Pandora’s Myth, James Cameron, Tomb Raider and the Fall of Man

The allure of the Pandora myth is readily apparent in film.


In the Pandora myth, the story goes that Pandora was the first woman on Earth, created by Hephaestus in answer to Zeus’ command. It was a command meant to be a punishment for man’s gain of the secret of fire from Prometheus who stole fire from the gods. Zeus’ vengeance came in the form of Pandora, a beautiful ‘evil’ destined to torment all of mankind. (And Prometheus did not escape unscathed. He too suffered the wrath of Zeus in his own separate and terrible punishment tailor-made especially for him by Zeus himself. Prometheus is later rescued by Hercules himself, ultimately escaping punishment, but that is another story.) Many talents were bestowed upon her by the gods like beauty from Aphrodite, a talent for music from Apollo, and the handy gift of persuasion from the generous Hermes. She was also possessed of a great curiosity, a trait given to her by the long suffering and oft maligned Hera.


Prometheus having his liver eaten out by an eagle. Jacob Jordaens circa 1640


Now Zeus placed in Pandora’s keeping a jar (which over time has become a box for some reason) with strict instructions not to open it, but of course she couldn’t restrain herself and she did indeed open it, to the ruin of all. All the evils of the world came pouring out of this box once opened and despite Pandora’s efforts to reseal it, it was too late. The only thing left in the box was Hope, which I find to be quite apropos since hope can be the most elusive of all emotions. But I ask, if Pandora was flawed, didn’t a dude create her based on the decree of another dude? So who really was responsible for the orchestration of man’s downfall? Can you blame Frankenstein for being Frankenstein? Or does the blame really lie with the mad doctor who created him? Hello, Zeus. It seems to me that Zeus had it out for mankind from the get go, and Pandora was a more than suitable scapegoat. Diabolical if you ask me.

I do find the antiquated theory that women seem to be responsible for everything that has gone wrong with the world a very interesting one indeed. Even more interesting is the counter-theory that all these women being responsible for original sin myths and fables are created by men and are the direct result of man’s fear and envy for the many gifts and talents of women — one of them being the miraculous power to give life. These theories have been debated hotly amongst many interested in such things, and it is a debate that will most likely continue to be debated as long as there is a battle amongst the sexes.

Yet consider this, a wise man once said, “When you point the finger of blame there are always three fingers pointing right back at you.” Funny how that works, don’t you think? So does that mean that the root of all evil question needs to be reexamined? Anyone can see that the fight started between Zeus and Prometheus , even if you refer back to Hesiod’s Theogony. (BTW, is it just me who thinks Hesiod really seemed to have it out for Pandora? One can presume that Hesiod did not seem to hold women in very high esteem.) In the Greek Tragedy Prometheus Bound it is deduced that Prometheus does seem to be responsible for man’s plight, but that tidbit seems to have been overlooked. Blaming Pandora seems to be much more intriguing.


Pandora, Jules Joseph Lefebvre 1882


Yet there is another take on the origins and evolution of Pandora. There is an antediluvian belief that she is all-giving, a fecund and nurturing Earth Mother, that she is life. Isn’t it interesting then that James Cameron would name his lush Na’vi planet Pandora? The Pandora of myth was ‘a beautiful evil’. Here again on Pandora the planet we find the concept of dangerous beauty. It was no coincidence that Cameron would name one of the most memorable planets in fantasy fiction after this mythic personage.

Even though the Pandora of myth loosed all evils upon mankind, isn’t the fact that she managed to retain hope within that vaunted chest a kind of balance against those woes? And wasn’t Eywa all about balance? Eywa, the Na’vi’s female deity and mother of all things on their magnificent planet is at once both terrible and beautiful. Balance.


Avatar (2009) – Jake prays for the help of Eywa.


As in the myth, the humans do indeed open a Pandora’s box of wonder and peril when they happen upon this planet and begin mixing the DNA of the indigenous with that of mankind. At points in the movie it does seem like there is no hope and that there is nothing left but to despair. Yet in the end, Eywa, the All Mother and goddess of the Na’vi, bestows the great gift of her mercy and enables Jake to bring his new people to victory. And isn’t that the hope for help that Jake prayed for?

What’s your take on the original sin theory and the fall of man? Do you think Pandora is responsible? Who do you think is at fault? Do you know any other original sin myths? Regardless of whose to blame for the fall of man, the Pandora myth makes for interesting film fodder.