Friday, February 21, 2014

"Prometheus Bound"

For some reason I had always thought Prometheus was human, so it surprised me, while reading Prometheus Bound, to discover that Prometheus was a Titan, because it really does make a difference. The story of Prometheus is beloved by scientists because Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to humanity, similar to how scientists intrude into the realm of the sacred to give knowledge and power to humanity. If Prometheus is a human, then it's a story about humanity outsmarting and flaunting the gods, but if Prometheus is a Titan, then humanity still owes the gods (or the Titans, I suppose) for their success in the long run. Either way, it's a story about the arbitrariness of authority. Not long before the story begins, Zeus had arbitrarily dethroned his father Cronus (who had earlier dethroned his father Uranus) in an example of might makes right. This makes Zeus a tyrant and a hypocrite. Prometheus is being punished by Zeus for flaunting his authority, yet Zeus himself treasonously overthrew Cronus. 

Another surprise was that Prometheus had not only given fire to humanity, he had given them the gift of reason, the attribute that separates men from beasts. Before men had been "senseless as beasts."

Prometheus Bound also reminded me quite a bit of Paradise Lost, although Prometheus was naturally more sympathetic then Satan. I'm sure this play influenced John Milton and I'm sure it's no surprise that Prometheus Bound and Paradise Lost are listed in the same year in the Great Books reading list.

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