The Pandora Panacea

Author(s) : John Baldwin,
poetry, issue-four

Being immortal is exhausting. Remaining always youthful and beautiful sounds wonderous, of course. But one must regularly change their life and identity to disguise the inexplicable lack of aging. And if that isn’t curse enough, how about being the infamous person linked to the ending of the Golden Age of Man many thousands of years ago? That was a time when polytheism was the accepted belief. Pandora’s name has become a metaphor for that dreadful event – to mean something that is best left untouched. She is the living (well, forever living) truth of that tale. She goes by the name Dora in today’s world. Her real name might be familiar to you: Pandora. Not so much born, as created – by the Gods of Olympus.

***

In the year 2020, Dora’s language skills and literary knowledge made her a shoo-in to work for a publishing company. One day she came across something of interest: a young man named Greg had submitted draft pages of a proposed humorous little book. The book would illustrate in simple line drawings common annoyances suffered by everyone: Stubbed toe; lettuce embarrassingly stuck in one’s teeth; and the like. Dora had been assigned to meet him at the office to determine whether a finished work might seem worth publishing.

Upon meeting, Dora began. “Greg, it’s a most clever book. Did you bring some additional pages for us to see?”

Gaining his composure after being shocked by her beauty, Greg said, “Er, yes. Here you are.” He passed them over. “One is the embarrassment of walking into a sliding glass door. Then there’s a splinter in the finger. Stepping on dog doo is another good icky subject. I thought the whimsical drawings matched up pretty well. Besides which,” he added sheepishly, “it’s the only art talent I possess.”

Dora gave him credit. “Some of Picasso’s best works were contour line drawings. The French artist Honoré Daumier used witty drawings as caricatures of absurdities.” She caught herself from listing other examples from histories so familiar to her. “I believe your simple illustrations portray the unwelcome experiences perfectly.”

They chatted for another half hour about some other examples he had in mind and the illustrations that might accompany them.

“Greg, I quite like your book,” Dora said. “Mind you, I’ll just be passing on my opinion. I must ask though: What motivated you to create this parade of human ouches?”

“I actually had a serious purpose in mind. It’s just so distressing to me that people nowadays are so polarized. This was one small way I could show how much all of us, everywhere, truly have in common.”

“That’s a noble objective. Would you consider yourself a do-gooder?”

“Oh, most definitely. Most of my acquaintances think I’m hopelessly naïve. I simply believe that man is essentially good.”

“That is a most refreshing perspective. But how about the existence of crime, poverty, greed… and all the other negative aspects of our society? How can you reconcile those with your humanitarian views?”

“I can’t. I just have a sense that these unpleasant things were somehow imposed upon our natural state.”

“Is that a Christian view? Maybe expecting the world to be purified upon the return of Jesus? Or some other religion’s vision of a heavenly existence?”

“No, I’m not that kind of believer. I don’t even accept the premise of just one God.” Her expression of interest influenced him to continue. “If there is any Supreme Force, it seems to me that Polytheism – multiple gods – might provide a better explanation for our human circumstances than any of the alternatives. Anyway, my farfetched dream would be to overcome, or at least reduce, life’s obstacles and somehow make this a better world now… in our lifetime. Oh, there I go, getting preachy with my outlier beliefs. You can see why people think I’m an idiot.”

“No, Greg, I don’t think that at all. The uncommon person who is down-deep honest and cares for others is always considered a fool and subject of ridicule. I think of the character Prince Mishkin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, and Billy Budd in Melville’s tragic novel. They were admirable, if ill-fated, examples of how people could be truly good.”

“Hey, you’re talking my language as someone trained in classic literature. Hardly seems like the training for the creation of my silly book, does it?”

“I’ve had more careers myself than you could imagine.”

“It is so refreshing to talk with you, though mostly I’ve done the talking. “

“I’ll let you know about our company’s interest in publishing your book. But I must ask. In your study of the classics, did you come across the poet Hesiod?”

“Sure, and his poems Theagony and Works and Day, from about the 7th Century B.C. He wrote about the Gods of Olympus and how they imposed miseries upon mankind. These spirits were mistakenly released from a box, or jar, as I recall. Even attempted to read these works in the original Greek.”

Dora brightened. “Greg, you interest me greatly. We must meet again.”

Stunned, Greg replied, “Dora, you overwhelm me. But why would you want to see me again? Frankly, you are definitely out of my league.”

“Oh, Greg. Those things are so superficial. You might be the exact person I’ve been seeking for such a long… long… time.”

***

“Summon Prometheus!” roared Zeus, “I want to be entertained.”

Zeus needn’t have bellowed, but that seemed only fitting for the King of the Gods dwelling on Olympus. The lesser Gods made efforts to appease Zeus and his unpredictable urges. His displeasures could prove eternally painful. Prometheus shortly appeared. “You asked for me, your Highest. How might I serve you?”

“Prometheus, we defeated your giant Titans and you became a sort of humanoid god/man. I held no grudge for this until you dared to defy me centuries ago. After granting you the privilege of creating the first creatures to live on earth, you dared to steal and hand over to them the gift of fire. For that transgression, I had you tortured horribly. As a further lasting punishment of humans for accepting the fire, I had fashioned the first in the race of women and a wife to your Brother Epimetheus. She was to be the subject of the cruelest of tricks to be played upon mankind.”

“These punishments were deserved, my King. I am blessed by the return to your favor.”

“Do recite for me again this amusing tale about the results of my sport. I’ve paid no attention since then to the earthly world’s existence.”

“As you wish. The woman so formed we named Pandora, meaning all-endowed, as each of the Gods gave her certain gifts. Athena blew life into her; Aphrodite bestowed beauty and desire; Hermes, the gift of speech. Your ingenious trick was to incorporate into Pandora evil traits of deviousness, falsehood, and treachery that would prove to be a curse on her husband. Furthermore, as a dowry gift she was given a box, which she was instructed to never open.”

Zeus beamed. “Yes, I recall well. Her inherent female curiosity caused her to open the box and… tell me this part again.”

“Escaping from the container were the full range of evils that could plague humanity – hatred, envy, greed, disease, poverty, pain, war and death. The only positive left behind as a token to mankind was Hope. That has been the condition of the human world ever since.”

Zeus laughed heartily. “A fitting condition for pitiful mortals. And what of Pandora after that calamity?”

“She was known to have been inconsolable with guilt for that event, though she had meant no harm. She did later have children with Epimetheus and the family eventually passed on as humans do… except Pandora, who lived on. Perhaps accidentally in her formation, she was given a few god-like qualities, including immortality. That’s all I know. I haven’t visited that world for ages.”

“Well, perhaps you should. I realize you were once sympathetic and even lived among them for a while. My interest is merely that their pathetic little lives might provide some novel amusement for us.”

***

“Dora, we’ve now been together lots of times these last few months. It has been exhilarating and at times exhausting. There has been time enough to know one another.”

“Yes, Greg. It has shown me that your life is lived consistently with your scruples. I saw the effort you expended to calm the little lost girl in the shopping center. Then to reconnect the child with her Mom. You crossed the busy street to assist a handicapped woman take groceries into her apartment. I’ve observed you telling the absolute truth when a slight lie would have benefitted you.”

“Those are inconsequential little things.”

Dora responded, “I know better. They portray the larger truths. I saw you take on personal risk to aid someone vulnerable. We saw two bullies harassing a homeless person and you intervened. Angry at the disruption, they were about to throw punches. It was a fight you would have lost. You showed bravery in a lost cause.”

Greg responded honestly. “More like stupidity than bravery. But then you intervened. Coming face to face, you stopped them in their tracks with this: ‘You rascally knaves. You base dunghill villains. You are proof of Lucius Seneca’s quote: All cruelty springs from weakness.’ You, Dora the dominator, delivered two perfectly placed kicks to the thighs of these thugs. They cried out in pain and dropped to their knees disabled. You dispatched the bullies like a seasoned street fighter, while quoting Shakespeare, and a 1st Century Roman philosopher, I believe. Where did all that come from?”

“These were just things I learned over time. Some memorable quotes. Simple kicks to their sciatic nerves. You were the brave one. No doubt you’d have beaten them up as well.”

“Not hardly. You know my personal history. My limitations. My aspirations, etc. And I know hardly anything about you. Except that you are remarkable in everything you do. I’ve seen that during the wondrous times we’ve had together.”

“We’ve played different kinds of games. Visited galleries. Tried our hands at various sports.”

“Enjoyable to be sure… but hardly competitive. You not only beat me almost every time, though very courteous about it, but had near perfect scores besides. We went to museums and you recounted historical details about every famous leader memorialized there and their cultures. As a lark, we went to an archery range. You were unfamiliar with the modern compound bow, yet still hit the bullseye repeatedly.”

“You weren’t so bad yourself at some activities.” Flirtatiously, she continued, “Certainly, when we had private times together, you proved to be a most ardent lover.”

“Oh, please. There could be no luckier fellow in this department. It was as if you brought to bear all the bedroom skills of celebrated women throughout the ages – Cleopatra, Madame Pompadour…”

“Don’t forget the original Eve, or the Goddess Athena, for that matter.”

“Dora, I’m not kidding about that.”

“Me, either. Greg, I’ve had to keep myself a mystery. If it’s any comfort to you, no one living knows who I am, or where I came from. My special skills and broad knowledge are far from ordinary, that’s true. There is a simple explanation, but one that you might find impossible to understand and accept.”

“I’m ready to believe anything about you. My fascination and admiration for you, my mysterious lady, has become something much grander. I love you; that couldn’t be a surprise to you. But every guy would. On top of everything else, you’re a living Google, with knowledge of everything it seems. Cannot imagine why I’ve been blessed with the gift of you. I’ll relish it while I can.”

“Greg, I care for you as well. I’ve greatly enjoyed our many adventures. I’ll confess though to having an ulterior motive in observing your behavior and responses to stimuli of different kinds. Are you familiar with the story of Diogenes from ancient Greece who carried a lantern in search of an honest person?”

“Well, sure. Was he supposed to have found one?”

“I happen to know that he did not. But I have. Our time together was my personal test to see if you are truly a genuinely honest, decent, moral person. You proved it. You are one of that elite group.”

“Oh, come on. That makes me sound like… like Jesus Christ. “

“I know the real Him. Take away the Son of God holiness later attributed to him and you do have the same values.”

“Stop, that’s too much. I’m just a regular guy, while you seem to be perfect in every way. Like a good witch, or a… a… goddess.”

“I have my flaws, as you shall discover. I have come to trust you now completely and will reveal all. Let’s find a bench in the park and you shall know me. You shall hear how Eve from the Garden of Eden and myself have something in common: We both transgressed against divine law and brought destruction to innocents.”

***

“Thanks for accompanying me on this visit, Aphrodite. Zeus ordered me to revisit humankind. He still relished how he had succeeded in destroying the innocent all-male Paradise with unleashed suffering.”

“Prometheus, I know all about it, though had no hand in its execution. The first earthly woman was created by Him as a poisonous gift to your brother Epimetheus. It was a punishment for your impudence, Prometheus, in giving humans the use of fire. Zeus has since forgiven you.”

“Exactly. And the woman Pandora, unable to resist temptation, opened the gifted box which released all the ugliness imaginable upon the earth. Their population would have grown, but undoubtedly has continued to suffer terribly. It just occurred to Zeus that man’s current struggles might provide good sport for the Gods.”

“As the Goddess of love and beauty, observing the torment of humans would provide no pleasure to me. As someone once sympathetic to them, how do you feel about it?”

“I feel the same way but wouldn’t dare provoke Zeus by any interference in his games.”

“So, let’s just observe how things are and report back to our King.”

***

Seated on a park bench, Dora explained everything to an aghast Greg. “And that, my dear friend, is the story of why all people suffer in this world.”

“You, lovely and perfect you, are the singular cause of all mankind’s ills?”

“Yes, me. And I must correct your perception. I was created by the Gods in Olympus and given some few of their abilities. I was not, however, made to be perfect. As explained, I was formed to be a woman who would tell lies and bring treachery, disobedience, and falsehood into men’s lives. It has been only by force of will over centuries that I’ve been able to largely suppress these drives. But the eternal guilt remains for opening the box of horrors.”

“Wow, that’s a lot to swallow. At the core of what you’re telling me is an acceptance that the Greek Gods of Olympus are the Higher Power! It’s a stretch, but I believe in you, so I can accept as true this creation history. After all, in ancient times these multiple Gods were the religion. So, do they continue to be an active force in our lives?”

“No, Greg, I don’t believe so. I lived through the ancient period when most people prayed to this group of Gods. That has given way to a belief in monotheism – just one god – though it can be a somewhat different one for the major religions. Up in Olympus, I know that they’ve forgotten this earthly experiment for thousands of years – ever since they inflicted me on mankind.”

“Oh, Dora, what a burden of guilt to carry for any person. But then, forgive my confusion, are you a human, or what?”

“I am almost entirely human, you could say, with some extra features built in. Like, say immortality.”

“So, I’ve been dating and cavorting with someone who is thousands of years old and wise? Talk about an age difference. A big question looms. Why would you waste time with me, demonstrably an average mortal?”

“Not average at all, as my test proved. As someone 100% good and honest, you are exceptional. You uniquely are qualified to join me in a grand effort to make life better for everyone. I caused all the woes suffered by the people. I’ve been planning for ages to launch an effort to substantially relieve these troubles. To accomplish this, I had to find a purely honest partner. You’re the one, Greg. Will you join me?”

“Body and soul. That is, if souls are still a thing. Let’s make our world better.”

***

Invisibly watching this exchange, Prometheus confided in Aphrodite, “It looks like we’ve reestablished connection with the world at an ideal time. Guilt ridden Pandora and her selected partner will try to ease the hardships she caused to humanity. I will secretly hope for this to succeed. At least it should provide some entertainment for Zeus and the other Gods.”

Aphrodite proposed, “Let’s go visible down here and sit down for some earth food. That will be a refreshing change. I’d favor hanging around then to hear Pandora’s action plan. Seeing how she and Greg work and play together is bound to be fun as well.”

They found a restaurant and seemed oblivious to the excitement it generated among the customers. The most exquisite beauty in the company of a hero-proportioned man. Better than any other possible Hollywood celebrity sighting.

***

“I’ve been shaping this idea for making the world a better place for a long time. I am no genius but rather a keen observer who has seen the suffering of mankind over centuries. Have watched societies thrive and wither. All of this is attributable to the ills I introduced. Except for death, the other curses such as hatred, envy, greed, and prejudice have been embedded in humans… in their very DNA, I suppose.”

“This is what you propose we fix? That’s an ambitious undertaking even for remarkable you.”

“Indeed so. It’s only possible with the participation of yourself and other uniquely honest and decent men and women that might be found. In human history, and still today, there are those leaders and ordinary citizens who have somehow overcome all the curses with which I once infected man. Some few of such people have ruled their nations wisely and well, whether formed as established democracies, or enlightened monarchies. The same minority of ordinary citizens have also lived honorable lives – treating all others with compassion.”

“I have heard of such rulers and encountered such people. They come and go it would seem.”

“Yes, but that’s just the starting point. The First Step. What if all such morally exceptional persons could be identified? Plato envisioned the development of philosophers who would be morally and intellectually suited to govern. Suppose in choosing any leader – whether for President, or for the local school board – that ideal person could be unquestionably determined? Voters would know that such person would be impartial, acting without self-interest, and seeking to do what’s best for everyone. But leaders aside, regular citizens who proved to be morally exceptional like yourself would be the absolute best friends and neighbors. I’ve chosen to call all such special people the Optimized.

“Well, sure, but how could an Optimized person be definitely identified? Every politician – hell, everyone for that matter – would likely claim that they qualify.”

“That’s the Second Step of my project. I informally tested you, but in fact a sophisticated test has been developed which can clearly establish whether someone is Optimized. It uses the most advanced techniques to evaluate emotions and probe the recorded histories of the subjects. I commissioned the development of this test by the leading experts in their fields.”

“What? How could you have arranged and afforded all this?”

“Think about it. Cumulative experience and financial opportunities over generations. Count in the resources left me by departed husbands and lovers, some quite wealthy. Oh, sorry. That last thing might upset you.”

“Being jealous seems rather trivial considering what you’re talking about.”

Dora smiled. “Then there’s the final Step Three. The identity of the Optimized ones will be known. It follows that the public would prefer voting for and associating with them. These leaders will use logic and reason in their domains. The citizens will have their freedom and the law will be enforced fairly. In daily lives, Optimized friends will be those who are absolutely supportive and trustworthy. So here is the anticipated great conversion: By the qualities of honesty and caring shown by the Optimized, other people will over time be influenced to minimize or subdue their undesirable instincts. This will inevitably and eventually lead to a better, kinder world.”

“O.K. Sign me up. When do we start?”

“Immediately. We will be launching an international campaign to promote the Optimized test. Those who pass will be officially credentialed. So, let’s get started my dear all-human friend.”

***

“Now that’s something unexpected!” exclaimed Prometheus. “Who could have guessed that my creation Pandora would be starting a kind of revolution down here?”

“It would appear that this first woman on earth has risen above her humble origin. Might this be considered a challenge to the Gods?”

“Oh, I don’t believe so. What do we care if humans can make their lives a little less miserable? It will certainly prove interesting to see if this grand plan might work.”

“Yes Prometheus, and it gives us an excuse to stay on this planet a while longer. I confess to enjoying the attention we’re receiving from the people we encounter here. Even as the most beautiful female of all creation, this Goddess enjoys the admiration. I never receive compliments anymore from our counterparts in Olympus.”

“Oh, I suppose we can extend our visit to see how Pandora’s project works out before reporting back to Zeus.”

***

The worldwide project was launched with great and expensive fanfare. It was the subject of interest exceeding all other news. Millions of people opted to take the Test. A small percentage passed this successfully and were certified. Regular people were at first anxious to be in the company of Optimums. Office seekers at all different levels of government proudly proclaimed their Optimum status seeking to be elected over their opponents.

Pandora and Greg were elated. They seemed on the way to changing the world for the better. Now they just had to wait and watch as the Optimum drive for goodness expands and succeeds.

***

Now, what could possibly go wrong with this project? Short answer: The power of evil. People who did not qualify as Optimums were envious. Their feelings took the form of hate against the designated more moral people. Pandora, despite wishing to be anonymous, was outed as a founder, and faced prejudice as some kind of hostile outsider (if they only knew). Most businesses uniformly resisted the project because their officers seldom qualified as Optimums. Those business leaders who did qualify were resisted by selfish stockholders who did not want social concerns limiting corporate profits. Institutions with policies that were not based on some form of discrimination condemned the entire idea of Optimums.

***

After a while, the harsh reality had to be acknowledged by Dora and Greg. The Project was a monumental failure. Human nature, as accentuated by the curses from Pandora’s box, had won out over altruistic efforts to dilute these ills. Those people who had been certified as Optimums for the most part did not again mention this honor to their special nature.

“We failed,” declared Pandora dejectedly. “I remember Herodotus said that ‘Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks.’ In my case, the risk was a painful renewal of the guilt I have so long borne.” She paused for reflection. “If any good has come from this fruitless campaign it is the personal bond we have formed. Containing within myself such a load of ancient memories, I should be jaded regarding relationships. Should be, but it seems that I’m not. Never said this before, never. I love you too, Greg.”

***

“That was such a sad ending to a most noble cause,” said Aphrodite.

Prometheus nodded in agreement. “I admit to being quite proud of my creation Pandora. She went so far past her limitations. The effort she made was Herculean, and the failure of almost godlike proportions. As the Goddess of love, the unlikely romance with her human companion must be pleasing to you.”

“To be sure. I would be interested in watching it further develop. Did you create her with the ability to bear children?”

“Why yes. We endowed her with all human physical attributes and abilities.”

“Prometheus, doesn’t it seem like Pandora and mankind have been punished enough? After all, you’re the one who stole and gave them fire.”

“I agree. I have an idea as to how Zeus might be influenced to lighten up on these punishments. Tell me what you think of this.” He described his scheme and her smile registered an interest in being a co-conspirator.

***

Prometheus ended his presentation, “And so, Great Zeus, that describes the drama concerning Pandora and humanity. All of that stemming from your masterful trick of sending the gift box of miseries to the girl created as almost human. It was a most effective punishment for me. Still consumed by guilt, Pandora made a bold effort to reduce these plagues on mankind. Might you consider similarly easing the difficulties of earthlings?”

“Prometheus, you have been forgiven and are again within my good graces. Still, I think the troubles of earthlings may provide a renewed amusement for us in Olympus. I’ll start watching them again.”

“As you prefer, of course. However, allow me one additional observation regarding the people on earth and how they envision your Highness.”

“Yes, that would interest me.”

Prometheus took a deep breath before boldly proclaiming: “They don’t think of you, or the other Gods, or Olympus, at all anymore!”

“What! How dare they be indifferent? I’ll increase their woes! Destroy their planet.”

“Wait, please. Hear me out. Over centuries people have replaced their reverence for you, for us, with a belief in their particular religion’s singular God. Huge structures, called churches and temples, have been built everywhere for assemblies in which the people reach out to their supposed deities. Most believe that civilization began by their sole God creating the first man and woman.”

“How can they believe that? We created their world.”

“Might I suggest that their belief in the Gods of Olympus might be reestablished by some divine reminder of your preeminence.”

Thoughtfully, Zeus murmured, “Hmmm. What might you propose?”

“Well, Pandora’s box of woes demonstrated your omnipotence over their lives. Perhaps some act of benevolence could be the best reminder of the true Source of such power. It could show that the mighty Zeus can be merciful when merited, as well as malevolent when flaunted. I believe that humankind will prove just as entertaining to us here in your Kingdom if the people were happier with their state.”

“Prometheus, you may have convinced me. Anything else?”

“One small request. I created Pandora at your command. I continue to feel compassion for her and am impressed with what she tried to do. I would ask that you grant one single wish of hers, whatever it might be.”

“Well, it shouldn’t be said that I am primarily a vengeful God.”

***

Pandora and Greg were spending a quiet morning at their home. The baby had not yet awakened. He seemed quite an extraordinary little fellow, though whether these were just parents’ typical conceits, or something more, remained to be seen.

The doorbell rang. “I’ve got a large box for you.” The delivery driver set it just inside the door. It was almost too heavy for Greg, who carried it into the living room.

“Did you order something, dear? I didn’t,” declared Dora.

“Nope,” said Greg, “but it is addressed to you. No sender or return address. Wait. There is a message on it. It says ‘The First Gift. Open to dispel all guilt. A Second Gift to Come.’”

With great anticipation they opened the box.

At once there were a flurry of formless spirits that flew from it. They weren’t threatening. On the contrary, they were uplifting and altogether wonderful. Dora, using one of her residual skills, was able to identify them. There was Empathy, Forgiveness, Humor, Tolerance, Trust and a whole lot more of positive qualities. New gifts to humankind. Clearly these were intended as additions to the Hope token concession from the original Pandora’s box.

Greg knew from Dora’s rapturous expression that this was the most precious gift of all time.

Dora lifted her head toward Olympus with thanks. She gave no thought to what a Second Gift might be. She had everything she wanted.

***

Many, many years of happiness followed for Greg and Dora and their son Bruce – as close to the name Zeus as possible, without burdening the boy with lifelong explanations. Greg became elderly, while Dora did not. They were prepared for this. It didn’t reduce their love for one another. Bruce graduated from college and engaged in a humanitarian career with a family of his own. Greg’s time finally expired gently.

Dora was devastated. She had loved this honest, decent man like no other during her long unending life. She was dreading the thought of continuing life without him. After the memorial services she retired to her room to lay on the bed with Greg’s picture hugged to her bosom. Unexpectedly, she had an unfamiliar feeling… her life was peacefully draining away. She was losing her immortality. No life was desired without Greg.

The granting of a human death was her Second Gift.

 

 


John Baldwin has finally acknowledged that he is retired. He has settled in for a comfortable life to best enjoy his wife, two daughters and their families. For so long he operated as an entrepreneur – getting an idea and turning it into a business if it looked promising. Many of these did not work out. Some did fortunately, and the small enterprises were sold to big corporations. Frankly, though, the real joy in this career came from the creative and imaginative parts of starting something new. Now John has tried his hand at writing short fiction. This seems a somewhat similar experience providing stimulation in the act of writing, but many disappointments if the work fails to find an audience. John has encountered a particular difficulty in his effort to become an author. As an attorney/businessman, all writing required was necessarily factual, formal, and dull. Learning to use language in a natural and entertaining way has been a challenge. He’ll keep plugging to get it right.