Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. As some Greek traditions go, he also gifted mortals with the tools of civilization: Mathematics, art, science, and medicine. Zeus, creation’s overlord, declared Prometheus’ empowerment of humankind an unforgivable sin. Two terrible things happened as a result.
First, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock where each day a giant eagle would land on Prometheus’ chest to tear out his liver and eat it. Prometheus would heal overnight only to have the eagle return the next day where it would repeat the bloody ritual – day after day.
Second, Zeus sent a beautiful, curious, young woman to earth. Her name was Pandora, and she carried with her a box. Zeus made it clear that her box contained a gift from the gods, but she was to never open it. However, curiosity became too much, and one day she spied a look inside. It was then that every evil known to humanity exploded from the box.
Sickness; plague; hate; greed; murder; war: Like ethereal demons they escaped, and to her horror Pandora could not replace the lid. One thing was left at the bottom of that wicked box. It was a person; a spirit; a woman too beautiful to describe. Her name was Hope. “Hope,” the Greek poets said, “was all that remained after all evil had been unleashed on the world.”
Thinkers across the ages have wrestled with this parable. Evil unleashed while hope sits idly by? Hope forever locked away? One view is that hope is the worst disaster of all, the bottom of suffering’s barrel. Per Fredrick Nietzsche (being despair’s most articulate voice), “Hope is evil, for it falsely disguises the true nature of life,” his view being that life was utterly meaningless. The second view is nearly as pessimistic: Hope has been withheld from humanity. Thus, we are left to face evil alone.
These views, as old as Pandora’s story, speak to an underlying despair, a world without intention, without aim or end. Life has no meaning. Individual existence is useless. The world has no purpose, no significance; everything is absurd. The best we can do is eat, copulate, indulge ourselves, and die young – which is a fairly accurate description of Western society.
But there is a third option: Hope is something we must protect. The former box of evil has been transformed into a treasure chest – a treasure that must be forever guarded – as it sustains us in a world overrun by malice, injustice, insanity, and agony. Seen like this, hope becomes a force of defiant purpose and meaning.
Seen like this, rather than being gullibility, pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, or stupid optimism, hope becomes the will to press on. Hope becomes a bet on the future, a belief that makes the inexplicable suffering of these present days not only bearable, but beatable. Indeed, “hope springs eternal,” within our hearts, for it is the treasure that remains after all evil is unleashed on the world.