Why is it so popular to say that it was a box when it was actually a jar?

  • 5
    Essentially, the same reason why any other misconception is popular - it rarely gets corrected enough, and the consequences of the misconception are minuscule. It just gets repeated so much, in art, in movies, in literature, that it remains popular.
    – cmw
    Oct 3, 2015 at 21:21
  • See Wikipedia.
    – HDE 226868
    Oct 4, 2015 at 15:33
  • Thanks @C.M.Weimer - Can you post it as an answer so I can close this?
    – Anonymous
    Oct 4, 2015 at 21:27
  • 1
    I thought the "jar" referred to her womb? Oct 6, 2015 at 21:13
  • @user3791372 do you remember who said that (this makes sense, because the myth discusses gender [by modern standards, incorrectly] -- Pandora was a woman who tempted mortals and released evil etc.)
    – user62
    Oct 8, 2015 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


Essentially, the same reason why any other misconception is popular - it rarely gets corrected enough, and the consequences of the misconception are minuscule.

First, it originated as a mistranslation by Erasmus, on account of whom others, especially poets and painters, represented the jar as a box. Once something gets into the popular imagination, it's difficult to leave. Just look at the featherless, fatless dinosaurs in Jurassic World.

Apart from the visual aspect, "Pandora's box" has now become a saying, and saying's are notoriously difficult to change, even when wrong.

Also, though, the type of jar mentioned, a pithos, is meant for storage, and is often plugged up with cork and wax. However, the action of snapping the lid quickly doesn't exist for a pithos, so when recalling the memory of the story, the vivid actions tend to override the more inconsequential details, leaving the incorrect details in the retelling. From there, it's a simple snowball effect.


The Adages of Erasmus, ed. by William W. Barker, Toronto: p. xxxix

Also, Wikipedia has a few paintings, showing it's early popularity. Interestingly, I remember Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life also had Pandora's box (as a wooden jewelry box) in the movie, once again demonstrating the visual aspects.


C.M. Weiner has provided an admirable answer.

The difference in volume between a pithos and a pyxis may also reflect an ideological difference.

Notorious for their misogyny, archaic Greeks viewed women as much more pernicious than Renaissance humanists did. As a pyxis is less than capacious (of evil), so too is womankind according to this Christian intellectual.

  • hi Peter. Quick question: what's the translation of pithos and pyxis (for people, like me, who don't know greek).
    – user62
    Oct 8, 2015 at 20:40
  • Pithos is a jar typically used to store things like wine or olive oil. Pyxis is more appropriately a box.
    – cmw
    Oct 8, 2015 at 23:34
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    However, I don't see the ideological differences in play. I cannot see how a pyxis is a less "capacious of evil [sic]" than a pithos. Care to explain further with reputable sources?
    – cmw
    Oct 8, 2015 at 23:36
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    A pithos is a large vessel -- large enough in fact for a person to be buried in. A pyxis is relatively small. To Hesiod, a woman's potential evil is pithos-sized; to Erasmus, that potential is only the size of a pyxis. Christian humanists, generally speaking, had a healthier view of women than archaic Greeks -- of course, by humanists and Greeks I refer to males.
    – Peter
    Nov 6, 2015 at 2:06
  • @C.M.Weimer Peter, when you make a comment responding to someone else, be sure to include @name somewhere in the comment so that they will get a notification (e.g @C.M.Weimer).
    – user62
    Dec 5, 2015 at 0:37

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