This Friday and Saturday, February 26 and 27, is the February full moon. Actually I saw it in the late afternoon on Thursday. It made me think of these song lyrics, "Mr. Moon, Mr. Moon, you're out too soon the sun is still in the sky. Go back to your bed and cover up your head and wait 'til the day goes by." Whenever it goes by, it carries many names including "Snow Moon" (given by Farmer's Almanac and recognized by NASA), while here in Michigan the Anishinaabe call it the "Bear Moon." Scary sounding to this winter hater, but we've seen 40 degrees this past week. I tell myself to calm down, reminding myself the so-called "January Thaw" regularly happens in February. As a result of the rough winter we've had, coupled with the woes of Covid, I found myself seeking a tale of HOPE!
|1881 watercolor by Alma Tadema|
I was shocked to see it wasn't a topic covered in folktale indexing. That was just the start of surprises in my quest for HOPE. In fact, the only story I kept coming up with was the Greek mythological tale commonly thought of as "Pandora's Box." Wikipedia on Pandora tells us a translation mistake by Erasmus in the 16th century turned a pithos, a large storage jar, into a box and that's far from the only thing common beliefs on the story miss. Poor Pandora has taken all the blame, but her name doesn't even appear in the earliest written record of the tale by Hesiod. Added to that, does the name of Epimetheus sound familiar? Pre-Hesiod oral versions (and today's tale) include this twin brother of Prometheus. Eventually Epimetheus became her husband, but did you know he also was involved in the tale about releasing evil into the world? Before you wonder, yes, Pandora gets compared to Eve tempting Adam. Mythological tales can get convoluted and I'm not a big fan of telling them, but the end of the story is where Hope appears. The prospect of Hope was enough to interest me.
Obviously there are many versions of the story. Classical mythology revels in variations or, as I called it, convolutions. If you're curious about them, feel free to fall down the Wikipedia "rabbit hole." The Nathaniel Hawthorne version of the tale, "The Paradise of Children", appeared again and again, capturing my interest. Couldn't imagine why it was called The Paradise of Children. It's a story in Hawthorne's anthology, A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys. The book is his retelling of the Greek myths (Greek myths stay a bit more consistent than Roman or Egyptian mythology, which changed to match political changes). While it is called a short story, it's one of six stories and long enough I'd call it a novella. The book uses a "frame" of sharing the stories with a group of children at a place called Tanglewood. I found a triptych of Walter Crane's illustrations (minus the tale's decorations at each end) for the entire story. After that I'm going to jump to the release of the contents as the entire story is much longer. (I'm posting only 7 of 20 pages.)
But Epimetheus himself, although he said very little about it, had his own share of curiosity to know what was inside. Perceiving that Pandora was resolved to find out the secret, he determined that his playfellow should not be the only wise person in the cottage. And if there were anything pretty or valuable in the box, he meant to take half of it to himself. Thus, after all his sage speeches to Pandora about restraining her curiosity, Epimetheus turned out to be quite as foolish, and nearly as much in fault, as she. So, whenever we blame Pandora for what happened, we must not forget to shake our heads at Epimetheus likewise.
As Pandora raised the lid, the cottage grew very dark and dismal; for the black cloud had now swept quite over the sun, and seemed to have buried it alive. There had, for a little while past, been a low growling and muttering, which all at once broke into a heavy peal of thunder. But Pandora, heeding nothing of all this, lifted the lid nearly upright, and looked inside. It seemed as if a sudden swarm of winged creatures brushed past her, taking flight out of the box, while, at the same instant, she heard the voice of Epimetheus, with a lamentable tone, as if he were in pain.
"Oh, I am stung!" cried he. "I am stung! Naughty Pandora! why have you opened this wicked box?"
Pandora let fall the lid, and, starting up, looked about her, to see what had befallen Epimetheus. The thunder-cloud had so darkened the room that she could not very clearly discern what was in it. But she heard a disagreeable buzzing, as if a great many huge flies, or gigantic mosquitoes, or those insects which we call dor-bugs, and pinching-dogs, were darting about. And, as her eyes grew more accustomed to the imperfect light, she saw a crowd of ugly little shapes, with bats' wings, looking abominably spiteful, and armed with terribly long stings in their tails. It was one of these that had stung Epimetheus. Nor was it a great while before Pandora herself began to scream, in no less pain and affright than her playfellow, and making a vast deal more hubbub about it. An odious little monster had settled on her forehead, and would have stung her I know not how deeply, if Epimetheus had not run and brushed it away.
Now, if you wish to know what these ugly things might be, which had made their escape out of the box, I must tell you that they were the whole family of earthly Troubles. There were evil Passions; there were a great many species of Cares; there were more than a hundred and fifty Sorrows; there were Diseases, in a vast number of miserable and painful shapes; there were more kinds of Naughtiness than it would be of any use to talk about. In short, everything that has since afflicted the souls and bodies of mankind had been shut up in the mysterious box, and given to Epimetheus and Pandora to be kept safely, in order that the happy children of the world might never be molested by them. Had they been faithful to their trust, all would have gone well. No grown person would ever have been sad, nor any child have had cause to shed a single tear, from that hour until this moment.
But—and you may see by this how a wrong act of any one mortal is a calamity to the whole world—by Pandora's lifting the lid of that miserable box, and by the fault of Epimetheus, too, in not preventing her, these Troubles have obtained a foothold among us, and do not seem very likely to be driven away in a hurry. For it was impossible, as you will easily guess, that the two children should keep the ugly swarm in their own little cottage. On the contrary, the first thing that they did was to fling open the doors and windows, in hopes of getting rid of them; and, sure enough, away flew the winged Troubles all abroad, and so pestered and tormented the small people, everywhere about, that none of them so much as smiled for many days afterwards. And, what was very singular, all the flowers and dewy blossoms on earth, not one of which had hitherto faded, now began to droop and shed their leaves, after a day or two. The children, moreover, who before seemed immortal in their childhood, now grew older, day by day, and came soon to be youths and maidens, and men and women by and by, and aged people, before they dreamed of such a thing.
Meanwhile, the naughty Pandora, and hardly less naughty Epimetheus, remained in their cottage. Both of them had been grievously stung, and were in a good deal of pain, which seemed the more intolerable to them, because it was the very first pain that had ever been felt since the world began. Of course, they were entirely unaccustomed to it, and could have no idea what it meant. Besides all this, they were in exceedingly bad humor, both with themselves and with one another. In order to indulge it to the utmost, Epimetheus sat down sullenly in a corner with his back towards Pandora; while Pandora flung herself upon the floor and rested her head on the fatal and abominable box. She was crying bitterly, and sobbing as if her heart would break.
Suddenly there was a gentle little tap on the inside of the lid.
"What can that be?" cried Pandora, lifting her head.
But either Epimetheus had not heard the tap, or was too much out of humor to notice it. At any rate, he made no answer.
"You are very unkind," said Pandora, sobbing anew, "not to speak to me!"
Again the tap! It sounded like the tiny knuckles of a fairy's hand, knocking lightly and playfully on the inside of the box.
"Who are you?" asked Pandora, with a little of her former curiosity. "Who are you, inside of this naughty box?"
A sweet little voice spoke from within,—
"Only lift the lid, and you shall see."
"No, no," answered Pandora, again beginning to sob, "I have had enough of lifting the lid! You are inside of the box, naughty creature, and there you shall stay! There are plenty of your ugly brothers and sisters already flying about the world. You need never think that I shall be so foolish as to let you out!"
"Ah," said the sweet little voice again, "you had much better let me out. I am not like those naughty creatures that have stings in their tails. They are no brothers and sisters of mine, as you would see at once, if you were only to get a glimpse of me. Come, come, my pretty Pandora! I am sure you will let me out!"
And, indeed, there was a kind of cheerful witchery in the tone, that made it almost impossible to refuse anything which this little voice asked. Pandora's heart had insensibly grown lighter at every word that came from within the box. Epimetheus, too, though still in the corner, had turned half round, and seemed to be in rather better spirits than before.
"My dear Epimetheus," cried Pandora, "have you heard this little voice?"
"Yes, to be sure I have," answered he, but in no very good humor as yet. "And what of it?"
"Shall I lift the lid again?" asked Pandora.
"Just as you please," said Epimetheus. "You have done so much mischief already, that perhaps you may as well do a little more. One other Trouble, in such a swarm as you have set adrift about the world, can make no very great difference."
"You might speak a little more kindly!" murmured Pandora, wiping her eyes.
"Ah, naughty boy!" cried the little voice within the box, in an arch and laughing tone. "He knows he is longing to see me. Come, my dear Pandora, lift up the lid. I am in a great hurry to comfort you. Only let me have some fresh air, and you shall soon see that matters are not quite so dismal as you think them!"
"Epimetheus," exclaimed Pandora, "come what may, I am resolved to open the box!"
"And as the lid seems very heavy," cried Epimetheus, running across the room, "I will help you!"
So, with one consent, the two children again lifted the lid. Out flew a sunny and smiling little personage, and hovered about the room, throwing a light wherever she went. Have you never made the sunshine dance into dark corners, by reflecting it from a bit of looking-glass? Well, so looked the winged cheerfulness of this fairy-like stranger, amid the gloom of the cottage. She flew to Epimetheus, and laid the least touch of her finger on the inflamed spot where the Trouble had stung him, and immediately the anguish of it was gone. Then she kissed Pandora on the forehead, and her hurt was cured likewise.
After performing these good offices, the bright stranger fluttered sportively over the children's heads, and looked so sweetly at them, that they both began to think it not so very much amiss to have opened the box, since, otherwise, their cheery guest must have been kept a prisoner among those naughty imps with stings in their tails.
"Pray, who are you, beautiful creature?" inquired Pandora.
"I am to be called Hope!" answered the sunshiny figure. "And because I am such a cheery little body, I was packed into the box, to make amends to the human race for that swarm of ugly Troubles, which was destined to be let loose among them. Never fear! we shall do pretty well in spite of them all."
"Your wings are colored like the rainbow!" exclaimed Pandora. "How very beautiful!"
"Yes, they are like the rainbow," said Hope, "because, glad as my nature is, I am partly made of tears as well as smiles."
"And will you stay with us," asked Epimetheus, "forever and ever?"
"As long as you need me," said Hope, with her pleasant smile,—"and that will be as long as you live in the world,—I promise never to desert you. There may come times and seasons, now and then, when you will think that I have utterly vanished. But again, and again, and again, when perhaps you least dream of it, you shall see the glimmer of my wings on the ceiling of your cottage. Yes, my dear children, and I know something very good and beautiful that is to be given you hereafter!"
"Oh, tell us," they exclaimed,—"tell us what it is!"
"Do not ask me," replied Hope, putting her finger on her rosy mouth. "But do not despair, even if it should never happen while you live on this earth. Trust in my promise, for it is true."
"We do trust you!" cried Epimetheus and Pandora, both in one breath.
And so they did; and not only they, but so has everybody trusted Hope, that has since been alive. And to tell you the truth, I cannot help being glad—(though, to be sure, it was an uncommonly naughty thing for her to do)—but I cannot help being glad that our foolish Pandora peeped into the box. No doubt—no doubt—the Troubles are still flying about the world, and have increased in multitude, rather than lessened, and are a very ugly set of imps, and carry most venomous stings in their tails. I have felt them already, and expect to feel them more, as I grow older. But then that lovely and lightsome little figure of Hope! What in the world could we do without her? Hope spiritualizes the earth; Hope makes it always new; and, even in the earth's best and brightest aspect, Hope shows it to be only the shadow of an infinite bliss hereafter.
As often happens in older stories, some of the wording might benefit from updating, but I liked the disaster being caused by "children", although I suspect they were adolescents. I definitely enjoyed discovering Epimetheus's involvement. Poor Pandora traditionally gets the blame alone in talking about Pandora and the "Box."
Most of all I appreciate the story giving Hope.
I've seen robins on our snow. They always seem to come back to Michigan a bit earlier than spring. Still they're a bit of Hope. I've often talked about the Great Lakes Anishinaabe story of Peboan and Seegwun, or you might think of Peboan as "Old Man Winter." Many of us are Hoping that Old Man relaxes his grip on our land. Even the word "lent", first recorded before 900 A.D., Dictionary.com tells us originated with the Middle English leynte and Old English læncte meaning “spring, springtime, Lent.” It literally translates as “lengthening (of daylight hours).” We certainly could use that seasonal bit of Hope and even more will welcome Hope related to the pandemic.
Ye Fine Print and Further Reading Suggestions
- There are many online resources for Public Domain stories, maybe none for folklore is as ambitious as fellow storyteller, Yoel Perez's database, Yashpeh, the International Folktales Collection. I have long recommended it and continue to do so. He has loaded Stith Thompson's Motif Index into his server as a database so you can search the whole 6 volumes for whatever word or expression you like by pressing one key. http://folkmasa.org/motiv/motif.htm
- You may have noticed I'm no
longer certain Dr. Perez has the largest database, although his
offering the Motif Index certainly qualifies for those of us seeking
specific types of stories. There's another site, FairyTalez
claiming to be the largest, with "over 2000 fairy tales,
folktales, and fables" and they are "fully optimized for
phones, tablets, and PCs", free and presented without ads.
Between those two sites, there is much for story-lovers, but as they say in infomercials, "Wait, there's more!"
- Zalka Csenge Virag - http://multicoloreddiary.blogspot.com doesn't give the actual stories, but her recommendations, working her way through each country on a continent, give excellent ideas for finding new books and stories to love and tell.
You're going to find many of the links on these sites have gone down, BUT go to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to find some of these old links. Tim's site, for example, is so huge probably updating it would be a full-time job. In the case of Story-Lovers, it's great that Jackie Baldwin set it up to stay online as long as it did after she could no longer maintain it. Possibly searches maintained it. Unfortunately Storytell list member, Papa Joe is on both Tim Sheppard's site and Story-Lovers, but he no longer maintains his old Papa Joe's Traveling Storytelling Show website and his Library (something you want to see!) is now only on the Wayback Machine. It took some patience working back through claims of snapshots but finally in December of 2006 it appears!