“It’s over, now. Hush. It’s all over, they are gone,” he murmured into her hair. Epimetheus gathered her onto his lap and used the edge of his toga to wipe her tears. He gently held his fragile mortal wife as she trembled with fear and horror. Oh, poor Pandora! These human vessels could not bear so much suffering, surely? She began to shake her head convulsively, denying her own thoughts as regret and guilt washed over her. He felt wretched, himself. If only he could have saved her this pain!
Her eyes were still squeezed shut tight against the horrors freed from the box. Just the wind of their passing was a torment her psyche was ill-equipped to endure. Hatred, envy, greed, despair; these were the provenance of gods, not men. He rocked her patiently as her brain struggled to process the novel concepts of war, disease, and poverty. Finally, her sobs quieted to piteous hiccups.
“What have I done, husband?” she said, muffled against his chest.
“You have done what is in your nature, wife.”
“I am evil, then?” she asked in a desolate voice.
“What is evil?” he asked.
She gestured toward the box. “Those things—” her voice caught in remembered horror, “are evil. And I released them. I opened the box, though Zeus told me not to.”
He stroked her raven tresses. “He did say that. And yet, he formed the box. He placed those spirits within it. He created you, and with the other gods gave you grace and beauty and a brilliant, curious mind. Then he gave the box to us as a wedding gift, handed me the key, and told you that you must never open it. Why would he do such a thing?”
Pandora sat up and knuckled away her tears, lovely brow furrowed in thought. He waited. She stood and began to pace little circles around the cursed box. After a few circuits, she paused, absent-mindedly handing Epimetheus a small, ornate key. “I stole this from you while you slept,” she said off-handedly as she continued her perambulation, engrossed in thought. He smothered a smile as he placed the key back in his purse. Finally, she stopped, striking an orator’s pose.
“Zeus intended this evil released on humanity,” she proclaimed, “It is part of the punishment he placed on your brother Prometheus for gifting us with fire. He feels threatened by our potential, and has acted to curtail our evolution by distracting us with all manner of suffering.”
Epimetheus nodded, amazed at her insight. He was a Titan, practically immortal, yet his brother had to explain the ramifications of these events over and over before he understood them. And yet, Pandora had puzzled it out on her own in moments. Zeus was right to be afraid of these humans. Prometheus had created something entirely new. Something just as unpredictable as fire.
Her eyes narrowed, and her shoulders straightened. “Then it is the gods who are evil.” She turned to him abruptly, “Did Prometheus prophecy this?”
He paused, again marveling at his wife. “Yes, but there is more. We should go and speak with him now.”
* * *
Prometheus had complained that the anticipation of the pain was almost worse than the experience itself. That, and the tedium of it. Every morning, he awoke whole and healthy, still chained to the rock. Every day when the sun was highest, the great Eagle arrived to eviscerate him and eat his liver. Every afternoon, he writhed in excruciating agony for hours until unconsciousness claimed him. Every night, his body healed itself, knitting the flesh and regrowing his mangled organs. Then he awoke to face the entire cycle anew. The pain was exquisite, but even worse was the hideous repetition. So, Epimetheus tried to visit often to do what he could to relieve his brother’s misery.
Epimetheus guided his wife to the place of his brother’s torment through the secret ways between realms his grandmother had revealed to him, descending deeper and deeper into the bowels of the earth. Finally, a glimmer of light appeared in the distance, growing as they approached. They emerged from the mouth of a cave, somehow stepping out onto a lofty mountain top, with lichen the only living thing in sight. Clouds swirled below them, and the air was thin and cold.
They climbed still higher, and heard a voice call out above them, “Is that my brother with my morning repast? Dates, I hope? I’ve a mind for dates, Epi!” As they drew closer to summit, they saw the giant boulder that was to be Prometheus’ eternal prison, and from the other side, the voice called again, “Is that a second set of feet I hear? Dainty? Graceful as a dancer? Epi, have you finally brought your new bride to meet her brother-in-law?”
They rounded the boulder, and Pandora saw Prometheus for the first time. He was bound hand and foot spread-eagled against the rock, but had contorted his body and lifted his head, neck straining against the chains to get the first glimpse of his guests. His face, as the rest of his body, was gaunt, filthy and unkempt. But he broke into a wide and brilliant smile at the sight of them, teeth shining whitely from the mess of his wild beard. “There she is! Just as beautiful as I foresaw!” He relaxed into his bonds as they took a seat on the bench Epimetheus had fashioned for his visits. “You’ll have to excuse my appearance, sister, I admit I am not at my best. Tell me, how is married life treating you?” His eyebrows waggled suggestively.
Pandora set the box down before him. “I opened it.” She said simply.
“I see. Not a social visit, then. Give me a moment.” Prometheus closed his eyes, and when he spoke again, his voice had taken on a hollow, sepulchral tone. “The deceitful wife unleashes anguish onto the world. Woe! Woe! Woe! The architect has set in motion the downfall of his enemy. One hundred times one hundred years of weeping. The one left behind is both solace and goad.” His head dropped back against the hard rock, and he panted as though he had run a race. Pandora collapsed to the ground, and tore at her robes in a paroxysm of self-loathing. Prometheus opened his eyes and his voice was his own again. “Did we learn anything new?”
Epimetheus gestured helplessly at his wife writhing at his feet. Prometheus goggled, astonished. “Get up, woman! We have no time for these theatrics. I’m due to be disemboweled within the hour, and we have all of existence to save.”
Pandora weakly pushed herself upright, “One hundred times one hundred years of weeping, all because of me.”
Epimetheus patted her awkwardly, and winced at Prometheus. “You did say that, brother. Naturally, she’s feeling a bit overwhelmed.”
Prometheus flapped his hands ineffectually in their shackles. “Pffft. Oracles are always a jumble of nonsense. Tell me exactly what I said.” Numbly, Pandora repeated the prophecy word for word, and was startled when Prometheus crowed triumphantly. “Excellent! Really fantastic news! Well done, Pandora!”
“How can you possibly say that?” Pandora spat, “I was completely duped by Zeus, and fell right into his trap! ‘The architect has set in motion the downfall of his enemy.’ My fault! And those things from the box—” she shuddered “Ten thousand years of that evil reigning over earth?”
Prometheus chuckled, “My dear, the architect is me! And the good news is that there is ONLY ten thousand years of weeping. It’s all going according to my plan.” His laughter held a hint of madness.
Pandora looked to her husband who shrugged his massive shoulders and said, “I’ve always found this bit more than a little confusing.”
Prometheus sighed deeply, then in the patient but exasperated voice of a long-suffering teacher with a particularly dense student, he explained. “When the Olympians began to make war upon the Titans, I spent weeks in meditation and augury. To my sorrow, I saw there would be no path to victory for us. In fact, I saw only one narrow path to the eventual defeat of Zeus. A path long and full of suffering. But to set us on that path, my brother and I first had to survive the war and earn the trust of Zeus. Only our grandmother, Gaia, knew the truth of our plan when we betrayed our own people to join the Olympians. After Cronus was killed, and the other Titans imprisoned in Tartarus, Zeus and the Olympians soon grew bored with peace. They lack imagination. They fucked each other and fought each other, around and around, until even Zeus saw it was getting out of hand. So, he went to Gaia for advice, as I knew he would. And she suggested he create new beings for earth, far less powerful than the Titans, to amuse him. Of course, Zeus loved this idea, because he’s a selfish piece of shit. But he didn’t want to do it himself, because if things went sideways, he needed to blame someone else. So he called on the two of us. He asked Epi to make the animals. And, of course, he took his favorites, and was like, “hey, I made this bull, it’s so powerful, I’m going to be a bull sometimes, and also this eagle.” And he never gave Epi any credit for the impressive animals. But Zeus never takes responsibility for the mistakes, does he? Never hear him go on about the platypus!”
“What’s a platypus?” asked Pandora.
Epimetheus turned bright red and looked sheepishly at his feet. Prometheus roared with mirth, “Epi! You have GOT to show her the platypus!” It took him a moment to control his laughter. “Anyway, Zeus asked me to create humans. Creatures resembling us, but with tiny little lifespans, and no special powers, so they would never be able to overthrow him, as he had his own father. And this, THIS, was the path I had foreseen. Because Zeus and all the Olympians are of Cronos, and that guy was an asshole. None of them have any concept of love. But our grandmother Gaia is love, so we used her substance, the earth itself, to fashion our creations. And that is your secret power, little human, that Zeus cannot see or understand. You are made of love, and love endures.”
Epimetheus kissed the top of his wife’s head affectionately. “Tell her why she had to open the box.”
“Right,” Prometheus gathered his thoughts, “So everything in the box, greed and lust and war and the rest, all that stuff came from Zeus, who got it from his father, who got it from his father. He was going to spread that stuff across the world one way or the other. It’s just his nature. But, his fiendish little mind came up with this idea that if a human released it, after he had expressly and publicly told her “never open this box”, then that would weakens humanity, make you fearful and dependent on him. And so far, that’s just what has happened.”
Pandora was quiet for a moment, then admitted, “I fail to see the positive in this situation.”
“He thinks he won! But it’s not over yet!” Prometheus gave a little shimmy of happiness. “Elpis! Elpis!” he called.
The fatal box shuddered slightly, shifting the gravel it rested on and sliding just a hair downhill. Pandora leapt behind her husband, eyes wide with terror, “Is there something still inside there?”
Prometheus smiled, “Open it and see!”
“Piss off!” cried Pandora, to Prometheus’ great amusement.
“Go ahead, wife,” said Epimetheus gently, “Trust my brother. He hasn’t been wrong, yet.”
Pandora would not have had the courage to lift the lid of the box a second time, had she not been gripping her husband’s hand firmly in her hers. Her other hand reached out, slowly, shaking with her fear, and grasped the jeweled clasp. In one swift motion, she flung open the lid, and jumped backward, cowering. Nothing happened. She glanced at Epimetheus who smiled encouragingly, then she cautiously shuffled forward and peered inside.
Down in the far corner, in the deepest shadow of the box, sat a small trembling bird. “Oh, the poor baby!” cried Pandora as she reached in and pulled it out. She held the creature gently, stroking its pure white feathers. “What is it? It’s not like the rest.”
“That is Elpis,” said Prometheus, “She is Hope. It may be hard to understand, but to Zeus, she was one of the more unpleasant spirits in that box. Because she causes him to always want something else, to be unsatisfied and discontent, because he is only capable of considering his own interests. But for a being of love, like you, Elpis has a different affect. She makes you dream of something better for those you love, and that makes any trial worth bearing. This very moment, the curses you released are winging around the earth, finding easy root in the hearts and societies of men. The suffering will be…inconceivable, sadly, I could scry no way to avoid it. Zeus believes his plan has succeeded and he will be king and judge over all, eternally. He is mistaken. Although your individual lives are short, I created humans with intellect and curiosity. And now I have given you fire. Given time, humans will eventually find ways to defeat poverty, and disease, and hatred, and all the rest. And when they do, the power of Olympus will fall.”
“In ten thousand years?” asked Pandora skeptically.
“Yes! Only ten thousand years! That’s a lot fewer than infinity, you know! Remember, Gaia gave you love. Epi gave you the comfort and delight of all the animals on earth. And now, Elpis will bring you hope. Also, I gave you one other gift you will need to endure. It’s yet another thing that dullard, Zeus, cannot comprehend, but I find it indispensable. Humor. I promise you, when a giant eagle eats your liver every day, you need to be able to find something to laugh about. It will help.”
“So what do we do now?” asked Pandora, as she carefully placed Elpis onto her shoulder.
“Now, we eat!” said Epimetheus, as he reached into the pack he had carried and withdrew a jar of wine and a basket of dates.
“Hoo! Hoo! Brother of mine, Titan of Titans, have I told you lately that I love you?” chortled Prometheus.
There on the bitter and barren summit of Mt. Othrys proceeded one of the strangest picnics in the history of time. Pandora placed dates and bites of cheese and bread into the prophet’s mouth and held the jug of wine to his lips while Epimetheus reduced them all to tears with the Ballad of the Lone Swan. They played games of riddles, and Prometheus was surprised to find Pandora a formidable opponent. They composed ribald poems that had them all rolling with laughter.
It ended abruptly when the shadow of a great bird crossed Prometheus’ bound form. A brief spasm of dread crossed his face before he reaffixed his easy grin. “Looks like my time is up for today, my dears. Please do come back and visit as often as you can. But Pandora, I’m afraid I must ask you to perform another task. A difficult and thankless task.”
“You’d like me to travel the realms of men with Elpis, bringing hope in the face of tragedy for the next ten thousand years,” she suggested. Prometheus blinked owlishly, nodding, his stupefaction causing Pandora to burst into peals of laughter. “I guessed as much. I understand, and I am ready, so long as my husband will accompany me.” She turned to Epimetheus, a query in her eyes.
The Titan lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it, “Anywhere and always, my love,” he said.
“Well, that’s settled, then!” cried Prometheus. “You should go. I’m not entirely sure what the Eagle would do if his luncheon was delayed, but better not to find out.” As they hurried to gather up the remnants of their picnic, Prometheus added, “I do have one humble request, if I may. I am desperate for a bath, I am becoming quite encrusted with my own blood. Pandora, perhaps you could return with a sponge and warm soapy water?” he waggled his eyebrows again.
“I’ll do it,” growled Epimetheus, as Pandora laughed. They stood to leave. “Anything else?”
“Actually, a fresh loincloth would be much appreciated. I mean, it would be simpler to go nude, of course, and really, who is there to see? But I have to admit to some trepidation that the bird would take one look at my manhood and, mistaking it for a worm, snap it right up!”
Epimetheus nodded as he propelled a giggling Pandora back down the path toward the cave. “New loincloth, tomorrow,” he said over his shoulder.
“Did I say worm?” Prometheus’ voice floated down the path to them as the Great Eagle circled lower and lower. “I meant…um…Epi, what is the biggest snake you created?”
“A python!” Epi shouted back up the hill.
“My manhood is a python!” yelled Prometheus, as his brother and his brother’s bride ducked into the cave that would return them to the realm of men. They could barely hear him as he cried after them, “You’re going to need to find a very big loincloth!”
Pandora and Epimetheus picked their way carefully over the rocky terrain, growing solemn as the darkness swallowed them. They walked in silence as they contemplated the enormity of the task ahead. Pandora stroked the downy chest feathers of Elpis, perched on her shoulder, then hooked her arm through Epi’s. He patted her hand with concern. “What are you thinking, wife?” he asked.
Pandora smiled. “I’m wondering where we will have to go to see a platypus,” she answered as they stepped from the cave into the sun.