A retelling of the story of Pandora, based on Hesiod's Theogony and Works and Days.
I cannot remember a time without fire.
The men can. They speak of it often—because with fire came I, and all are eager to regale me of tales from before I was given them.
Prometheus, the cunning one, gifted them with fire, and Zeus gave them me. They tell me that often they wish they had neither, because life without both would be better than life with a gift such as fire and an evil such as I.
What they do not tell me is how Prometheus was punished for his generosity, bound to a great stone, his insides a prey for eagles for all of eternity. They do not tell me how Zeus, the one they credit with blessing them with fire, would rather they had never gained it at all. They do not tell me why I came with a gift that I am not allowed to open, that I was separated from the moment my sandaled feet graced their torch-lit halls.
If they should try to speak to me of such things, however, I would not listen. These men are full of deceit.
They have told me that I am weak, but I have felt the iron in my bones, the power in my thighs and I know my form was crafted by the same hands that wrought the chains that bind Prometheus.
They have called me a curse, but I have seen my form in still pools after Zeus has rained down on us, and I have heard whispers of how the lovely Aphrodite herself sculpted my body, and I am not a fool. I know how they stared.
They have said that I am a thing of evil, but my very name means the All-Gifted One, for I have been given many gifts from the great gods and goddesses of Olympus, and I have thousands more to give in return.
They have called me a bitch, because Hermes the Herald saw it fit to give me a brain and to teach me to use it, and they fear me.
They fear me.
I fear nothing.
They have called me a monster.
The jar that I clutched in my ivory arms when the gods themselves delivered me to the halls of men, they say, is full of those.
I fear nothing.
Stealing through the marble halls is easier than the men might think. They have hidden the jar, but not well, because they do not know me. The great door to the chamber is unlocked, the jar resting on a tall pedestal where Epimetheus set it. I set the lock behind me, not wanting to be interrupted by loud, grating voices and heavy hands.
It is tall, the handles swooping gently to rest on the body of the jar like hands on supple hips. It is dark, swirling, alluring—a thing of soft lines and curves in a world of fire and men and stone. It was a gift from Zeus, for me. He told me not to open it but he also told Hermes to give me a spirit of wonder. He would know this desire would rise in my heart.
The lid is resting on the jar so lightly, it appears even a breath could lift it.
It is beautiful.
It is full of evil, the men say. They say the same of me.
What wonder is it that I lift the lid of the jar?
There is a crack of thunder as if Zeus himself is laughing down at me, and I drop the lid, startled.
The flurry of a hundred wings fills the air, while dark shadows pour from the lip of the jar like steam from a boiling pot. I stumble back, watching in awe as a multitude of dark shapes surge into the air and swirl, a dark cloud against the marble ceiling of the hall. Whatever they are, they are beautiful—beings of wings and grace and great flashing shadows.
But as more and more of the beings emerge from the jar, the colder the air becomes. The darkness overtakes the room, replacing the air, and for the first time, I feel fear. I doubt myself. Whatever these creatures are—however beautiful—they are not safe. With shaking hands I reach for the lid of the jar, but it has rolled to a stop at the foot of a pillar far from me.
I launch myself toward it, adrenaline surging through my outstretched arms, but I am not quick enough. As I run, the dark mass surges the door and pounds at it, the wood creaking and straining under the weight of a thousand invisible hands.
I clutch the lid of the jar tight in my white hands.
The door shudders and, with a groan, bursts outwards. The shadows surge through the doorway like a cloud of bats. I know not where they go. I fling the lid down on the jar, but it is too late.
They have all escaped.
Pandora. What have you done?
Terror flows through my limbs, causing me to shake. It won’t be long until the men arrive, Epimetheus at their head, demanding explanations, wanting to know where the plagues came from, what I have done. What shall I say? No excuses will hold against their rage. I have done an evil thing, opening the jar to seek companionship where there was none.
A half-hearted flutter still comes from the jar.
I should not open it, but a curiosity stronger than my dread fills my chest and my hands reach for the jar of their own accord.
I should not open it, but, by the gods, can I do more damage than I already have?
I should not open it, but I do.
One sole light glows dimly at the bottom of the jar, forced down by the mass of shadows. A thrill shudders down my spine and I reach into the jar to touch it. It flickers at the brush of my fingers, but I persist, lifting it from the base of the jar.
I do not understand it, but holding it in my hand stills my heart. I know, somehow, that this small light will give me the strength to face whatever consequences this turn of fate will bring upon me. It gives me hope, although all of the reason that Athena the Wise blessed me with tell me that nothing good could come from my actions.
The light grows stronger in the open air, until it is so bright it burns my eyes like the sun. I turn away, holding it from me, and it flies from my hand and after the shadows, into the sky under Helios’ watchful eye.
I am left with an empty jar and empty hands, the voices already crashing down the hall with great shouts of accusation akin to great Poseidon’s waves on the rocks.
But I do have hope.
Although I have done a great evil this day, I have also done some good. If they remember anything of Pandora, let them remember that.