished in the hands of the sculptor. The moisture and slime that
were about them became flesh; the stony part became bones; the veins remained
veins, retaining their name, only changing their use. Those thrown by the
hand of the man became men, and those by the woman became women. It was a
hard race, and well adapted to labor, as we find ourselves to be at this day,
giving plain indications of our origin.

The comparison of Eve to Pandora is too obvious to have escaped Milton,
who introduces it in Book IV. of Paradise Lost: -

"More lovely than Pandora, whom the gods
Endowed with all their gifts, and O, too like
In sad event, when to the unwiser son
Of Japhet brought by Hermes, she insnared
Mankind with her fair looks, to be avenged
On him who had stole Jove's authentic fire."

Prometheus and Epimetheus were sons of Iapetus, which Milton changes to

Prometheus has been a favorite subject with the poets. He is represented
as the friend of mankind, who interposed in their behalf when Jove was
incensed against them, and who taught them civilization and the arts. But as,
in so doing, he transgressed the will of Jupiter, he drew down on himself the
anger of the ruler of gods and men. Jupiter had him chained to a rock on
Mount Caucasus, where a vulture preyed on his liver, which was renewed as fast
as devoured. This state of torment might have been brought to an end at any
time by Prometheus, if he had been willing to submit to his oppressor; for he
possessed a secret which involved the stability of Jove's throne, and if he
would have revealed it, he might have been at once taken into favor. But that
he disdained to do. He has therefore become the symbol of magnanimous
endurance of unmerited suffering, and strength of will resisting oppression.

Byron and Shelley have both treated this theme. The following are
Byron's lines: -

"Titan! to whose immortal eyes
The sufferings of mortality,
Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise,
What was thy pity's recompense?
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain;
All that the proud can feel of pain;
The agony they do not show,
The suffocating sense of woe.

"Thy godlike crime was to be kind;
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen man with his own mind.
And, baffled as thou wert from high.
Still, in thy patient energy

In the endurance and repulse
Of thine impenetrable spirit,
Which earth and heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit."

Byron also employs the same allusion, in his ode to Napoleon Bonaparte: -

"Or, like the thief of fire from heaven,
Wilt thou withstand the shock?
And share with him - the unforgiven -
His vulture and his rock?"