The Guilt of Prometheus and Pandora’s Gifts

Jean Delville, "Prometheus"

Jean Delville, “Prometheus”

Prometheus was one of the Titans – the gods who descended from primordial deities, and preceded Olympian gods and goddesses. His name meant “forethought;” he proved he deserved it by showing a gift of premonition and prophecy when he sided with the Olympians during the war with the Titans. He knew beforehand who the winners would be and chose to cooperate with the bringers of the new order. However, his defiant and unyielding nature rebelled whenever he felt that the Olympians did not have the interest of humans at heart. Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus (“afterthought”) did not get imprisoned in Tartarus after the war with the Titans because they had displayed their loyalty to the Olympians. Zeus entrusted them with the task of creating humans, which Prometheus accomplished using mud (clay), into which the goddess Athena breathed life. Prometheus fell in love with his earth-born creation, imperfect though it was. Epimetheus was a slower, plodding, deliberate and more earthy shadow side of his quick-witted and brilliant brother, endowed with the gift of foresight and fiery intuition. Athena, as Graves writes in Greek Myths, had taught him “architecture, astronomy, mathematics, navigation, medicine, metallurgy, and other useful arts, which he passed on to mankind.” Further says Graves:

 “One day, when a dispute took place at Sicyon, as to which portions of a sacrificial bull should be offered to the gods, and which should be reserved for men, Prometheus was invited to act as arbiter. He therefore rayed and jointed a bull, and sewed its hide to form two open-mouthed bags, filling these with what he had cut up. One bag contained all the flesh, but this he concealed beneath the stomach, which is the least tempting part of any animal; and the other contained the bones, hidden beneath a rich layer of fat. When he offered Zeus the choice of either, Zeus, easily deceived, chose the bag containing the bones and fat (which are still the divine portion); but punished Prometheus, who was laughing at him behind his back, by withholding fire from mankind. ‘Let them eat their flesh raw!’ he cried.”

Athena helped Prometheus to enter Olympus in secret. He lighted a torch at the chariot of the Sun, broke from it a glowing charcoal and hid it inside a fennel stalk. The image of fire hidden inside a tube does remind one of the kundalini snake fire coiled in the spine. Prometheus descended to the earth under the cover of darkness and presented humankind with the gift of fire. He paid dearly for his crime, though, for Zeus chained him to a rock in the Caucasian mountains and ordered a ferocious vulture to tear at his liver all day. The pain was unbearable and never-ending, as the liver would grow back each night.

Gustave Moreau, "Prometheus"

Gustave Moreau, “Prometheus”

As further punishment, Zeus ordered Hephaestus to create the first woman ever out of clay. Her name was Pandora (“all gifts,” “all giving”) and she was gifted to Epimetheus as his wife. She brought with her the infamous jar, which Prometheus had warned his brother to keep closed at all cost. Her curiosity was stronger than any admonishments and she opened it releasing all the calamities and evils that plague humankind: old age, disease, insanity, destructive emotions, etc. Only Hope stayed inside the jar to prevent people from losing their minds or committing suicide.

John William Waterhouse, "Pandora"

John William Waterhouse, “Pandora”

It is worth pointing out that the story of Pandora comes from one author – Hesiod. Graves comments:

 “Hesiod’s account of Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Pandora is not genuine myth, but an antifeminist fable, probably of his own invention.”

Like Eve in the Old Testament, Pandora (supposedly) brings evil and mischief on humanity. The famous Pandora’s box was not a box, however, but a jar (Greek ‘pithos’).

Jean Cousin, "Eva Prima Pandora"

Jean Cousin, “Eva Prima Pandora”

In ancient Greece, the pithos was used for storage of food, especially grains, seeds and wine. Pithoi were so large that they were also used as grave jars, so they were symbolically associated both with nourishment and death. Pandora, the first woman, was endowed with all gifts from the gods but she also brought pain, suffering and darkness to the world. She was gifted with beauty and all the divine graces by the Olympic gods. We can look at her as the one who brought gifts to humans that were indispensable for their growth and wisdom. She opened humankind to their own darkness and thus in fact enlarged their existence. She was both a life- and death-force.

Prometheus’ plight was stopped by Heracles, who pleaded with Zeus to pardon the Titan. Chiron, who had been accidentally wounded by Heracles and longed for mortality, went to Tartarus in Prometheus’ stead, and in this way relieved Prometheus’ suffering. Zeus, in turn, relieved Chiron being moved by his selfless sacrifice. Prometheus, not unlike Jesus, was a god who experienced what it was like to be human and suffering the slings and arrows constantly piercing the flesh. In his Dictionary of Symbolism, Hans Biedermann points out that:

 “It should be noted that the very beginnings of civilization, of human life, millions of years ago, are marked by the successful ‘quest for fire’; prescientific theories of our origins used to speak of earlier ‘primal’ humans, ‘living free in the wild,’ but these creatures cannot be called human. Fire is the only one of the elements that humans can produce themselves; it thus symbolizes the similarity of mortals and gods.”

Just as the serpent did in biblical paradise, so Prometheus brought the gift of knowledge and consciousness to humanity. That gift also encompassed the experience of our inherent darkness symbolized by the opening of Pandora’s jar. Pandora and Epithemeus were very vital players in the story: forethought without afterthought is heartless and cruel, fire without darkness and water can be destructive. As Prometheus was, we are also chained to this rock of a planet, destined for endless rebirths into the samsara. The myth of Prometheus also encompasses endless suffering and a feeling of hopelessness, being chained to one’s circumstances, the necessity of cruel sacrifice, weariness of life, and palpable, gnawing pain. There is a short parable by Franz Kafka, which mirrors this aspect of the myth:

“There are four legends concerning Prometheus:

According to the first, he was clamped to a rock in the Caucasus for betraying the secrets of the gods to men, and the gods sent eagles to feed on his liver, which was perpetually renewed.

According to the second, Prometheus, goaded by the pain of the tearing beaks, pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it.

According to the third, his treachery was forgotten in the course of thousands of years, the gods forgotten, the eagles, he himself forgotten.

According to the fourth, every one grew weary of the meaningless affair. The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary, the wound closed wearily.

There remained the inexplicable mass of rock.–The legend tried to explain the inexplicable. As it came out of a substratum of truth it had in turn to end in the inexplicable.”

Peter Paul Rubens, "Prometheus Bound"

Peter Paul Rubens, “Prometheus Bound”

In his interpretation of Prometheus’s story, C.G. Jung focuses on the guilt inherent in individuation and on the mortal risk for those who tear sacred secrets from the gods:

 “Genesis represents the act of becoming conscious as a taboo infringement, as though knowledge meant that a sacrosancy barrier had been impiously overstepped. I think that Genesis is right in so far as every step towards greater consciousness is a kind of Promethean guilt: through knowledge, the gods are as it were robbed of their fire, that is, something that was the property of the unconscious powers is torn out of its natural context and subordinated to the whims of the conscious mind. The man who has usurped the new knowledge suffers, however, a transformation of enlargement of consciousness, which no longer resembles that of his fellow men. He has raised himself above the human level of his age (‘ye shall become like unto God’), but in doing so has alienated himself from humanity. The pain of this loneliness is the vengeance of the gods, for never again can he return to mankind. He is, as the myth says, chained to the lonely cliffs of the Caucasus, forsaken of God and man.”

C.G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, CW7, para 243

The only redemption possible is when the hero pregnant with divine knowledge brings it back to humanity and enriches the collective with new values:

 “… the first step in individuation is a tragic guilt. The accumulation of guilt demands expiation. …

Individuation cuts one off from personal conformity and hence from collectivity. That is the guilt which the individuant leaves behind him for the world, that is the guilt he must endeavor to redeem. He must offer a ransom in place of himself, that is, he must bring forth values which are an equivalent substitute for his absence in the collective personal sphere. Without this production of values, final individuation is immoral and – more than that – suicidal. The man who cannot create values should sacrifice himself consciously to the spirit of collective conformity. … Only to the extent that the man creates objective values can he and may he individuate. Every further step in individuation creates new guilt and necessitates new expiation. Hence individuation is possible only as long as substitute values are produced. Individuation is exclusive adaptation to inner reality and hence an allegedly ‘mystical’ process. The expiation is adaptation to the outer world.

…individuation… means farewell to personal conformity with the collective, and stepping over into solitude, into the cloister of the inner self. Only the shadow of the personality remains in the outer world. … But inner adaptation leads to the conquest of inner realities, from which values are won for the reparation of the collective.”

Collected Works of C.G. Jung volume 18: The Symbolic Life: Miscellaneous, paragraphs 1094-1098

What are the values of Prometheus? On the one hand, he denotes the positive aspects of fire: foresight, intuition, growth, civilization, mastery of the earth. His gifts also have to do with just rebellion against oppressive authority. But on the other hand, Prometheus’ gift of fire brought us destruction and an excessive focus on development without regard for sustainability. The gift of Epimetheus is afterthought: reflecting whether the neverending, ongoing progress of civilization beneficial to the human collective? Pandora – like the earth goddess Gaia – is the balancing symbol of the other side – nature suffering under the boot of the tyranny of progress.

Odilon Redon, “Pandora”

More on Pandora:

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39 Responses to The Guilt of Prometheus and Pandora’s Gifts

  1. Pingback: The Guilt of Prometheus and Pandora’s Gifts | lampmagician

  2. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    Amazing as always, thanks! 🙂


  3. Thank you, Monika, this is a work of Juno and Genius. Your transmission of this myth coupled with your own analysis and the writing of Carl Jung has led me to a crucial understanding and reflection about myself. I had not understood individuation previously before reading this in the way that I now understand individuation having read your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Gray. This post actually was built around those two Jung’s quotes I had kept in my notebook forever. I probably waited for the astrological timing to be right before I was ready to explore the myth of Prometheus.


  4. Reblogged this on Gray Crawford and commented:
    I invite you to read this beautiful exploration of the Prometheus myth and its archetypal impact on our collective experience and personal individuation within the collective. As she often does, Monika in her “Symbol Reader” writing here encapsulates the feeling of the current astrological climate without explicitly stating that she has done so. To me, this post brings forward aspects of the Pluto and Uranus square, the ingress of Saturn into Sagittarius, Mercury and Venus combined in Aquarius, the exit of Mars from Aquarius and ingress into Pisces, and most especially the sextile between Saturn in Sagittarius and the forthcoming Mercury retrograde cycle in Aquarius.


  5. ptero9 says:

    Dear Monika,

    You really have captured something deeply resonant with me here. To see this fear of the gods and of Jung’s individuating in light of a sense I have so often felt; a fear of losing normalcy from too much knowledge and sensitivity. A fear that in following what calls me, I will lose something very dear, however it gets defined from moment to moment. It’s as if I fear being found out for faking my way through the day where the persona must stay in place to ground me to the necessary work of survival. The sense that the gods, and some humans too, demand placating, sacrifice, now weighs on me, and especially lately (thank you Gray for mentioning the astrological correspondence).

    A loneliness too, for sensing that I’ve gone too far, heard some secret from the gods that permeates my being, forever barring me from normalcy. It’s not so much a regret for experiencing something of the divinity, but the feeling that in returning to the collective converstaion, the everyday language of a worn out persona feels entirely fake.

    Painful yes, but I wouldn’t go back if I could. The dilemma, as you point out is clearly one of balance, which at the moment, I do not feel that I have. The accuser laughs and says it’s arrogance though, to think that I even could step out beyond the collective. Then I wonder, can we? Am I deluded by what I think I know, by all of these heavy thoughts and feelings? Or, so what? Will the fate of the world change because of any one of us, or however many of us individuate, become enlightened, or reach some alchemical goal?

    The journey must include these questions and challenges, yes? If for nothing else, maybe they are the balance at work in us. It’s the limits that I feel more strongly than ever. I can step out of convention all I want, but there’s no guarantee that it’s for anyone other than myself, and even that may not finally bring any reward, but the pain of increased sensitivity to a world deeply suffering. Then, it’s just selfishness.

    If this is too weird, feel free to delete it. I am so very touched by your words.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I am very grateful for these thoughts, Debra. I also feel this very strongly. “The everyday language of a worn out persona feels entirely fake.” – right on. My only hope (thinking of Pandora) is that the more people individuate, the more the consensus reality will change. I think it will be a long-winded process but astrology for example definitely testifies to a decisive paradigm change.

      Lots of love and courage,

      Liked by 1 person

  6. herongrace says:

    A wonderful article. Yes individuation can be a lonely road at times and sometimes we must be brave thieves. This article reminded me of a quote from Castaneda’s “Journey to Ixtlan” which has stayed with me for many years. I hope you don’t mind me printing it. p.279…Don Juan says to Castaneda….
    “But there is no way to go back to Los Angeles. what you left there is lost forever…..Yet the feelings in a man do not die or change, and the sorceror starts on his way back home knowing that he will never reach it, knowing that no power on earth, not even his death, will deliver him to the place, the things, the people he loved”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Only hope remained. That may well be why it has sustained until now!

    So much to absorb, Monika. I learn every time you share and enlighten here. Thank you.

    Even reading Debra’s comments, while dwarfed, I learn and appreciate.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. herongrace says:

    BTW I have just read Mystic Medusa post from 9th. Jan re: a quote by Castaneda from “The Journey to Ixtlan” incl. a gorgeous large picture of the book cover. Just another wyrd synchro, but rather gorgeous!


  9. 1weaver says:

    so much rich food for thought – and the comments in turn also speak so eloquently. an auspicious and timely gathering of hearts and minds is a comfort I am grateful for.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Martina says:

    Thanks Monika,… Prometheus was one asteroid I started looking at and thinking he was more positive, but time after time he was lining up in horrible spots in event charts,.. it makes so much more sense now,…


    • Thank you for sharing. I have never explored this asteroid beyond looking where it is in m chart – opposite Pluto! No wonder I have always felt so drawn to this character. I will be looking at the asteroid more now.


  11. I particularly enjoyed this post, Monika.


  12. Mind blowing mythological symbolism. also very instructive for those who are familiar with names from Greek myth but not well informed. What stands out is the parallels between the biblical Eve and Pandora (also that both are anti femininist), how they are the cause of all human suffering – the apple and the box – also essentially Judaic in that transfer of guilt to the other half ( very convenient for a man) – why should man have not tasted the apple being more aggressive both sexually and physically is beyond me – definitely a blasphemous thought for a man to pronounce. The Hindu view is different – Shakti the archetypal female symbolized as primal energy can do no wrong, being the progenitor of the universe, and from whom even the gods arise – the one who drinks the pot of nectar snatched from the Titans, after it emerges from the churning of the cosmic oceans by the titans and the demi-gods are the demi-gods always eager for immortality, assisted by the universal essence Vishnu , deceitfully transformed into a beauteous female to accomplish the trick and deny the Titans – the only concession to anti-feminism – the pot of poison (the Hindu Pandora’s Box ) is consumed by the Universal masculine essence Lord Shiva to save the world from its destructive power and when his neck turns phosphorescent blue, where his power restricts it from extending further into his universal body, he is called the heroic Neelkanth ( blue-throat), saviour of man –
    In Hindu myth there is no primal guilt of apple or box,for sharing knowledge and acquiring consciousness, rather this sharing is a panacea for overcoming the only evil, which is the evil of individuation with which all mankind is afflicted – the ego – all, sages and demi-gods are advised to awaken that consciousness in man to overcome the evil of ego and ultimately to become one with the grand unity ( the collective) – Shiva drinks the poison of individuation and egotisticity and saves mankind. We do not appear to have a Prometheus in our myths.

    Monika onec again a brilliant and most interesting and informative post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Indrajit, for such a wise comment. I absolutely agree about the judaic myth being very convenient for men. Fascinating also about the Hindu Pandora’s box and Shiva as the saviour. Yes, the ego and individuality is our western invention. I feel there is a higher purpose and spiritual meaning to our western myth of individuation and I am hesitant to dismiss it as negative. I was pondering today, though, how I would like to study eastern myth more deeply and bring it to reconciliation with our western one. I still believe they come from the one divine source no matter the discrepancies.
      Thank you for enriching my blog.
      In gratitude,

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I wish to add an after thought like Epimetheus – the reason for this is probably the fact that we do not have a concept like ‘original sin’ or human guilt – the sin does not consist for us inacquiring divine knowledge or discovering ‘secrets’ – the only sin is the lack of awareness of ourselves being a thread of the tapestry, a drop of the ocean, which exhibits as our egoism – this is not to say that the demi-gods in Hindu myth do not get jealous of man and try to hinder his ascent to divinity – whenever man through penance and austerity grows in consciousness to acquire divine powers he earns the ire of the demi-gods – though not of the universal essence which would encourage him to do so – the demi-gods are like the Olympian Greek gods, subject to human failings though powerful – but unlike higher divinity which is beyond ‘Olympus’.
    The illustrations in your post are a feast to the eyes – thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful, Monika. This is such a rich musing that it deserves several readings; I’ll be revisiting it. If I remember correctly, Rick Tarnas makes a case for Prometheus as the ruler of Aquarius, so that’s another level of poignance for this post (as Gray Crawford notes re the energies of now, and the ‘Aquarian Age’ we hear so much about). Thanks so much for your elegant musings, as ever! Blessings, Jamie


    • Thank you, Jamie.
      I am aware of Tarnas’ connection of Prometheus with Uranus. Also Liz Greene links those two in her book “The Art of Stealing Fire: Uranus in the Horoscope.” I have such legendary Uranus transits right now that Prometheus just came to me in my visions and thoughts. I absolutely agree there is a strong connection there.


      • Hi Monika I have just got to your reply here in reading my way through this rich post and discussion. I am offering my republished research study “Jupiter Meets Uranus” ( AFA 2009) as a free downloadable book – I think its perspectives might be useful to you since it sets a mythological and historical context to my research on the 1997/8 and 2010/11 conjunctions. I’ll leave the link as a comment on this post when I get off my IPhone and to my desk!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, Anne. This is very generous of you.


  15. While ‘individuation’ may be connected to ego as an evil, when it is taken as every individual’s quest for consciousness that individuation is to be encouraged – i thought i might clarify from the Hindu standpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Aquileana says:

    Excellent post and I love the paintings, Monika!~…
    I much enjoyed reading about those four legends concerning Prometheus and also liked to learn about the etimologies of the names … Such as for instance: Epimetheus (“afterthought”) and Pandora (“all gifts”).. I have once posted about Prometheus. I will add the link here for you to take a peek… By the way, have you ever written about Poseidon, God of Sea… Let me know cause that way I might link back to your awesome blog on my next post!~
    Best wishes Aquileana 😀


  17. contoveros says:

    I value the values you present here.


    Michael J

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: … hope – the oracular mystery … | Course of Mirrors

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