Friday, October 2, 2009

Scholarly Thoughts

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about some scholar’s thoughts about my story.

David Grene thought that Prometheus Bound was a symbolic play and that my conflict with Zeus represents rebel vs. tyrant and brute force vs. intellect. And this made the play relatable to common struggles of
Aeschylus’s audience. Greene, D. ‘Prometheus Bound’ Classical Philology, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 22-38.

Olga Raggio beleived that the way which people view my myth was transformed after the mid eighteenth century. Raggio’s provides an interesting article on the development of my myth and for those interested it’s reference is: Raggio, O. ‘The Myth of Prometheus: Its Survival and Metamorphoses up to the Eighteenth Century’ Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 21, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Jun., 1958), pp. 44-62.

There also other works, including commentaries, which you may be interested in regarding the various incarnations of my myth. These include:

Griffith, M, The authenticity of "Prometheus bound”, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1977.

Beall, E.F., ‘Hesiod's Prometheus and Development in Myth’, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1991), pp. 355–371.

West, M.L., Hesiod, Theogony, ed. with prolegomena and commentary, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1966.

Thomas, G.D., The Prometheus Bound / Aeschylus ; edited with introduction, commentary and translation by George Thomson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1932.

Artistic Representations

Classical Myths have long been inspiration for many artists, and mine is no exception.

Black figure Spartan vase from ~500 BC

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, 1612 AD.

Sculpture by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1762 AD.

A different point of view...

Aeschylus famously put forward another version of my story in his 5th century BC tragedy, Prometheus Bound. Although there is some debate amongst modern scholars whether Aeschylus was really the author of Prometheus Bound, it was traditionally accepted by Classical scholars to be his work.

Aeschylus’s take on my story differs greatly from Hesiod’s in that I am portrayed as the victim. Firstly the trick at Mecone is omitted as well as my role in the creation of Pandora. I am shown to be the saviour of humankind, unlike my Hesiod counterpart. In Prometheus Bound, fire is shown to symbolise civilisation. And this is shown primarily in the following passage:
At first Mindless, I gave them mind and reason. - What I say
Is not in censure of mankind, but showing you
How all my gifts to them were guided by goodwill.
In those days they had eyes, but sight was meaningless;
Heard sounds, but could not listen; all their length of life
They passed like shapes in dreams, confused and purposeless.
Of brick-built, sun-warmed houses, or of carpentry,
They had no notion; lived in holes, like swarms of ants,
Or deep in sunless caverns; knew no certain way
To mark off winter, or flowery, spring, or fruitful summer;
Their every act was without knowledge, till I came.
I taught them to determine when stars rise or set
A difficult art. Number, the primary science, I
Invented for them, and how to set down words in writing
The all-remembering skill, mother of many arts.
I was the first to harness beasts under a yoke
With trace or saddle as man's slaves, to take man's place
Under the heaviest burdens; put the horse to the chariot,
Made him obey the rein, and be an ornament
To wealth and greatness. No one before me discovered
The sailor's waggon - flax-winged craft that roam the seas.
Such tools and skills I found for men: myself, poor wretch,
Lack even one trick to free me from this agony.

This notion of me giving technology to the human race to benefit them contrasts the idea presented in Hesiod’s Works & Days; that technology harmed humanity and as the ‘ages’ progressed, humanity regressed.

Also, while Hesiod’s account of Prometheus affirms Zeus’s supreme authority, Aeschylus’s challenges it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Hesiod’s version of my story is told both in his Theogony and Works and Days, and is the first time I appear in the Greek mythos. Hesiod was a farmer from Boeotia in approximately the eighth century BC. The Theogony is a poem which tells of the origins of the Greek Gods and Hesiod claims he had been visited by the Muses who told him to write this history of the Gods. Works and Days was written as a poem that educated the reader about farming. However it was not entirely instructional nature, and similar to the Theogony provides one the earliest sources for Greek mythology.

In Hesiod’s canon, I am portrayed as a lowly trickster who causes misfortune to the human race. Due to my trick at Mecone where I deceive Zeus into choosing the less desirable sacrificial offering (bones disguised by a layer of fat), Zeus decides to take fire away from mankind. That is until; I steal the fire off Zeus and return it to the humans. My punishment for this crime is to be bound to a rock in Caucasus and have an eagle eat my liver for eternity.

Zeus also had the Gods create Pandora and gave her a jar full of burdens for mankind. I warned my brother, Epimetheus (whose name ironically means hindsight) not to accept this “gift”. However, Epimetheus failed to listen to me and Pandora opened the box, unleashing “grim cares upon mankind”. However, by Zeus’ intervention, hope does not escape the box.

As a result of these events, I am shown to be the cause of all misfortune to mankind. It is also revealed that if I had not stolen the fire, humankind would not have to work so hard for survival.

Hesiod’s Prometheus’ twitter page which recounts these events in a more entertaining manner can be viewed here: