EPIMETHEUS AND PANDORA
BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
Long, long ago, when this old world was in its
tender infancy, there was a child, named Epimetheus,
who never had either father or mother; and that
he might not be lonely, another child, fatherless and
motherless like himself, was sent from a far country to
live with him, and be his playfellow and helpmate. Her
name was Pandora.
The first thing that Pandora saw, when she entered the
cottage where Epimetheus dwelt, was a great box. And
almost the first question which she put to him, after
crossing the threshold, was this: "Epimetheus, what have
you in that box?"
"My dear little Pandora," answered Epimetheus, "that
is a secret, and you must be kind enough not to ask any
questions about it. The box was left here to be kept
safely, and I do not myself know what it contains."
"But who gave it to you?" asked Pandora. "And
where did it come from?"
"That is a secret, too," replied Epimetheus.
"How provoking!" exclaimed Pandora, pouting her
lip. "I wish the great ugly box were out of the way!"
"Oh, come, don't think of it any more!" cried Epimetheus.
"Let us run out of doors, and have some nice
play with the other children."
It is thousands of years since Epimetheus and Pandora
were alive; and the world, nowadays, is a very different
sort of thing from what it was in their time. Then, everybody
was a child. There needed no fathers and mothers
to take care of the children, because there was no danger
or trouble of any kind, and no clothes to be mended, and
there was always plenty to eat and drink. Whenever a
child wanted his dinner, he found it growing on a tree;
and if he looked at the tree in the morning, he could see
the expanding blossom of that night's supper; or, at
eventide, he saw the tender bud of to-morrow's breakfast.
It was a very pleasant life indeed. No labor to be done,
no tasks to be studied; nothing but sports and dances,
and sweet voices of children talking, or caroling like
birds, or gushing out in merry laughter throughout the
It is probable that the very greatest disquietude which a
child had ever experienced was Pandora's vexation at
not being able to discover the secret of the mysterious
This was at first only the faint shadow of a Trouble;
but every day it grew more and more substantial, until
before a great while the cottage of Epimetheus and
Pandora was less sunshiny than those of the other
"Whence can the box have come?" Pandora continually
kept saying to herself and to Epimetheus. "And
what on earth can be inside of it?"
"Always talking about this box!" said Epimetheus at
last; for he had grown extremely tired of the subject.
"I wish, dear Pandora, you would try to talk of something
else. Come, let us go and gather some ripe figs,
and eat them under the trees for our supper. And I
know a vine that has the sweetest and juiciest grapes you
"Always talking about grapes and figs!" cried Pandora
"Well, then," said Epimetheus, who was a good-tempered
child, "let us run out and have a merry time
with our playmates."
"I am tired of merry times, and don't care if I never
have any more!" answered our pettish little Pandora.
"And besides, I never do have any. This ugly box! I
am so taken up with thinking about it all the time. I
insist upon you telling me what is inside of it."
"As I have already said, fifty times over, I do not
know!" replied Epimetheus, getting a little vexed.
"How, then, can I tell you what is inside?"
"You might open it," said Pandora, looking sideways
at Epimetheus, "and then we could see for ourselves."
"Pandora, what are you thinking of?" exclaimed Epimetheus.
And his face expressed so much horror at the idea of
looking into a box which had been confided to him on
the condition of his never opening it, that Pandora
thought it best not to suggest it any more. Still, she
could not help thinking and talking about the box.
"At least," said she, "you can tell me how it came
"It was left at the door," replied Epimetheus, "just
before you came, by a person who looked very smiling
and intelligent, and who could hardly forbear laughing as
he put it down. He was dressed in an odd kind of a
cloak, and had on a cap that seemed to be made partly
of feathers, so that it looked almost as if it had wings."
"What sort of a staff had he?" asked Pandora.
"Oh, the most curious staff you ever saw!" cried
Epimetheus. "It was like two serpents twisting around
a stick, and was carved so naturally that I, at first,
thought the serpents were alive."
"I know him," said Pandora thoughtfully. "Nobody
else has such a staff. It was Quicksilver; and he brought
me hither, as well as the box. No doubt he intended it
for me; and most probably it contains pretty dresses for
me to wear, or toys for you and me to play with, or something
very nice for us both to eat!"
"Perhaps so," answered Epimetheus, turning away.
"But until Quicksilver comes back and tells us so, we
have neither of us any right to lift the lid of the box."
"What a dull boy it is!" muttered Pandora, as Epimetheus
left the cottage. "I do wish he had a little more
For the first time since her arrival, Epimetheus had
gone out without asking Pandora to accompany him. He
was tired to death of hearing about the box, and heartily
wished that Quicksilver, or whatever was the messenger's
name, had left it at some other child's door, where Pandora
would never have set eyes on it. So perseveringly as
she did babble about this one thing! The box, the box,
and nothing but the box! It seemed as if the box were
bewitched, and as if the cottage were not big enough to
hold it, without Pandora's continually stumbling over it
and making Epimetheus stumble over it likewise, and
bruising all four of their shins.
Well, it was really hard that poor Epimetheus should
have a box in his ears from morning to night, especially
as the little people of the earth were so unaccustomed to
vexations, in those happy days, that they knew not how
to deal with them. Thus a small vexation made as much
disturbance then as a far bigger one would in our own
After Epimetheus was gone Pandora stood gazing at
the box. She had called it ugly above a hundred times;
but in spite of all that she had said against it, it was in
truth a very handsome article of furniture. It was made
of a beautiful kind of wood, with dark and rich veins
spreading over its surface, which was so highly polished
that little Pandora could see her face in it. As the child
had no other looking-glass, it is odd that she did not value
the box, merely on this account.
The edges and corners of the box were carved with
wonderful skill. Around the margin there were figures
of graceful men and women, and the prettiest children
ever seen, reclining or sporting amid a profusion of
flowers and foliage; and these various objects were so
exquisitely represented, and were wrought together in
such harmony, that flowers, foliage, and human beings
seemed to combine into a wreath of mingled beauty.
But here and there, peeping forth from behind the
carved foliage, Pandora once or twice fancied that she
saw a face not so lovely, which stole the beauty out of
all the rest. Nevertheless, on looking more closely, she
could discover nothing of the kind. Some face, that was
really beautiful, had been made to look ugly by her
catching a sideway glimpse at it.
The most beautiful face of all was done in what is
called high relief, in the center of the lid. There was
nothing else save the dark, smooth richness of the polished
wood, and this one face in the center, with a garland
of flowers about its brow. Pandora had looked at
this face a great many times, and imagined that the
mouth could smile if it liked, or be grave when it chose,
the same as any living mouth. The features, indeed,
all wore a very lively and rather mischievous expression,
which looked almost as if it needs must burst out of the
carved lips and utter itself in words.
Had the mouth spoken, it would probably have been
something like this: "Do not be afraid, Pandora! What
harm can there be in opening the box? Never mind that
poor, simple Epimetheus! You are wiser than he, and
have ten times as much spirit. Open the box, and see if
you do not find something very pretty!"
The box was fastened; not by a lock, nor by any other
such contrivance, but by a very intricate knot of gold cord.
There appeared to be no end to this knot, and no beginning.
Never was a knot so cunningly twisted, nor
with so many ins and outs, which roguishly defied the
skilfullest fingers to disentangle them. And yet, by the
very difficulty that there was in it, Pandora was the
more tempted to examine the knot, and just see how it
was made. Two or three times already she had stooped
over the box, and taken the knot between her thumb and
forefinger, but without positively trying to undo it.
"I really believe," said she to herself, "that I begin
to see how it was done. Nay, perhaps I could tie it up
again after undoing it. There could be no harm in that,
surely. Even Epimetheus would not blame me for that.
I need not open the box, and should not, of course, without
the foolish boy's consent, even if the knot were
First she tried to lift it. It was heavy; much too heavy
for the slender strength of a child like Pandora. She
raised one end of the box a few inches from the floor, and
let it fall again with a pretty loud thump. A moment
afterwards she almost fancied that she heard something
stir inside of the box. She applied her ear as closely as
possible and listened. Positively there did seem to be a
kind of stifled murmur within. Or was it merely the
singing in Pandora's ears? Or could it be the beating
of her heart? The child could not quite satisfy herself
whether she had heard anything or no. But, at all events,
her curiosity was stronger than ever.
As she drew back her head her eyes fell upon the knot
of gold cord.
"It must have been a very ingenious person who tied
this knot," said Pandora to herself. "But I think I
could untie it, nevertheless. I am resolved, at least, to
find the two ends of the cord."
So she took the golden knot in her fingers, and pried
into its intricacies as sharply as she could. Almost without
intending it, or quite knowing what she was about,
she was soon busily engaged in attempting to undo it.
Meanwhile the bright sunshine came through the open
window, as did likewise the merry voices of the children
playing at a distance; and, perhaps, the voice of Epimetheus
among them. Pandora stopped to listen. What
a beautiful day it was! Would it not be wiser if she
were to let the troublesome knot alone, and think no more
about the box, but run and join her little playfellows and
All this time, however, her fingers were half unconsciously
busy with the knot; and, happening to glance
at the flower-wreathed face on the lid of the enchanted
box, she seemed to perceive it slyly grinning at
"That face looks very mischievous," thought Pandora.
"I wonder whether it smiles because I am doing wrong!
I have the greatest mind in the world to run away!"
But just then, by the merest accident, she gave the
knot a kind of a twist, which produced a wonderful result.
The gold cord untwined itself as if by magic, and
left the box without a fastening.
"This is the strangest thing I ever knew!" said Pandora.
"What will Epimetheus say? And how can I
possibly tie it up again?"
She made one or two attempts to restore the knot, but
soon found it quite beyond her skill. It had disentangled
itself so suddenly that she could not in the least remember
how the strings had been doubled into one another;
and when she tried to recollect the shape and appearance
of the knot, it seemed to have gone entirely out of her
mind. Nothing was to be done, therefore, but to let
the box remain as it was until Epimetheus should come in.
"But," said Pandora, "when he finds the knot untied,
he will know that I have done it. How shall I make
him believe that I have not looked into the box?"
And then the thought came into her naughty little
heart, that, since she would be suspected of having looked
into the box, she might just as well do so at once. Oh,
very naughty and very foolish Pandora! You should
have thought only of doing what was right, and of leaving
undone what was wrong, and not of what your playfellow
Epimetheus would have said or believed. And so perhaps
she might, if the enchanted face on the lid of the box
had not looked so bewitchingly persuasive at her, and if
she had not seemed to hear, more distinctly than before,
the murmur of small voices within. She could not tell
whether it was fancy or no; but there was quite a little
tumult of whispers in her ear—or else it was her curiosity
"Let us out, dear Pandora; pray let us out! We will
be such nice pretty playfellows for you! Only let us
"What can it be?" thought Pandora. "Is there something
alive in the box? Well!—yes!—I am resolved to
take just one peep! Only one peep; and then the lid shall
be shut down as safely as ever! There cannot possibly
be any harm in just one little peep!"
But it is now time for us to see what Epimetheus was
This was the first time since his little playmate had
come to dwell with him that he had attempted to enjoy
any pleasure in which she did not partake. But nothing
went right; nor was he nearly so happy as on other
days. He could not find a sweet grape or a ripe fig (if
Epimetheus had a fault, it was a little too much fondness
for figs); or, if ripe at all, they were over-ripe, and so
sweet as to be cloying. In short, he grew so uneasy and
discontented, that the other children could not imagine
what was the matter with Epimetheus. Neither did he
himself know what ailed him any better than they did.
At length, discovering that, somehow or other, he put
a stop to all the play, Epimetheus judged it best to go
back to Pandora, who was in a humor better suited to
his own. But, with a hope of giving her pleasure, he
gathered some flowers, and made them into a wreath,
which he meant to put upon her head. The flowers
were very lovely—roses and lilies, and orange-blossoms,
and a great many more, which left a trail of fragrance
behind as Epimetheus carried them along; and the wreath
was put together with as much skill as could reasonably
be expected of a boy. The fingers of little girls, it has
always appeared to me, are the fittest to twine flower-wreaths;
but boys could do it in those days rather better
than they can now.
Meanwhile a great black cloud had been gathering in
the sky for some time past, although it had not yet
overspread the sun. But just as Epimetheus reached the
cottage door, this cloud began to intercept the sunshine,
and thus to make a sudden and sad obscurity.
He entered softly; for he meant, if possible, to steal
behind Pandora and fling the wreath of flowers over her
head before she should be aware of his approach. But, as
it happened, there was no need of his treading so very
lightly. He might have trod as heavily as he pleased
without much probability of Pandora's hearing his footsteps.
She was too intent upon her purpose. At the
moment of his entering the cottage the naughty child had
put her hand to the lid, and was on the point of opening
the mysterious box. Epimetheus beheld her. If he had
cried out Pandora would probably have withdrawn her
hand, and the fatal mystery of the box might never have
But Epimetheus himself, although he said very little
about it, had his own share of curiosity to know what was
inside. Perceiving that Pandora was resolved to find out
the secret, he determined that his playfellow should not
be the only wise person in the cottage. And if there
were anything pretty or valuable in the box, he meant
to take half of it to himself. Thus, after all his sage
speeches to Pandora about restraining her curiosity, Epimetheus
turned out to be quite as foolish, and nearly as
much in fault, as she. So, whenever we blame Pandora
for what happened, we must not forget to shake our heads
at Epimetheus likewise.
As Pandora raised the lid the cottage grew very dark
and dismal, for the black cloud had now swept quite over
the sun, and seemed to have buried it alive. There had,
for a little while past, been a low growling and muttering,
which all at once broke into a heavy peal of thunder.
But Pandora, heeding nothing of all this, lifted the lid
nearly upright and looked inside. It seemed as if a
sudden swarm of winged creatures brushed past her,
taking flight out of the box, while, at the same instant,
she heard the voice of Epimetheus, with a lamentable
tone, as if he were in pain.
"Oh, I am stung!" cried he. "I am stung! Naughty
Pandora! why have you opened this wicked box?"
Pandora let fall the lid, and, starting up, looked about
her, to see what had befallen Epimetheus. The thunder-cloud
had so darkened the room that she could not very
clearly discern what was in it. But she heard a disagreeable
buzzing, as if a great many huge flies, or gigantic
mosquitoes, were darting about. And, as her eyes grew
more accustomed to the imperfect light, she saw a crowd
of ugly little shapes, with bats' wings, looking abominably
spiteful, and armed with terribly long stings in
their tails. It was one of these that had stung Epimetheus.
Nor was it a great while before Pandora herself
began to scream, in no less pain and affright than her
playfellow, and making a vast deal more hubbub about
it. An odious little monster had settled on her forehead,
and would have stung her I know not how deeply if
Epimetheus had not run and brushed it away.
Now, if you wish to know what these ugly things
might be which had made their escape out of the box,
I must tell you that they were the whole family of
earthly Troubles. There were evil Passions; there were
a great many species of Cares; there were more than a
hundred and fifty Sorrows; there were Diseases, in a
vast number of miserable and painful shapes; there were
more kinds of Naughtiness than it would be of any use
to talk about. In short, everything that has since afflicted
the souls and bodies of mankind had been shut up in
the mysterious box, and given to Epimetheus and Pandora
to be kept safely, in order that the happy children
of the world might never be molested by them. Had
they been faithful to their trust, all would have gone
well. No grown person would ever have been sad, nor
any child have had cause to shed a single tear, from
that hour until this moment.
But—and you may see by this how a wrong act of any
one mortal is a calamity to the whole world—by Pandora's
lifting the lid of that miserable box, and by the
fault of Epimetheus, too, in not preventing her, these
Troubles have obtained a foothold among us, and do
not seem very likely to be driven away in a hurry. For
it was impossible, as you will easily guess, that the
two children should keep the ugly swarm in their own
little cottage. On the contrary, the first thing they did
was to fling open the doors and windows in hope of getting
rid of them; and, sure enough, away flew the winged
Troubles all abroad, and so pestered and tormented the
small people everywhere about that none of them so
much as smiled for many days afterwards. And, what
was very singular, all the flowers and dewy blossoms on
earth, not one of which had hitherto faded, now began
to droop and shed their leaves, after a day or two. The
children, moreover, who before seemed immortal in their
childhood, now grew older, day by day, and came soon to
be youths and maidens, and men and women by and
by, and aged people, before they dreamed of such a
Meanwhile, the naughty Pandora, and hardly less
naughty Epimetheus, remained in their cottage. Both
of them had been grievously stung, and were in a good
deal of pain, which seemed the more intolerable to them,
because it was the very first pain that had ever been felt
since the world began. Besides all this, they were in exceedingly
bad humor, both with themselves and with one
another. In order to indulge it to the utmost, Epimetheus
sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards
Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and
rested her head on the fatal and abominable box. She
was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would
Suddenly there was a gentle tap on the inside of the
"What can that be?" cried Pandora, lifting her head.
But either Epimetheus had not heard the tap, or was
too much out of humor to notice it. At any rate, he
made no answer.
"You are very unkind," said Pandora, sobbing anew,
"not to speak to me!"
Again the tap! It sounded like the tiny knuckles of a
fairy's hand, knocking lightly and playfully on the inside
of the box.
"Who are you?" asked Pandora, with a little of her
former curiosity. "Who are you, inside of this naughty
A sweet little voice spoke from within: "Only lift the
lid, and you shall see."
"No, no," answered Pandora, again beginning to sob,
"I have had enough of lifting the lid! You are inside
of the box, naughty creature, and there you shall stay!
There are plenty of your ugly brothers and sisters already
flying about the world. You need never think
that I shall be so foolish as to let you out!"
She looked towards Epimetheus as she spoke, perhaps
expecting that he would commend her for her wisdom.
But the sullen boy only muttered that she was wise a
little too late.
"Ah," said the sweet little voice again, "you had much
better let me out. I am not like those naughty creatures
that have stings in their tails. They are no brothers and
sisters of mine, as you would see at once, if you were
only to get a glimpse of me. Come, come, my pretty
Pandora! I am sure you will let me out!"
And, indeed, there was a kind of cheerful witchery in
the tone, that made it almost impossible to refuse anything
which this little voice asked. Pandora's heart had
insensibly grown lighter at every word that came from
within the box. Epimetheus, too, though still in the
corner, had turned half round, and seemed to be in rather
better spirits than before.
"My dear Epimetheus," cried Pandora, "have you
heard this little voice?"
"Yes, to be sure I have," answered he, but in no very
good humor as yet. "And what of it?"
"Shall I lift the lid again?" asked Pandora.
"Just as you please," said Epimetheus. "You have
done so much mischief already, that perhaps you may as
well do a little more. One other Trouble, in such a
swarm as you have set adrift about the world, can make
no very great difference."
"You might speak a little more kindly!" murmured
Pandora, wiping her eyes.
"Ah, naughty boy!" cried the little voice within the
box, in an arch and laughing tone. "He knows he is
longing to see me. Come, my dear Pandora, lift up the
lid. I am in a great hurry to comfort you. Only let
me have some fresh air, and you shall soon see that matters
are not quite so dismal as you think them!"
"Epimetheus," exclaimed Pandora, "come what may,
I am resolved to open the box!"
"And, as the lid seems very heavy," cried Epimetheus,
running across the room, "I will help you!"
So, with one consent, the two children again lifted the
lid. Out flew a sunny and smiling little personage, and
hovered about the room, throwing a light wherever she
went. Have you never made the sunshine dance into
dark corners by reflecting it from a bit of looking-glass?
Well, so looked the winged cheerfulness of this fairy-like
stranger amid the gloom of the cottage. She flew
to Epimetheus, and laid the least touch of her finger
on the inflamed spot where the Trouble had stung him,
and immediately the anguish of it was gone. Then she
kissed Pandora on the forehead, and her hurt was cured
After performing these good offices, the bright stranger
fluttered sportively over the children's heads, and looked
so sweetly at them that they both began to think it not
so very much amiss to have opened the box, since,
otherwise, their cheery guest must have been kept
a prisoner among those naughty imps with stings in
"Pray, who are you, beautiful creature?" inquired
"I am to be called Hope!" answered the sunshiny
figure. "And because I am such a cheery little body, I
was packed into the box to make amends to the human
race for that swarm of ugly Troubles, which was destined
to be let loose among them. Never fear! we shall do
pretty well in spite of them all."
"Your wings are colored like the rainbow!" exclaimed
Pandora. "How very beautiful!"
"Yes, they are like the rainbow," said Hope, "because,
glad as my nature is, I am partly made of tears as
well as smiles."
"And you will stay with us," asked Epimetheus, "for
ever and ever?"
"As long as you need me," said Hope, with her pleasant
smile, "and that will be as long as you live in the
world—I promise never to desert you. There may be
times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that
I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again,
when perhaps you least dream of it, you shall see the
glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage.
Yes, my dear children, and I know something very good
and beautiful that is to be given you, hereafter!"
"Oh, tell us," they exclaimed; "tell us what it is!"
"Do not ask me," replied Hope, putting her finger on
her rosy mouth. "But do not despair, even if it should
never happen while you live on this earth. Trust in my
promise, for it is true."
"We do trust you!" cried Epimetheus and Pandora,
both in one breath.
And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody
trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And, to
tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad (though, to
be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to
do)—but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora
peeped into the box. No doubt—no doubt—the
Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased
in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very
ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in
their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel
them more as I grow older. But then that lovely and
lightsome figure of Hope! What in the world could
we do without her? Hope spiritualizes the earth; Hope
makes it always new; and, even in the earth's best and
brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of
an infinite bliss hereafter.