Friday, April 1, 2011

Opening Pandora’s Box

Art and nuclear fear
I do not need to explain why I’ve been thinking about Pandora’s box. The Greek legend of a beautiful woman the gods send to earth with a box containing unimaginable evils has long been associated with the dangers of nuclear energy, an association difficult to overlook in light of the catastrophe in Japan. But what precisely did Pandora do? It was in hopes of answering this question that I took off the shelf a famous art historical study, Pandora’s Box: The Changing Aspects of a Mythical Symbol, by Dora and Erwin Panofsky. And what I discovered in the Panofskys’ densely argued pages, not surprisingly, is that there is no simple answer. People have had wildly different ideas about Pandora. Which is perhaps precisely what the Panofskys set out to demonstrate. Their book, for all its exquisite Old World erudition, may have been composed with a certain urgency by these two German-Jewish scholars who had come to the United States as Hitler was tightening his grip. Would it be entirely inappropriate to point out that Pandora’s Box was published in 1956, eleven years after the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, at a time when anxieties about nuclear war were running high?

Link to complete article:
Opening Pandora’s Box

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