Prometheus Bound and Other Plays by AeschylusThis is a review of Prometheus Bound. Reviews of other plays in the same book are found elsewhere (see below)
Peter Paul Rubens
Prometheus, discoursing on his gifts to mankind:
... At first
Mindless, I gave them mind and reason. - What I say
Is not 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.
This play was the first in a trilogy. The others, both lost, were Prometheus Unbound (in which Zeus presented his case for the justness of his punishment of Prometheus) and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer. The translator, Philip Vellacott, in his excellent introduction to the four plays, expresses the view that it is difficult to imagine what material was left to cover in the last play, though its assumed that somehow a resolution of the cases made by Prometheus and Zeus in the first two plays was concocted.
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Set the play at the dawn of human existence, or perhaps at a time when Greek civilization was thought to have been no more than barbaric, with little use of mans mental faculties. In Greek mythology this was in the time of the Titans. (See below)
Edith Hamilton cautions us, The Greeks did not believe the gods created the universe. It was the other way about: the universe created the gods. Before there were gods Heaven and Earth had been formed. They were the first parents. The Titans were their first children, and the gods were their grandchildren.
The Titans were sometimes called the Elder Gods, and were supreme in the universe for an untold amount of time. The most important was Cronos, who ruled over the other Titans until his son, Zeus, dethroned him and seized power.
There were other notable Titans: Ocean, the river that encircled the earth; his wife Tethys; Hyperion, the father of the sun, the moon, and the dawn; Mnemosyne, which means Memory; Themis (Justice); and Iapetus, important because of his two sons – Atlas, who bore the world on his shoulders, and Prometheus, who was the savior of mankind. (from Hamilton, Mythology)
So, Prometheus: the savior of mankind. Why did mankind need a savior? Where did men come from?
The human race was created in the time of the Titans. But, says Vellacott,
man was early recognized as a regrettable failure, and kept in a state of wretchedness and total subservience. Force ruled everything; reason and right were unknown. The Titans were a race of gigantic size and strength, and [at least in one version of the myth] no intelligence; until in one of them, Prometheus, emerged rational and moral qualities, ranging from cunning and ingenuity to a love of freedom and justice. The knowledge that the future lay with such intangible principles rather than with brute strength, was a secret possessed by Earth, who imparted it to her son Prometheus. This certainly set Prometheus at the side of Zeus, son of Cronos, in rebellion against his father and the older dynasty; and by Prometheus help Zeus and the other Olympian gods won the day and thenceforward ruled the universe.
But Prometheus was not only an immortal; he was also a son of Earth, and felt a natural sympathy with the earths mortal inhabitants. The race which Zeus despised and planned to destroy, Prometheus saw as capable of infinite development. He stole fire from heaven and gave it to them; and he taught them the basic mental and manual skills. In so doing he frustrated Zeuss plan to create a more perfect race… What win our favor for Prometheus is largely the fact that he believed in, and wanted to help, the human race as it is, full of both noble achievement and pitiable squalor, honoring both goodness and wickedness… But though in this play the balance of feeling is in favor of Prometheus, even the sympathetic Chorus rebuke him for pride: and it is clear that Zeuss case has yet to be presented.
Like the other plays in this volume, there are no jumps in time, or changes of setting. Prometheus is present on the stage throughout. The Chorus is present on the stage from the time they enter right up to the end. The other characters enter and leave the stage, presenting the minimal scene change that apparently was accepted in early Greek drama.
Heres a synopsis.
- It begins with Prometheus being dragged onto the stage by STRENTH and VIOLENCE (are these minor Titans? children of the Titans? Im not sure. This may be an example of the fact that many of the relations between non-human beings in Greek mythology are notably ambiguous, even seemingly contradictory from one tale to another.)
At any rate, there really is some action on the stage to open the play. HEPHAESTUS, the god of Fire, follows these three onto the stage. He doesnt really want to be there, because he understands what he is supposed to do. His opening speech establishes Aeschylus setting for the play:
For you two, Strength and Violence, the command of Zeus
Is now performed. You are released. But how can I
Find heart to lay hands on a god of my own race,
And cruelly clamp him to this better, bleak ravine?
And yet I must; heart or no heart, this I must do.
To slight what Zeus has spoken is a fearful thing.
[to PROMETHEUS] Son of sagacious Themis, god of mountainous thoughts,
With heart as sore as yours I now shall fasten you
In bands of bronze immovable to this desolate peak,
Where you will hear no voice, nor see a human form;
But scorched with the suns flaming rays your skin will lose
Its bloom of freshness. Glad you will be to see the night
Cloaking the day with her dark spangled robe; and glad
Again when the suns warmth scatters the frost at dawn.
Each changing hour will bring successive pain to rack
Your body; and no man yet born shall set you free.
Your kindness to the human race has earned you this.
A god who would not bow to the gods anger – you,
Transgressing right, gave privileges to mortal men.
For that you shall keep watch upon this bitter rock,
Standing upright, unsleeping, never bowed in rest.
And many groans and cries of pain shall come from you,
All useless; for the heart of Zeus is hard to appease.
Power newly won is always harsh.
Hephaestus rivets each of the arms to the rock. He is then commanded by Strength to drive straight through the chest with all the force you have/the unrelenting fang of the adamantine [unbreakable] wedge. Once this is done, the three leave Prometheus to his misery.
Prometheus cries out,
See with what outrage
Racked and tortured
I am to agonize
For a thousand years!
See this shameful prison
Invented for me
By the new master of the gods!
I know exactly every thing
That is to be; no torment will come unforeseen.
My appointed fate I must endure as best I can,
knowing the power of Necessity is irresistible.
Under such suffering, speech and silence are alike
Beyond me. For bestowing gifts upon mankind
I am harnessed in this torturing clamp. For I am he
Who hunted out the source of fire, and stole it, …
And fire has proved
For men a teacher in every art, their grand resource.
That was the sin for which I now pay the full price,
Bared to the winds of heaven, bound and crucified.
- The CHORUS now enters in a winged ship and speak to Prometheus at length. They leave the ship, and gather around Prometheus as OCEANUS arrives, seated on a winged four-footed creature. She insists that she feels great friendship toward him, and admonishes him to be less proud, in this new regime in which Zeus has achieved rule over the other gods.
- Next Io enters. This is the longest scene in the play. Io, the virgin daughter of the king of Argos, is a fellow victim, indirectly, of Zeus. When Zeus first saw her he desired her. His wife Hera became aware of the attraction before a union had been consummated, and took steps to prevent it by transforming Io into a cow, then set the giant Argus to watch over her. Zeus had Hermes kill Argus, but Hera responded to this by sending a gadfly to torment Io, driving her from place to place all over the known world.
The Chorus asks Io to tell her story, and as she does Prometheus recounts his personal knowledge of Ios travail, and even tells her what will befall her in the future before she finds salvation from the enmity of Hera and the lust of Zeus.
- Finally Prometheus is visited by the last character, Hermes, who has been sent on an errand by Zeus. It seems that Zeus has foreknowledge that a son of his will cause his downfall, and Zeus wants Prometheus to use his powers to reveal to him who the mother of this child will be.
Prometheus mocks Hermes, claiming that he will not share this knowledge with the god who is responsible for his torments. Hermes warns Prometheus, and the Chorus, who seem to defend him, that theyll be sorry for being so pig-headed. Once Hermes leaves, his warning about Zeus thunder and lightning comes to pass, and Prometheus cries, Now it is happening; threat gives place to performance. The earth rocks; thunder, echoing from the depth/Roars in answer; fiery lightnings twist and flash… The cataclysm advances visibly upon me, Sent by Zeus to make me afraid.
Oh Earth, my holy mother,
O sky, where sun and moon
Give light to all in turn,
You see how I am wronged!
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This page is part of the "tools" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues , dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "tools" section provides historical and geographical context chronology, maps, entries on characters and locations for Socrates, Plato and their time. For more information on the structure of entries and links available from them, read the notice at the beginning of the index of persons and locations. Thus they were cousins of Zeus, who was the son of their uncle Cronus. Their brothers were Menoetius who was so proud and rude that Zeus struck him with lightning and plunged him into Tartarus, as he did with his father and all the Titans and Atlas see Hesiod 's Theogony , , sq. Prometheus was as shrewd as his brother Epimetheus was clumsy.
Prometheus is known for his intelligence and as a champion of humankind  and also seen as the author of the human arts and sciences generally. He is sometimes presented as the father of the Deucalion , the hero of the flood story. The punishment of Prometheus as a consequence of the theft is a major theme of his, and is a popular subject of both ancient and modern. Zeus , king of the Olympian gods , sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. The immortal was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to eat Prometheus' liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day.
His attempts to better the lives of his creation brought him into conflict with Zeus. Firstly he tricked the gods out of the best portion of the sacrificial feast, acquiring the meat for the feasting of man. Then, when Zeus withheld fire, he stole it from heaven and delivered it to mortal kind hidden inside a fennel-stalk. As punishment for these rebellious acts, Zeus ordered the creation of Pandora the first woman as a means to deliver misfortune into the house of man, or as a way to cheat mankind of the company of the good spirits. Prometheus meanwhile, was arrested and bound to a stake on Mount Kaukasos Caucasus where an eagle was set to feed upon his ever-regenerating liver or, some say, heart.
Hesiod claimed, the word Titan means "Strainer", because they strained and performed some presumptuous, fearful deed and the vengeance would come after it.
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Prometheus, one of the Titans in Greek mythology, was the god of fire. A master craftsman considered the wisest of his race, he was credited with the creation of humans and with giving them fire and various types of skills and knowledge. His name means "forethought.
Prometheus was the son of the Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Clymene. Even though a Titan himself, together with his brother Epimetheus , he sided with Zeus during the Titanomachy. However, after helping Zeus to achieve victory in the war, he started a quarrel with him over his supposed unfair treatment of humanity. This led to Prometheus stealing the fire from the gods and gifting it to humanity , which resulted in Zeus chaining Prometheus and sending an eagle to prey upon his continually regenerating liver. Through his smart counseling , Prometheus played an essential part during the war between the Titans and the Olympians.
Prometheus , in Greek religion , one of the Titans, the supreme trickster, and a god of fire. His intellectual side was emphasized by the apparent meaning of his name, Forethinker. In common belief he developed into a master craftsman, and in this connection he was associated with fire and the creation of mortals. The Greek poet Hesiod related two principal legends concerning Prometheus. The first is that Zeus , the chief god, who had been tricked by Prometheus into accepting the bones and fat of sacrifice instead of the meat, hid fire from mortals.
According to the eighth-century bce Greek poet Hesiod, he became the major benefactor of the human race by introducing them to crafts, fire, and sacrifice. The ambiguous position that he occupied during the rule of the Olympians around Zeus is hinted at in his name of "forethinking one" and the presence of a twin brother, Epimetheus, the "one who thinks too late. Prometheus is the major mediator between the world of the gods and that of humankind. If one takes Hesiod as starting point, his original encounter with the Olympian Zeus shows his ambivalence as benefactor and bringer of evil to the human race, evils in the form of limitations to human existence when compared to the eternal lives of the gods. He challenges Zeus to a duel of wits, as Zeus had similarly challenged Kronos, his father, and Kronos still earlier had challenged his own father, Ouranos, for sovereignty. As Jean-Pierre Vernant shows in a meticulous structural analysis of the existing mythical texts of Hesiod, the contest with Zeus also contains the paradigmatic mythical prototype of sacrificial rites for the Greek city-states. Prometheus divides an ox into two parts, one of which Zeus is to choose; one part hides the bones under an appetizing layer of fat, whereas the other part hides the meat under the unappetizing layer of the animal's stomach.