At first glance, the stories of human creation in Hesiod’s Theogony and Works and Days, and in the Biblical book of Genesis reveal certain surface similarities. Hesiod and Genesis share a basic pattern: mankind exists in close proximity to divine beings in a paradise where there is no need to procreate or labor; a woman is introduced into this paradise; the actions of the woman result in the loss of paradise. This pattern is used by both traditions to explain the presence of problems such as disease and hunger in human existence, and both Hesiod and Genesis credit the first woman with these problems.
In Works and Days, Hesiod recites the well-known story of Pandora, to whom Hermes gave “lies and wheedling words and the heart of a thief,” opening the jar, which released many terrible things out onto the earth and “contrived grief and trouble for humans.” 1 He goes a step further in the Theogony, where he refers to the first woman as a “lovely evil,” and says of her, “from her is the race of female women,/from her is the deadly race and tribes of women,/a great plague to mortals.”2 Pandora’s beauty makes her attractive and irresistible to men, but she is deceitful or evil not just by her actions, but by her very nature below that beautiful exterior. She then passes down these traits to all other women.
In Genesis, the fall of mankind is similarly connected to a woman. Here, Eve is persuaded by a serpent to eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which she shares it with Adam. 3 When God realizes what they have done, he punishes them. Women will now suffer pain when they give birth, men must farm the earth to provide sustenance, and their lives will be finite. 4
But despite these similarities, Eve and Pandora are inherently different. Unlike Pandora, Eve is not innately malignant. She was either created at the same time as Adam, or shortly after from one of his ribs, making Eve of the same substance and nature as her husband. 5 Pandora, on the other hand, is fundamentally different from man. Hesiod does not offer a relevant story of the creation of man in these sections, but Pandora’s gifts from the gods, including both her beauty and her deceitfulness, mark her as separate. Whereas Eve is meant in all seriousness to be a companion for Adam, the status of Pandora as a gift is clearly ironic. This distinction is at the heart of the difference between the women. Pandora herself is the punishment for man. Both the Theogony and Works and Days reveal this, either in calling her an evil for man or through the incident with the jar, which is a manifestation of her treacherous nature. Neither poem specifies if Pandora then suffers alongside man. Eve, however, is as much a victim of her actions as Adam, and the two suffer together, if not entirely equally.
Moreover, a different interpretation of the events in Genesis further distinguishes Eve from Pandora. Traditionally, Western Christianity has regarded the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden as a fall from grace. Other traditions, such as Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, regard this event instead as a kind of coming of age for mankind. While Adam and Eve still suffer after leaving the Garden, it is less so in punishment and more as a result of “outgrowing” paradise and having to face a world that is naturally difficult and unjust, unlike in Hesiod’s tradition where it is Pandora who creates these challenges for man.