“If one does not hope, one will not find the unhoped, since there is no trail leading to it and no path”
62) Praise hope (Ελπιδα αινει)
Elpís means only “hope”; however it encompasses a wider range of associations than the modern use of the concept, because in its broader sense, it means ‘expectation’ or ‘anticipation’. It has double edged characteristic that is epitomized by the chorus of the Antigone: “For far reaching hope (polyplagktos elpís) is a boon to many men, but to many a delusion born of thoughtless desires”. Hope was brought to men by Pandora, who has been devised by Zeus as the object of desire; Pandora was accepted too hastily by Epimetheus, whose name means ‘after-thought’, in spite of the advices of his brother Prometheus, the ‘before-thought’. Only to those men who are able to find a balanced harmony between the recklessness of Epimetheus and the precaution of Prometheus, Elpís will be a very valuable gift. Hope is essentially human, because neither Gods nor beasts hope, and in fact Pandora is the source of mankind. In the Tradition, the elusive nature of Hope is solved in a firm distinction between educated ‘firm’ hopes- which are directed towards realistic and right targets- and foolish ‘empty’ hopes- which long for non well-defined and unrighteous goals. In this sense, Elpís brings us back to the law “pray for things possible”.
As Hesiod tells us, Elpís is a Daimon, the only one remained after all the other bad ones were escaped from the jar of Pandora. She is the only consolation and solace to human beings: “Only Elpís 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.”
Proclus held that Hesiod’s jar corresponds to the two jars of good and evil which stand on the threshold of Zeus, and that Pandora/Anesidora let out of it both good and evil. So, beautifully and tragically, Theognis describes the Iron Age, its evils and the very great consolation of Hope: “Elpís is the only good God remaining among mankind; the others have left and gone to Olympos. Pistis (Trust), a mighty god has gone, Sophrosyne (Wisdom) has gone from men, and the Kharites, my friend, have abandoned the earth. Men’s judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone revere the immortal Gods; the race of pious men has perished and men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety. But as long as man lives and sees the light of the sun, let him show piety to the Gods and count on Hope. Let him pray to the Gods and burn splendid thigh bones, sacrificing to Elpís first and last.”
The story about the jar has an another version, but the result is the same: Elpís is the only good left. It is narrated by Aesop: “Zeus gathered all the useful things together in a jar and put a lid on it. He then left the jar in human hands. But man had no self-control and he wanted to know what was in that jar, so he pushed the lid aside, letting those things go back to the abode of the Gods. So all the good things flew away, soaring high above the earth, and Spes/Elpís was the only thing left. When the lid was put back on the jar, Hope was kept inside. That is why Hope alone is still found among the people, promising that she will bestow on each of us the good things that have gone away.”
In the Hellenic Tradition, Elpís stands for the personification of Hope. Throughout history, Elpís has been depicted as a young woman, usually carrying flowers or a cornucopia in her hands, a symbol of the brighter side of things, an expression of comfort in moments of weakness. To understand well the deep import of the word ‘elpís’, we ought to quote Olympiodoros on the Chaldean Oracles: “Divine hope (elpida..tèn theian), which descends from the Intellect (nous) and is certain, concerning which the oracle says: “may fire-bearing hope nourish you”. Elpís is in fact the fourth virtue, along with Faith, Truth and Love.
Elpís appears also in two fragments by Heraclitus, which are very important: “If one does not hope, one will not find the unhoped, since there is no trail leading to it and no path”. “There await men after they are dead things they do not hope or grasp”. To follow this virtue is to be open to the unknown; such openness is not easy, as it demands Trust/Faith and great courage. Yet, if one does not open oneself to the secret speech of the Logos, if one does not hope for the unhoped, one will not find it. Faith, Hope and Love are unified also in Plato’s Symposium: “We must sing the praise of Eros, while he benefits us most in the present by attracting us to what is part of ourselves, he provides us with great hope (elpidas megistas) for the future.”