The creation of Pandora; interior of a Cylix (470/ 460 B.C.)
The titan Epimetheus ("hindsight") was responsible for giving a positive trait to each and every animal. However, when it was time to give man a positive trait, there was nothing left. Prometheus ("foresight"), his brother, felt that because man was superior to all other animals, man should have a gift no other animal possessed. So Prometheus set forth to steal fire from Zeus and handed it over to man.
Zeus was enraged and decided to punish Prometheus and his creation: mankind. To punish Prometheus, Zeus chained him in unbreakable fetters and set an eagle over him to eat his liver each day, as the eagle is Zeus' sacred animal. Prometheus was an immortal, so the liver grew back every day, but he was still tormented daily from the pain, until he was freed by Heracles during The Twelve Labours.
To punish mankind, Zeus ordered the other gods to make Pandora as a poisoned gift for man. Pandora was given several traits from the different gods: Hephaestus molded her out of clay and gave her form; Athena clothed her and adorned her with necklaces made by Hephaestus as well as taught her manual dexterity and how to spin; Aphrodite gave her beauty; Apollo gave her musical talent and a gift for healing; Demeter taught her to tend a garden; Poseidon gave her a pearl necklace and the ability to never drown; Zeus made her idle, mischievous, and foolish; Hera gave her curiosity; Hermes, along with giving her cunning, boldness and charm, then gave Pandora a box. The name Pandora, thus, derives from the fact she's received gifts from all deities: "all gifts".
Before he was chained to the rock, Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to take any gifts from the gods. Epimetheus did not listen to his brother, however, and when Pandora arrived, he fell in love with her. Hermes told him that Pandora was a gift to the titan from Zeus, and he warned Epimetheus to not open the box, which was Pandora's dowry.
Until then, mankind had lived a life in a paradise without worry. Epimetheus told Pandora never to open the box she had received from Zeus. However, one day, Pandora's curiosity got the better of her and she opened it, releasing all the misfortunes of mankind (plague, sorrow, poverty, crime, etc.). Once opened, she shut it in time to keep one thing in the box: hope 1. The world remained extremely bleak for an unspecified interval, until Pandora "chanced" to revisit the box again, at which point Hope fluttered out. Thus, mankind always has hope in times of evil, but Hope has a great deal of catching up to do. (See also Garden of Eden.)
Epimetheus and Pandora, El Greco
The story of Pandora's Box can be interpreted in more than one way, but one obvious moral is that of "curiosity killed the cat".
Some scholars 2 contend that Pandora's "box" may have been a mistranslation, and her "box" may have been a large jar or vase, forged from the earth. In fact, there is evidence 3 that suggests Pandora herself was the jar. In Ancient Greece jars commonly bore images of women. The jar was said 4 to have been in a jar form because of the similarites between a jar and a woman's uterus.
The mistranslation is usually attributed to the 16th Century Humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam when he translated Hesiod's tale of Pandora. Hesiod uses the word "pithos" which refers to a jar used to store grain. It is possible that Erasmus confused "pithos" with "pyxis" which means box. The scholar M.L. West, has written that Erasmus may have mixed up the story of Pandora with the story found elsewhere of a box which was opened by Psyche. 5
Hope 6 is considered an evil in this story because according to Hesiod it implies the control of the future, and since no one can control the future, to have hope is to be deluded. Other people think that Hope being left in the box symbolizes Hope often being humanity's only comfort.
The original Greek text from 700 BC of Hesiod's Works and Days, whence we get the earliest extant story of Pandora and the box, which is really a "jar", does not specify exactly what was in the box Pandora opened. 7
The scholar M.L. West has written that the story of Pandora and her jar is derived from a pre-Hesiodic story or legend and this is what causes the confusion and problems with Hesiod's version and its inconclusiveness. He writes that in earlier legends, Pandora was married to Prometheus, and cites the ancient Catalogue of Women as preserving this older tradition, and that the jar may have at one point contained only good things for mankind. There is also a question as to what was Hope, which is good for mankind, doing in a jar full of evils for mankind. Hence the earlier stories come into play. He also writes that it may have been that Epimetheus and Pandora and their roles were transposed in the pre-Hesiodic stories and legends. He remarks that there is a curious correlation between Pandora being made out of earth in Hesiod's story, to what is in Apollodorus that Prometheus created man from water and earth. (Apollodorus, Library and Epitome, ed. Sir James George Frazer. ) 8
Martin P. Nilsson writes that the part about Hope being left in the box was likely added later: a sequel to the original legend. 9
The tale of Pandora's Box also shows how Early Greeks imagined woman to be created by the Gods as evil on the inside and beautiful on the outside in order to make men miserable. In this way, the tale has, on some superficial levels, similiarities with many Judeo-Christian stories.
Various feminist scholars believe that in an earlier set of myths, Pandora was the Great Goddess, provider of the gifts that made life and culture possible, and that Hesiod's tale can be seen as part of a propaganda campaign to demote her from her previously revered status. For an alternate view of Pandora, see Charlene Spretnak's Lost Goddesses of Early Greece; A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Mythology, 1978. For an alternate view of goddesses in general, and stories such as those of Eve and Pandora regarding women and evil, see Merlin Stone's When God Was a Woman.
Cultural allusions to Pandora and her box
1 C.H. Moore, p.37: the word for "hope" in Greek, Ελπις, "elpis", and its context in Hesiod's Works and Days, line 96, Moore claims is better translated as "anticipation of misfortune" rather than simply "hope". It is presumed that Moore is saying that mankind could avert some misfortunes by anticipating them with what was left on the rim of Pandora's jar. Some Greek lexicons yield some support to Moore's observation. Moore's exact words on the subject, on page 37, are: "She [Pandora] opened a jar containing every kind of evil, which straightaway flew out among mankind. Only Ελπις [elpis] remained therein --- a word hardly equivalent to our Hope, but rather meaning 'anticipation of misfortune'. It is then the only plague to which man is not subjected. He is obliged to suffer, having been involved in the original sin of Prometheus, who wished to cheat Zeus of the sacrifice due him. Such is the sacred tale offered as an explanation of the presence of evils on earth". M.L. West also has an exposition and commentary on the word used, on p.169 of his Works & Days / Hesiod, edited with prolegomena and commentary. Pietro Pucci, in his Hesiod and the Language of Poetry, also addresses the full meaning of Ελπις, p.124, ff.51 and says "Ελπις properly means a larger set of expectations than our 'hope', for it implies hope, expectation, and even fear as in Homer's Iliad 13:309, 17:23, etc." Pucci goes on to write on p.104, that Hope was not always considered simply good for mankind, citing Works and Days by Hesiod, line 498 , "Hope [Ελπις] is a bad companion for the man in need who sits in an idle place, when he has no sufficient livelihood".
2 Hesiod, Works and Days, translation of the word as jar, not box. The word in the Greek text is πιθου ("pithou", from the base "pithos") which describes "a very large jar, usually made of rough-grained terra cotta, used for storage".  The classics scholar, M.L. West, writes about this issue on p.168, in his translation and commentary on Hesiod's Works and Days, confirming it was a jar, and not a box, and the many implications of that. For example, it was likely a jar as large physically, if not larger than a person. Cf. the original text of Hesiod, lines 90, 95. " For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sicknesses 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 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". 
3 Padraic Colum, Orpheus, Myths of the World, p.71, 1930. "The jar, like Pandora herself, had been made and filled out of the ill-will of Zeus. And it had been filled, not with salves and charms and washes, as the women thought, but with Cares and Troubles."  This should be viewed with scholarly skepticism as it is an extrapolation to see Pandora being the vessel herself.
4 Sujoy Deyasi, Uniphase: A Solution to Albert Einstein's the Unified Field Theory, 2003. "In the story of Pandora the box is representing a woman's womb (the uterus, the vessel in which a new life arrives in this world), and opening of it either by Pandora or by her husband god Epimetheus is referring to our conscious knowledge that we can have sex anytime. What came out of the box is human emotion."  This claim should be viewed with scholarly skepticism as it is far from the mainstream. It is only included here to fulfill a prior citation.
5 cf. M.L. West, Works & Days, p.168
6 cf. note 1.
7 cf. M.L. West, Works & Days, p.168. "Hesiod omits to say where the jar came from, and what Pandora had in mind when she opened it, and what exactly it contained". West goes on to say this contributes to the "inconclusive Pandora legend".
8 cf. M.L. West, Works & Days, p.164.
9 cf. Martin P. Nilsson, History of Greek Religion, p.184.