Pandora’s Box

Pandora, by D.G. Rossetti. The inscription on the happy meal box is "Ultima Manet Spes" = Hope remains last.

According to the story, Pandora opened her box (i.e. a pithos, or large jar—the thing that Diogenes lived in) and all the evils of the world flew out, to wit, every “burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men”. I don’t know who translated this (I found it on Wikipedia), but the idea is clear: Pandora oughtn’t have opened the box. By the time she got round to closing the lid, only one thing was left inside: hope.

Have you ever stopped to ask what was hope doing in there in the first place?

“Zeus wollte nämlich, dass der Mensch, auch noch so sehr durch die anderen Uebel gequält, doch das Leben nicht wegwerfe, sondern fortfahre, sich immer von Neuem quälen zu lassen. Dazu giebt er dem Menschen die Hoffnung: sie ist in Wahrheit das übelste der Uebel, weil sie die Qual der Menschen verlängert.”

That is, Zeus wanted that people should not throw away their lives despite being tortured so much by all the other evils, but to keep being tormented forever, over and over again, to which end he gave them Hope: she is really the most evil of evils, for she prolongs the agony of humanity. (Fried. Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, 71—loose translation by my dictionary, but you can also get it from any edition of Human, All Too Human.)

Many scholars have found this idea unacceptable and have sought refuge in interpreting the original word elpis (the whole thing is from a story by Hesiod), which is usually translated as “hope”. Instead, they look to “expectation”, and posit “expectation of bad” (as opposed to “good” or “Flying Spaghetti Monster”) as the answer most relevant to the discussion.

The thing then degenerates into what Hesiod intended to say. I have no idea if he was a grim bugger like the rest of us, but it is clear to me that, on the principle of Occam’s Razor, Nietzsche’s argument makes better sense. Besides, anyone can demonstrate the fallacy of the “expectation of bad” argument by expecting the worst. Zeus did not shield me from dates that I knew would go straight to hell. Nor any ancient Greek, for that matter. Therefore, “expectation of bad” cannot still be in the jar, can it?

But Nietzsche can’t be right either, can he? however romantic the idea might sound. If Hope is still in the jar, how can she go about her nasty business? And yet, she does; and the expectation of good daily torments more people than I count, including myself. We hope for a better government, and are presented with a centuries-long stream of idiots (one or two exceptions merely prove the rule). We hope for the unity of quantum physics and general relativity. We hope for the love of those whom we love. We hope for happiness, peace and security. We hope to understand what the hell David Lynch meant with all those embryos.

Hesiod got it wrong. Hope escaped. All that remains in the jar is nothing or Gimbleyboop.