I’ve always been fascinated by the myth of Pandora because the most widely accepted explanation of this parable—that feminine curiosity “is responsible for all the woes from which mankind suffers”—may not be accurate according to some scholars. The quote, from Frances E. Sabin’s book Classical Myths That Live Today, goes on to say, “Another version of the story says that Pandora brought the box with her and that it was the curiosity of Epimetheus that caused the escape of the ills within.”
Rewriting the Myth of Pandora
If you haven’t heard the myth in a while, I’ll give you a quick recap from this particular book, which holds the Roman version of the story and shines a light on a differing point of view. The Greek accounts of their deities cause a similar disagreement with academicians, though the players in the story are Prometheus and Zeus. In the Roman tale, it is Jupiter who is battling with Prometheus over fire (yes, fire, no less!). The contest is raging because Prometheus has managed to take it from the gods and bring it down to earth not once, but twice. Let’s just say Prometheus stood on the “kick ass and take names” side of the pantheon, though he would pay dearly for his bravado.
After Prometheus’ second affront, Jupiter decided he had had enough of this Titan thief so he chained him to a rock on a rugged mountain to be tortured by sharp-beaked raptors day after day for centuries to come. You’d think this would have satisfied Jupiter’s rage, but even a punishment as gruesome as this didn’t lessen his godly ire so he decided to commission a clay statue of a beautiful woman to present to Prometheus’s brother Epimetheus as a gift, one that would have equally painful consequences.
Once the maiden was brought to life, Minerva adorned her with lovely raiment, Venus infused her countenance with beauty, and Mercury and the Graces anointed her with ample charms. Mercury’s specific contribution was elegant speech, while the Graces placed beautiful garlands atop her lovely head. She was given the name Pandora, which meant “gifts from all,” because many of the gods had contributed to her beauty. She was, as the fable states, the very first woman.
Epimetheus was thrilled with his gift but here’s where the story gets a bit sticky, as some scholars maintain the first thing Pandora did upon entering her new companion’s household was to open a jar or a box from which all of the ills of life flew forth—disease, labor, pain…you name it. If it was bad, it came racing out. In a reactive kneejerk, she is said to have hurriedly put the lid back on at the worst possible moment, leaving only hope trapped inside. As I said, this is the most popular storyline, but there are mythologists who believe it was her intended, Epimetheus, who set the evils abuzz instead.
The “Today” in the title of the book I’m referencing above is 1927. It’s a beautiful little vintage book I found at the Strand Bookstore nearly 20 years ago during my early days in New York City. The author chose to illustrate the story with a statue of Pandora that stands in the Musei Capitolini in Rome. Though the marble visage is graceful, I prefer paintings like the ones above, the composition by William-Adolphe Bouguereau my hands-down favorite for the combination of sensual beauty and innocence his Pandora evokes. Notice the purity of the fabric draping her and the smallness of the box that had so much power, placed so strategically in front of her breast that could have been exposed (or not). In fact, I couldn’t help but notice how fabrics are so powerful in each of the famous paintings of this myth I’m featuring in this entry, they seem to be veritable characters in each storyline.
Pandora de Balthazár
For a number of years, I have placed press kits by the team at Pandora de Balthazár in large boxes filled with about 100 others, which High Point Market sends to me after I’ve attended. The exterior of Pandora’s folder is an elegant gray, the font proclaiming Pandora de Balthazár Fine Linens alluringly feminine. A graceful needle holding a swirling strand of thread in its eye accompany the looping cursive.
Each time I would come across it, I would make a mental note to stop by her stand, but the breakneck speed at which events must be covered and the deluge of material that must be gathered always prevented me from finding her while I was at market. I’d return to my desk, unpack the box and come across the press kit—each time regretting that I’d yet again missed the chance to see her products in person. That changed this past #HPMkt when Bruce Andrews took me to her stand. I’m thrilled to say I was promptly “put to bed,” and I have since come to understand just what a goddess of slumber this Pandora is!
This realization goes far beyond the beautiful antique textiles she sources and the luxury bedding she sells. I know because I’m now the proud owner of the European Sleep System, and my life has been transformed by the quality of slumber I now achieve compared to before. I simply cannot emphasize how much relief I feel from the chronic achiness that had accompanied my sleep-time every night for years.
I’ve also begun my own linen collection culled from her mammoth storehouse of some of the finest textiles in the world. So far, I’ve reserved antique French cotton/linen sheets; antique trousseau shams from France, Austria and Hungary; and I’ve begun building a cache of her 1000-count Italian sheeting and shams.
What struck me as I was situating my pillows several nights ago, knowing they would soon lure me into deep sleep, is how this nurturing woman with a fierce name is rewriting this Greco-Roman narrative, as inside her Pandora’s Box is nothing less than mythic serenity.
The breadth of the products she offers is a bit staggering—she has row upon row of textiles in her Pensacola atelier that include everything from antique French heirloom linens and primitive Austro-Hungarian Empire textiles to Art Deco and Bohemian specimens—at last count two million one-of-a-kind linens of the finest quality.
From these, her team can make tablecloths, lacy curtains, framed art, and sumptuously decorated beds. She also carries headboards, and among her skilled artisans are embroidery specialists who can create stunning decorative detailing. My mind was blown when I visited and saw all that she had available to excite fans of luxurious design accouterments, and I cannot wait to see how my personal collection grows!
The Modern Salonnière and this entry, Rewriting the Myth of Pandora, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.
Saxon received products in exchange for services, though not in exchange for this diary entry, and the bartering in no way has influenced her opinions of the products. She would not have chosen to write about these products or this company had the aesthetic attributes not resonated with her or the quality not been up to her standards.