Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Pandora’s Box

Posted by Elyse Bruce on October 7, 2010

When someone opens a “Pandora’s box” it means they have started a series of events that will result in a number of unexpected problems.  The phrase is based on an old Greek story in which a woman named Pandora opened a box containing all the troubles the world has experienced

In the original story, Zeus — the king of the Greek gods — gave Pandora a box as a gift but with strict instructions that she never open the box no matter how tempted she may be to do so.  In time, curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box just a little to sneak a peek inside.  Once opened, however, all of the box’s contents spilled out, these being all of the evils of the world.  According to legend, the only thing remaining in Pandora’s box was Hope.

On April 21, 1803 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Benjamin Rush in which he stated:

It is my opinion that the man in California does not value Liberty, may be lacking in a conscience, and has opened a Pandora’s Box that will eventually bite him in the ass.

During a debate at the Paris School of Medicine in 1699, Louis X!V’s court physician, Fagon delivered an eloquent speech about nicotine addiction, describing tobacco as fatal yet irresistible habit.

Who is the rash man that first tasted a poison that is more dangerous than hemlock, deadlier than opium? When he opened his snuff-box, did he not know that he was opening Pandora’s box, from which would spring a thousand ills, one worse than another? Assuredly, when we try it for the first time, we feel an uneasiness that tells us that we have taken poison.

However, the first use of the phrase goes back more than 500 years.  Dutch Renaissance philosopher and theologian, Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536) who wrote on ecclesiastic subjects as well as those of general human interest published a book, “Adagia” in 1500.   The book contained a number of idioms and adages including two of his own: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” and “Pandora’s box.”

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One Response to “Pandora’s Box”

  1. Very cool, I see similarities between this and the snake and the apple story. Nice one.

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