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In Greek mythology, the sky god Zeus told his son Hephaistos, master of the forge, to shape out of clay the first woman. Zeus breathed spirit into the woman, and all the other gods gave the woman gifts that made her pleasing to the eye, useful in the home and seductive to the glands. For this reason the woman was named Pandora, meaning "all-endowed".

Pandora was given in marriage to Epimetheus, the after-thinking brother of Prometheus. Zeus did this out of malice. Prometheus had defied Zeus in giving fire to the human race. After having Prometheus fastened to a mountain in the Caucasus, with a vulture to gnaw on the victim's immortal liver, Zeus now wanted to sock it to the human race. With that in mind, Zeus slipped on the happy couple a certain jar as a wedding gift.

Prometheus had warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept any gift from Zeus. Pandora, however, was too good to pass up. Besides, Epimetheus could never think ahead; that's what his brother was good at. What neither he nor his new wife knew was the contents of that jar: evil spites sealed up by Prometheus for the protection of mankind.

One day, overcome with curiosity, Pandora decided to open the jar to peek inside. Out from within the jar flew all the spites to infect the human race: Sickness, Pain, Craving, Passion, Regret, Fatigue, Guilt, Sorrow, Madness and Old Age. After the spites worked their ill will on Epimetheus and Pandora, they left to inflict themselves on the human race. Before Pandora could close the jar, one more spite popped out. Its name is Elpis (ελπις), whom we call Hope.

Modern folk, influenced by Christianity, interpret this spite as a good thing. The ancient Greeks thought otherwise: Hope was to them as Blind Faith is to us. In fact, its constant modifier is τυφλα, or blind. The bane of Elpis is to make the human race always look on the sunny side, keeping them from killing themselves as a relief from the other spites. Delusive Hope, however, whom Prometheus had also shut up in the [jar], discouraged them by her lies from a general suicide. (Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 39.j, p. 145.)

To distinguish this cruel creation of Zeus from the Christian concept of hope-as-assurance, I will give the spite its Greek name Elpis.

Written by Andy West on 14 March 2011.