'Pandora', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Portrait painting of a woman holding a box

Oil on canvas, dated 1871, 128.3 x 76.2cm, Private collection, courtesy of Peter Nahum At The Leicester Galleries, London

Pandora, the first woman in Greek mythology, holds the casket that she was forbidden to open. When opened, it let forth all the evils into the world, leaving inside and safe, only Hope. The repeated questions, in Rossetti's sonnet for the picture, probe the moral of Pandora's story.

What of the end, Pandora? Was it thine,
The deed that set these fiery pinions free?
Ah! wherefore did the Olympian consistory
In its own likeness make thee half divine?
Was it that Juno's brow might stand a sign
For ever? and the mien of Pallas be
A deadly thing? and that all men might see
In Venus' eyes the gaze of Proserpine?

What of the end? These beat their wings at will,
The ill-born things, the good things turned to ill,--
Powers of the impassioned hours prohibited.
Aye, clench the casket now! Whither they go
Thou mayst not dare to think: nor canst thou know
If Hope still pent there be alive or dead.