Web Theoi
EPIMETHEUS
 
Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Επιμηθευς Epimêtheus Epimetheus Afterthought,
Counsel Afterwards

EPIMETHEUS was the Titan god of afterthought, the father of excuses. He and his brother Prometheus were given the task of populating the earth with animals and men. However, Epimetheus quickly exhausted the supply of gifts allotted for the task in the equipment of animals, leaving Prometheus' masterpiece, mankind, completely helpless. As a result the Titan brother was forced to steal fire from heaven to arm them. Zeus was angered by this theft and ordered the creation of Pandora, the first woman, as a means to deliver evil into the house of man. Despite the warnings of his brother, Epimetheus happily received her as his bride, but as soon as she arrived she lifted the lid of a jar entrusted her by the gods, releasing a plague of harmful daimones (spirits) to trouble mankind. Only Hope (Elpis) remained behind to succor the unfortunate race.

PARENTS
[1.1] IAPETOS & KLYMENE (Hesiod Theogony 507, Hesiod Works & Days 54, Hyginus Fabulae 142)
[1.2] IAPETOS & ASIA (Apollodorus 1.8)
OFFSPRING
[1.1] PYRRHA (by Pandora) (Apollodorus 1.46, Ovid Metamorphoses 1.390, Hyginus Fabulae 142)
[1.2] EPHYRA (Simonides Frag 596)
[2.1] PROPHASIS (Pindar Pythian Ode 5)

FAMILY OF EPIMETHEUS

Hesiod, Theogony 507 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Now Iapetos took to wife the neat-ankled maid Klymene, daughter of Okeanos, and went up with her into one bed. And she bare him And she bare him a stout-hearted son, Atlas: also she bare very glorious Menoitios and clever Prometheus, full of various wiles, and scatter-brained Epimetheus who from the first was a mischief to men who eat bread; for it was he who first took of Zeus the woman [Pandora], the maiden whom he had formed."

Pindar, Pythian Ode 5. 28 ff (trans. Conway) (Greek lyric C5th B.C.) :
"Prophasis (Excuse) daughter of the late-contriving Epimatheos (Afterthought)."

Simonides, Fragment 596 (from Scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric III) (C7th to C6th B.C.) :
"Ephyra is Korinthos, named after Ephyra, daughter of Epimetheus; but Simonides makes her daughter of Okeanos and Tethys, and wife of Epimetheus."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 8 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"The Titanes had children . . . Atlas (who holds the sky on his shoulders), Prometheus, Epimetheus, and Menoitios, whom Zeus struck with a thunderbolt in the Titane battle and confined to Tartaros, were all sons of Iapetos and Asia."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 46 :
"Prometheus had a son Deukalion, who was king of the lands round Phthia and was married to Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora, the first woman created by the gods."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 155 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Sons of Jove [Zeus] . . . Hellen by Pyrrha, daughter of Epimetheus."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 390 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Promethides [Deukalion son of Prometheus] calmed Epimethis [Pyrrha daughter of Epimetheus] with words of cheer . . . and Titania’s [Pyrrha’s] heart was warmed."

Suidas s.v. Prometheus (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Prometheus : According to the Judges of the Judaeans, Prometheus . . . first discovered scholarly philosophy. And Epimetheus, who discovered music." [N.B. This is an odd rationalisation of the Prometheus myth.]


EPIMETHEUS & THE CREATION OF ANIMALS

Plato, Protagoras 320c - 322a (trans. Jowett) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Once upon a time there were gods only, and no mortal creatures. But when the time came that these also should be created, the gods fashioned them out of earth and fire and various mixtures of both elements in the interior of the earth; and when they were about to bring them into the light of day, they ordered Prometheus and Epimetheus to equip them, and to distribute to them severally their proper qualities. Epimetheus said to Prometheus : `Let me distribute, and do you inspect.' This was agreed, and Epimetheus made the distribution. There were some to whom he gave strength without swiftness, while he equipped the weaker with swiftness; some he armed, and others he left unarmed; and devised for the latter some other means of preservation, making some large, and having their size as a protection, and others small, whose nature was to fly in the air or burrow in the ground; this was to be their way of escape. Thus did he compensate them with the view of preventing any race from becoming extinct. And when he had provided against their destruction by one another, he contrived also a means of protecting them against the seasons of heaven; clothing them with close hair and thick skins sufficient to defend them against the winter cold and able to resist the summer heat, so that they might have a natural bed of their own when they wanted to rest; also he furnished them with hoofs and hair and hard and callous skins under their feet. Then he gave them varieties of food-herb of the soil to some, to others fruits of trees, and to others roots, and to some again he gave other animals as food. And some he made to have few young ones, while those who were their prey were very prolific; and in this manner the race was preserved. Thus did Epimetheus, who, not being very wise, forgot that he had distributed among the brute animals all the qualities which he had to give-and when he came to man, who was still unprovided, he was terribly perplexed. Now while he was in this perplexity, Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. The appointed hour was approaching when man in his turn was to go forth into the light of day; and Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaistos and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man. Thus man had the wisdom necessary to the support of life, but political wisdom he had not; for that was in the keeping of Zeus, and the power of Prometheus did not extend to entering into the citadel of heaven, where Zeus dwelt, who moreover had terrible sentinels; but he did enter by stealth into the common workshop of Athene and Hephaistos, in which they used to practise their favourite arts, and carried off Hephaestus' art of working by fire, and also the art of Athene, and gave them to man. And in this way man was supplied with the means of life. But Prometheus is said to have been afterwards prosecuted for theft, owing to the blunder of Epimetheus."

In the Fables of Aesop, Prometheus is represented as the creator of both animals and men.


Hermes, Epimetheus & Pandora | Greek vase painting
T22.1 EPIMETHEUS,
PANDORA
     

EPIMETHEUS, PANDORA & THE JAR OF EVILS

Hesiod, Theogony 510 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Scatter-brained Epimetheus who from the first was a mischief to men who eat bread; for it was he who first took of Zeus the woman [Pandora], the maiden whom he had formed."

Hesiod, Theogony 560 ff :
"[Zeus] was always mindful of the trick [where Prometheus earned for men the better part of the sacrificial beast], and would not give the power of unwearying fire to the Melian race of mortal men who live on the earth [this early race of men were sons of the Meliai nymphs] . But the noble son of Iapetos [Prometheus] outwitted him and stole the far-seen gleam of unwearying fire in a hollow fennel stalk. And Zeus who thunders on high was stung in spirit, and his dear heart was angered when he saw amongst men the far-seen ray of fire. Forthwith he made an evil thing for men as the price of fire; for the very famous Limping God [Hephaistos] formed of earth the likeness of a shy maiden as the son of Kronos willed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her with silvery raiment, and down from her head she spread with her hands an embroidered veil, a wonder to see; and she, Pallas Athene, put about her head lovely garlands, flowers of new-grown herbs. Also she put upon her head a crown of gold which the very famous Limping God made himself and worked with his own hands as a favor to Zeus his father. On it was much curious work, wonderful to see; for of the many creatures which the land and sea rear up, he put most upon it, wonderful things, like living beings with voices: and great beauty shone out from it.
But when he had made the beautiful evil to be the price for the blessing, he brought her out, delighting in the finery which the bright-eyed daughter of a mighty father had given her, to the place where the other gods and men were. And wonder took hold of the deathless gods and mortal men when they saw that which was sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.
For from her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth. And as in thatched hives bees feed the drones whose nature is to do mischief--by day and throughout the day until the sun goes down the bees are busy and lay the white combs, while the drones stay at home in the covered hives and reap the toil of others into their own bellies--even so Zeus who thunders on high made women to be an evil to mortal men, with a nature to do evil. And he gave them a second evil to be the price for the good they had: whoever avoids marriage and the sorrows that women cause, and will not wed, reaches deadly old age without anyone to tend his years, and though he at least has no lack of livelihood while he lives, yet, when he is dead, his kinsfolk divide his possessions amongst them. And as for the man who chooses the lot of marriage and takes a good wife suited to his mind, evil continually contends with good; for whoever happens to have mischievous children, lives always with unceasing grief in his spirit and heart within him; and this evil cannot be healed.
So it is not possible to deceive or go beyond the will of Zeus: for not even the son of Iapetos, kindly Prometheus, escaped his heavy anger, but of necessity strong bands confined him, although he knew many a wile."

Hesiod, Works & Days 54 ff :
"The gods keep hidden from men the means of life . . . Zeus in the anger of his heart hid it, because Prometheus the crafty deceived him; therefore he planned sorrow and mischief against men. He hid fire; but that the noble son of Iapetus stole again for men from Zeus the counsellor in a hollow fennel-stalk, so that Zeus who delights in thunder did not see it. But afterwards Zeus who gathers the clouds said to him in anger : `Son of Iapetos, surpassing all in cunning, you are glad that you have outwitted me and stolen fire--a great plague to you yourself and to men that shall be. But I will give men as the price for fire an evil thing in which they may all be glad of heart while they embrace their own destruction.'
So said the father of men and gods, and laughed aloud. And he bade famous Hephaistos make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, the Slayer of Argus, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. So he ordered. And they obeyed the lord Zeus the son of Kronos. Forthwith the famous Lame God moulded clay in the likeness of a modest maid, as the son of Kronos purposed. And the goddess bright-eyed Athene girded and clothed her, and the divine Kharites (Graces) and queenly Peitho (Persuasion) put necklaces of gold upon her, and the rich-haired Horai (Seasons) crowned her head with spring flowers. And Pallas Athene bedecked her form with all manners of finery. Also the Guide, the Slayer of Argus [Hermes], contrived within her lies and crafty words and a deceitful nature at the will of loud thundering Zeus, and the Herald of the gods put speech in her. And he called this woman Pandora (All-Gifts), because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a plague to men who eat bread.
But when he had finished the sheer, hopeless snare, the Father sent glorious Argeiphontes [Hermes], the swift messenger of the gods, to take it to Epimetheus as a gift. And Epimetheus did not think on what Prometheus had said to him, bidding him never take a gift of Olympian Zeus, but to send it back for fear it might prove to be something harmful to men. But he took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood.
For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sickness which bring the Fates upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Elpis (Hope) remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aegis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds. But the rest, countless plagues, wander amongst men; for earth is full of evils and the sea is full. Of themselves diseases come upon men continually by day and by night, bringing mischief to mortals silently; for wise Zeus took away speech from them. So is there no way to escape the will of Zeus."

Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 142 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Prometheus, son of Iapetus, first fashioned men from clay. Later Vulcanus [Hephaistos], at Jove’s [Zeus'] command, made a woman’s form from clay. Minerva [Athene] gave it life, and the rest of the gods each gave come other gift. Because of this they named her Pandora. She was given in marriage to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. Pyrrha was her daughter, and was said to be the first mortal born."

Nonnus, Dionysiaca 7. 7 ff (trans. Rouse) (Greek epic C5th A.D.) :
"[Aion (Fathe Time) addresses Zeus :] `But, some may say, a medicine [Hope] has been planted to make long-suffering mortals forget their troubles, to save their lives. Would that Pandora had never opened the heavenly cover of that jar--she the sweet bane of mankind!'"


ALTERNATE NAME SPELLINGS

Greek Name Transliteration Latin Spelling Translation
Επιμηθευς Epimêtheus Epimetheus Afterthought
Επιμηθεως Epimetheôs Epimetheus Afterthought
Επιμαθεως Epimatheôs Epimetheus (Doric spelling)

Epimetheus' name was derived from the Greek words epi-, epeita, and mêtis, and means "afterthought" or "late counselling." Appropriately Pindar names Afterthought (Epimetheus) as the father of Excuse (Prophasis). He was the proverbial fool.


Sources:

  • Hesiod, Theogony - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
  • Hesiod, Works & Days - Greek Epic C8th-7th B.C.
  • Pindar, Odes - Greek Lyric C5th B.C.
  • Greek Lyric III Simonides, Fragments - Greek Lyric C6th-5th B.C.
  • Apollodorus, The Library - Greek Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Plato, Protagoras - Greek Philosophy C4th B.C.
  • Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
  • Hyginus, Fabulae - Latin Mythography C2nd A.D.
  • Ovid, Metamorphoses - Latin Epic C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
  • Nonnos, Dionysiaca - Greek Epic C5th A.D.