The majority of definitions give the same meaning - "Pandora's box" is a synonym for "a source of extensive but unforeseen troubles or problems."

Are there any other metaphors with the same meaning?

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    You don't tug on Superman's cape; you don't spit into the wind; you don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger; and you don't mess around with Jim. (Oh yeah, you do know what will happen then.) [Thank you Mr. Croce.] – bib Aug 3 '14 at 1:14
  • in Portuguese we say "to poke a tiger with a short stick" – SurvMach Aug 3 '14 at 4:09
  • Oddly enough, Pandora was warned not to open the box, so it wasn't completely unforeseen since there was a warning. Interestingly the box was also actually a jar. – Pharap Aug 3 '14 at 4:14
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    @bib That was my first thought too. I actually happened to listen to that song just minutes before seeing the question. Nice coincidence :-) – Tonny Aug 3 '14 at 11:59
  • @Pharap, The consequences themselves were unforeseen, even if the fact that there would be consequences was not. Although the gods could have been lying, so if she believed that (she probably didn't) the fact that there would be consequences at all would also be unforeseen. – trysis Aug 3 '14 at 23:38

to open (up) a can of worms may suggest the same situation:

to create a situation that will cause trouble or be unpleasant The investigation into how these expensive trips were paid for certainly opened a can of worms.

  • Usage notes: sometimes used without open up: I don't think her plan will work - it seems like kind of a can of worms to me.


  • It's not quite the same as Pandora's Box. The point about the latter is that the contents are unknown. Did Sue Townsend's The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, aged 13 and 3 quarters get as far as your neck of the woods? He had a girlfriend called Pandora. Presumably by implication her contents remained hidden. They are very funny stories if you ever get the chance to read them. – WS2 Aug 2 '14 at 21:36
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    The similarity is in the fact that once the Pandora's box or the can of worms are open, a series of unforeseen troubles may develop as a consequence. I think that is the aspect OP is interested in as stated in the question. – user66974 Aug 2 '14 at 22:09
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    In a can of worms, as with Pandora's box, the troubles/consequences themselves were unforeseen, even if some characters foresaw that there would be some in the first place. – trysis Aug 3 '14 at 23:40

A similar phrase is let the genie out of the bottle, meaning

to allow something bad or unwanted to happen that cannot then be stopped [Cambridge Dictionaries Online]


To open a hornets nest or stir up a hornets nest comes close to the sense of Pandora's box. I suppose one difference is that in the original myth, the consequenses of opening the box were not forseen, whereas if you describe someone as opening a hornets nest you tend to imply foolishness or short-sightedness or recklessness. On the other hand, I'm not sure that common usage of Pandora's box preserves the sense of unleashing harm unknowingly.


The tip of the iceberg is a visible symptom or component of a presumably enormous problem. This is derived literally from sailing among icebergs, of which only a small fraction or the "tip" can be seen above water. If a sailor forgets that icebergs are much larger than they appear, then they might sail too closely to one and suffer a fatal hole in the hull of their ship.

By itself, the term isn't synonymous with pandora's box. However, the act of ignoring a subtle sign of impending doom, i.e. the tip of the iceberg, is certain to lead to trouble. More often the term is used in review of the events leading up to an avoidable catastrophe which managed to transpire because those who could have prevented it didn't pay attention to important details.


Not sure if the following suggestions can be described strictly as metaphors, but they are certainly metaphorical, so here goes:

I. To "borrow trouble" is a fairly good substitute for "opening Pandora's box (or bottle)." Here are a few illustrations for this concept:

  • Four weeks after spraining my ankle, I decided to run in a half-marathon. When he found out that I'd registered for the race, my friend Jim said, "With that recently healed ankle of yours, I wouldn't go borrowing trouble by running 13-plus miles!"

  • My financial advisor counseled me not to refinance my mortgage by saying I would simply be borrowing trouble, given my iffy financial situation.

  • Against my better judgment I decided to risk borrowing trouble by splurging on a vacation I could not afford.

II. Another expression, which may have originated with the 18th century Prime Minister Robert Walpole, is, "Let sleeping dogs lie." The point being, a sleeping dog can obviously do you no harm, but if you dare disturb him, he may just go for your jugular! You're better off letting him sleep. An illustration:

When I finally worked up the courage to confront my six-foot-four-inch neighbor, a member of Hell's Angels, about the noise he and his friends were making during a late-night beer blast, my wife cautioned me, "Don't do it, hon. Let sleeping dogs lie." [In this case, the dog is obviously not sleeping, but partying. The saying could still be apropos, however, if up until this point the aggrieved neighbor has had good neighborly relations with his biker neighbor. In that case, the better part of wisdom might be to ignore the noise, use earplugs, and not risk confrontation.] Did I mention the biker was just paroled from prison after serving a six-year stretch for manslaughter?

III. The third saying might be a bit of a stretch, but here goes: "You oughtn't be putting your nose where it don't belong!" (sorry for the bad grammar). Some people just can't seem to help themselves. They know they shouldn't be nosy, but as the tabloid says, "Inquiring minds want to know." Other synonyms for this phenomenon:

  • snooping (e.g., sneaking onto private property to look at something close up)

  • butting in where you don't belong

  • being nebby (a regionalism in southwestern Pennsylvania, meaning to be annoyingly curious and to ask too many questions, but keeping your own affairs private)

IV. Another possibility is, "Don't let your curiosity get the best of you." Zeus told Pandora not to open the box, but she allowed her curiosity to get the best of her, and look what happened: she unleashed all the world's miseries and evils. The implied metaphor seems to be that you and curiosity are in a struggle. If you give in to it, you've lost the fight and disaster could befall you.

V. My last suggestion (for now) is the expression "to throw caution to the wind." This saying is not strictly equivalent to Pandora's box, but if when you know there is the very real possibility of imminent danger and you forge ahead anyway, you are said to be throwing caution to the wind.

Seeing his best friend bungee-jump off the highest bridge in the state, Hal figured he'd throw caution to the wind and do the same, even though he'd never once bungee-jumped.

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