About
Greek Titan

Epimetheus

Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus, was a Greek Titan, known for being as slow-witted as Prometheus was quick. Neglecting his wiser brother’s warnings, Epimetheus accepted Pandora as his bride and thus inadvertently helped unleash all the evils of the cosmos upon mankind.



By Avi Kapach6 min read • Last updated on Mar. 2nd, 2022
  • Yes. Though he was not one of the original twelve Titans, Epimetheus was a son of one of those Titans and thus a second-generation Titan himself.

  • Yes. Even though Prometheus warned him not to accept gifts from the devious Zeus, Epimetheus could not resist the beautiful Pandora when Zeus offered her as a bride. Soon after, Pandora opened a fateful jar that released every imaginable evil upon humans.

  • The earliest sources for Greek mythology offered no explanation of how humans and animals were created, though later sources did sometimes credit Epimetheus with the creation of animals (Prometheus, meanwhile, was cited as the creator of human beings).

Epimetheus, the “after-thinker,” was a son of the Titan Iapetus and a key benefactor of the first mortals. But while his brother Prometheus was famously clever, Epimetheus was hopelessly foolish. Prometheus made human life and civilization possible by bringing fire to the humans and teaching them crafts. But Epimetheus effectively undid all of his brother’s hard work when he accepted Pandora as his bride; he inadvertently helped her open her infamous “jar” (or box), which unleashed all the evils of the cosmos upon mankind.

Some later authors further developed the myth, claiming that Epimetheus and Prometheus had actually been charged with creating mortal life. Yet Epimetheus, true to form, exhausted all the attributes that the gods had supplied when he created animals, leaving nothing for Prometheus’ human beings.

#Etymology

The name “Epimetheus” (Ἐπιμηθεύς, translit. Epimētheús) seems to be made up of two elements: the Greek prefix ἐπί- (epí-), meaning “after,” and the verbal root μηθ-/μαθ- (mēth-/math-), meaning “to think” (itself derived from the Indo-Germanic root *mendh-/*men-, also meaning “to think”).1 Epimetheus’ name can thus be translated as “afterthinking”—the opposite of his brother Prometheus, whose name means “forethinking.”

#Pronunciation

  • English
    Greek

    Epimetheus

    Ἐπιμηθεύς (translit. Epimētheús)

  • Phonetic
    IPA

    [ep-i-MEE-thee-uhs, -thyoos]

    /ɛp ɪ ˈmi θi əs, -θyus/

#Epithets

Hesiod, the earliest author to tell the myth of Epimetheus, aptly described him as ἁμαρτίνοος (hamartínoos, “scatter-brained”).2

#Attributes

Epimetheus’ chief attribute was his foolishness. In most stories, he serves as a foil to his cleverer brother Prometheus, with Prometheus’ “forethought” and foresight standing in sharp contrast to Epimetheus’ “afterthought” and hindsight.

Epimetheus was also associated with his wife Pandora and her infamous jar of evils. In ancient art, the couple was often depicted together.

#Family

Epimetheus was the son of the Titan Iapetus and his wife, whose name was either Clymene3 or Asia (both Oceanids).4 His brothers were Prometheus, Monoetius, and Atlas, but also, according to some traditions, Anchiale,5 Buphagus,6 and Dryas.7 Some sources, however, made Epimetheus the son of Prometheus and Clymene.8

Prometheus Bound painting by Peter Paul Rubens, 1618

Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Rubens (1618). Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Google Arts and Culture / Public Domain

In most traditions, Epimetheus was known as the misguided husband of Pandora,9 though his wife was sometimes named as the Oceanid Ephyra.10

There were also different accounts of Epimetheus’ children. According to some, Epimetheus and Pandora were the parents of Pyrrha.11 In other sources, his offspring included Ephyra,12 Prophasis (“Pretext”), and Metameleia (“Excuse”).13

#Family Tree

#Mythology

#Origins

Though a son of the Titan Iapetus, it appears that Epimetheus, like his brother Prometheus, made the wise choice not to join the other Titans in their war against Zeus and the Olympians (possibly the only wise choice he ever made). Because of this, Epimetheus was not thrown into Tartarus with the other Titans when the Olympians won the war and took over the cosmos.

Epimetheus’ mythos was in many ways a direct response to that of Prometheus: just as Prometheus was too clever for his own good, Epimetheus was too foolish for his. Both brothers ended up getting themselves into trouble.

It all started with a battle of wits between Zeus and Prometheus. Prometheus first tricked Zeus into accepting the less desirable parts of an animal as the gods’ share of a sacrificial offering. Then, when Zeus retaliated by depriving mortals of fire, Prometheus stole it back: he hid the seeds of fire in a fennel stalk and gave it to his beloved mortals. 

Zeus, in turn, punished Prometheus by having him chained to a cliff, where an eagle would devour his liver each day (since Prometheus was immortal, the organ would always grow back, only to be devoured again).14

But Zeus wanted to punish mortals as well, since they had benefited from Prometheus’ insubordination. Thus, he created Pandora, the first woman, who would unleash all evils upon the human race.

Hendrick Goltzius - Hermes presenting Pandora to King Epimetheus, 1611

Hermes Presenting Pandora to King Epimetheus by Hendrik Goltzius (1611). Kuntsmuseum, Basel, Switzerland.

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

#Epimetheus and Pandora

This is where Epimetheus came in. After Zeus and the other Olympians created Pandora and endowed her with every conceivable charm (beauty, grace, domestic skills), they gave her a fateful jar and sent her to marry Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus.

Although Epimetheus had been warned by Prometheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, he was all too eager to marry the alluring Pandora. In the best-known tradition, Pandora then opened the jar that the gods had given her, thus releasing all evils into the world. From the jar escaped sorrow, toil, disease, and so on, which ran rampant among mortals. Only hope—elpis in Greek—remained in the jar when the lid was finally closed.15

Illustration by John Flaxman showing Pandora opening the jar as Epimetheus stands by (1910).

Illustration by John Flaxman showing Pandora opening the jar as Epimetheus stands by (1910).

Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

#The Creation of Humans and Animals

The earliest Greek sources on the origins of the cosmos had little to say about the creation of humans and animals. But some later traditions claimed that it was Prometheus and Epimetheus who had been tasked with creating all living things: Prometheus was responsible for crafting humans, while Epimetheus was in charge of animals.

Here again we find Prometheus’ cleverness contrasted with Epimetheus’ foolishness. According to the fourth-century BCE philosopher Plato, the gods assigned the brothers a limited number of attributes for their task. Epimetheus, however, immediately wasted almost all of these attributes—fur, claws, feathers, etc.—on animals. 

When Prometheus found out what his brother had done, he realized that humanity was doomed to be helpless, “naked, and shoeless.” This was the reason, Plato argued, that Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give to humanity.16

#Further Reading

#Primary Sources

Greek

  • Hesiod (eighth/seventh century BCE): The myths of Epimetheus are related in two of Hesiod’s epics, the Theogony and Works and Days.

  • Plato (428/427–348/347 BCE): The myth of how Epimetheus and Prometheus created humans and animals is told (as a kind of moral fable) in the philosophical dialogue the Protagoras.

  • Apollodorus (first century BCE or the first few centuries CE): The mythology of Epimetheus is summarized in the Library, a mythological handbook incorrectly attributed to the scholar Apollodorus. 

Roman

  • Hyginus (first century CE or later): There are references to Epimetheus in the Fabulae, a mythological handbook incorrectly attributed to the scholar Gaius Hyginus.

#Secondary Sources

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