Monday, August 13, 2007

Hope vs. Hope

I recall reading the story of Pandora for the first time when I was quite young, in what was my favorite of all the Childcraft encyclopedias--the one devoted to stories and fables. The version of the tale given there was simple and straightforward: Pandora, because of her inability to resist her curiosity, opened up that box given to her by the gods, and loosed upon the world all the evils that had been trapped within. But! At the very bottom of the box was Hope, the one good gift the gods had included, and that's what gets human beings through their misfortunes.

But at some point I was told--and I'm pretty sure it was by one of my college professors or TAs, although I can't imagine who or why the subject would have come up--that hope is actually one among those evils (I seem to recall my instructor claiming that it was the worst of all), as it refers to the delusional hope-against-hope with which we carry on blindly, expecting an outcome that will never occur.

I think about this latter interpretation with some regularity, but when I finally bothered to go to my Bulfinch and Edith Hamilton today, and then to some online translations of Hesiod, I couldn't find anything that appeared to endorse such a reading; there are certainly variants of the tale, but none that seem to line up with what I thought I was told.

So tell me, wise and worldly readers: was my instructor full of shit (assuming that I haven't just misremembered what he told us)? Or is there some basis for what I thought I learned? (Alternately, feel free to support your own position: is hope a good thing, or a bad thing?)

18 comments:

Kate said...

I had the Childcraft series too, and LOVED it. The fables one was also my favorite, though I also seem to remember one about unexplained phenomena or something (there was one that talked about UFOs) -- I loved that one too. Can't help you with the Pandora interpretation, though I can say that your instructor sure was of the hopeless, despairing lot, if that was just his/her interpretation...

RageyOne said...

I don't know the answer to your question, but I do remember Childcraft! :) Oh, what a great memory! I remember reading those and all of those informational topics I used to gobble up.

The History Enthusiast said...

I'm of no use when it comes to answering your query, but I did love the Childcraft books! I think they are a large part of why I became so interested in history (along with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books).

Tenured Radical said...

Your instructor was clearly a TA or a newly minted Ph.D. about to go on the job market.

TR

Theodora said...

I thought she slammed the lid closed before Hope could escape. Or am I remembering incorrectly?

Flavia said...

TR and Kate: hee! Of course, now I'm wondering whether that's why I like this version of the story (or have perhaps significantly misremembered it).

Theodora: well, there are several different accounts. Usually it seems that Pandora does *keep* hope, for the use of humankind, although it also makes sense that she'd let it loose upon the world (just like the evils) so that it's available to all. Another version has it that the box (or, actually, jar) was full of all the GOOD things in the world, which Pandora foolishly let escape & hence disappear, except for hope, which she retained. In some ways, that makes the most logical sense.

And I'm so glad so many other people had the Childcraft set! I also loved the volume that gave the history of various alphabets and other forms of writing.

Axia said...

I know that when I say something like "hope is the worst of evils" it is not in the interest of intellectual exercise but an attempt at trying to work through some kind of existensial angst or pain.

I would be inclined to cut your instructor some slack here, chalk it up to having a "moment" and leave it at that - like the time one of my finance professors made really morbid jokes in an effort to deal with the aftermath of September 11.

Anonymous said...

Wow, *I* had the Childcraft series, too! What a coincidence! ;)

It's amusing, because I recall being very into the Science one, but now that Kate mentions it, I was really into the UFO/Paranormal bit, too.

What strikes me as most entertaining is that I have very little interest in UFOs or the paranormal, and, sis, you don't strike me as being much of a story/fables type person anymore, either. Maybe Childcraft manages to turn you off to whatever topic you were interested as a kid!

Actually, it's not so much that I'm not interested in the paranormal, just that it is frustratingly non-concrete, and strikes me as something of a fanciful/childish pursuit. If there was some objective measure of it, or regular, verified stories in the news, I would definitely be more interested today.

-scr

medieval woman said...

My two cents: I think Hope is a good thing. It's about the process, not about deluding yourself. I've always had a "this too shall pass" attitude towards most trials and tribulations - it sucks in the now, but I always felt better knowing that at some distant time, it will get better. Maybe that's Hope??

miss d said...

Your post prompted me to search (in vain) for a Woody Allen quote I remember about hope. Then I stumbled upon this antidote to the Emily Dickinson poem about hope:

Hope is a bad thing. It means that you are not what you want to be. It means that part of you is dead, if not all of you. It means that you entertain illusions. It's a sort of spiritual clap, I should say. (Henry Miller)

I'd say that the concept of hope is somewhere inbetween the saccharine sweetness of bright optimism and the Henry Miller quote. It's part of what makes life worth living, but it's also an illusion.

Dr. Medusa said...

I think I may be delurking with this comment, but I am not sure. If so, hi! I think the instructor was probably offering his own nuanced reading of hope in the Pandora story, rather than the definitive or only reading.

A favorite guru/NYC bus tour guide/sometimes cartoon character friend of mine, who is also a Henry Miller fan come to think of it, used to say "hope is a defeated emotion." I took it to mean this: if you cling to hope, if it's all the good you have among the evils (or the last and only good thing in the box) you are in a defeated position in respect to living your life.

I don't know if I believe this about hope, especially if applied across the board to any situation involving hope, but I know I come back to this idea about hope (as a defeated emotion/position) again and again.

Flavia said...

These are interesting readings/definitions of hope, as a concept.

Personally, I'm a little ambivalent, as this post probably shows. I tend to regard hope as quite a good thing, but I'm not always sure that I should, and I definitely resist the idea that hope is good even if the thing that's hoped for doesn't occur (that is, I don't want to be in favor of self-delusion, just because it allows someone to persevere through hardships).

MurkyMama said...

Ahhh, the Childcraft set! "Poems and Rhymes" ... "Stories and Fables" ... "Things to Make and Do" (the arts and crafts one -- was always one of my faves, particularly the activity where you make your own self-propelled robot out of a spindle, a toothpick, some soap, a nail, and a rubber band!)

As for hope, well, gosh. I guess I'd interpret it as the belief (faith?) that things _can_ be better than the way they are now. Then again, there's hoping for the best but preparing for the worst (or, at least, the 'worse'). And things could always be worse.

St. Eph said...

Leave it to the Childcraft reference to bring out all the lurkers. I was enthralled with the Things to Make and Do; though I remember being quite puzzled by the concept of cellophane straws, which were essential for the starburst-y things.

As for Hope: The Pandora story is another version of the Eden story, no? And so all that came out of the box is as much necessary for a knowledgable/fallen world as responsible for it, and therefore not entirely undesirable. Same with the last thing, then, in that Hope is as much responsible as necessary.

Which is to say, in bad situations, Hope gets you unstuck from the present and focused on the future. In better situations, Hope can distance you from the present and blind you to actuality.

(Also, hi Flavia! I've been blogerarily awol for a while, but am attempting a resurgence. I've been glad to be reading you all along.)

Sfrajett said...

I like your question a lot, because it used to puzzle me how Hope could be effective if she was still in the box. The inside/outside thing blew my mind as a kid, because it seemed like an inconsistent use of the "box" metaphor. So, like, we get to keep it close, and that's a good thing? But it can't get out in the world, and that's . . . what? Individual aspiration? A fun puzzler.

Horace said...

OK, so, a) I also loved my Childcraft set (particularly Stories and Fables, and Things to Make and Do, and b) just got the whole set back from my folks who thought the kids might like them. So Rockin' good times with the Childcraft.

Also, if I remember Hesiod what Pandora trapped in the box was not in fact hope, but the ability to anticipate bad things, or see the future, which itself was the worst evil, so humans were left with hope, which foreknowledge of the future would destroy. Perhaps what you are remembering is either a mixed-up instructor, or the part about the worst evil being left in the box, without remembering that that worst evil wasn't in fact hope, as is commonly believed.

At least, that's how I remember it...

muse said...

I'm with Horace on this one- but I'll have to go back to the original greek and check the word with my Middle Liddel. It may just be a question of translation of the greek word (many of which are terribly polysemic).

That said, I now wish I had had the Childcraft! But instead I had the D'aulaires book of Greek Myths, which I loved very much. I still remember their illustration of Pandora, with all of the evils flying around like insects with grimaces and little wings.

EA said...

Hi. I've just "found" your blog (lovely to have done so), and I happen to be reading Yalom's "When Nietzsche Wept" this weekend. Your version of the Pandora story is a Nietzsche reference from "Human, All Too Human."
There's reference to the book here: www.helium.com/tm/200809/definition-found-german-philosopher
and here
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope

Funny, and fun, coincidence. :o)