Pandora’s Box

A mythological idiom in use since the late 1500’s.

Meaning of Pandora’s Box

Opening Pandora’s box is the same as opening a can of worms. It refers to a process which, once began, results in many unforeseen problems which were previously covered up. To open Pandora’s box is to let things get out of control.

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“Every time I do spring cleaning it’s like opening Pandora’s box, I just find more and more stuff to clean.”

“We tried to fix the advertising budget and it just opened Pandora’s box.”

Pandora's Box painting
Pandora’s Box
     Artist Unknown


The idiom is one of several common idioms arising from Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first mortal woman, created by Zeus, with help from other Gods, who gave her gifts. In fact, her name meant all gifts. One of those gifts was a box containing what was supposed to be a great treasure. Pandora was told to never, ever open this box.

Hermes then took Pandora to Epimetheus, and the two lived happily together for a time. Then, depending on the version of the story, either Epimetheus, after being warned not to, opened the treasure box, or, Pandora herself, overcome by curiosity, opened it.

All the miseries of the world flew out of the box, including hunger, disease, war, greed, anger, jealousy, toil, and every hardship man has ever known since.

Again, depending on the version of the story presented, once the flow of evils slowed a bit, she was able to shut the box. After the box was shut she heard a voice crying to be let out. She opened the box and out came hope, which is the only good gift the Gods had put in the box and the only thing which enabled mankind to withstand all the evils.

Regardless of the particular details of the story, one thing is the same, a box full of hidden evils was opened and out flew many previously unknown troubles. This is the sense of the idiom, that when you ‘open Pandora’s box’ you are letting all sorts of previously unknown problems out into the light.

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