Prometheus' Gifts to Men - Part II of "Prometheus Bound" by Aeschylus
Picking up the story from part I, Prometheus begins to tell the story of his problems with Zeus. It began when Zeus sought the throne of his father Cronus, and a battle of factions ensued. 1 Prometheus desired to help overthrow Zeus using craftiness and trickery, but others against Zeus, like the Titans only desired to face him with brute force ... which caused their loss to Zeus. Mother Earth prophesied it, that it would only be by guile that someone would defeat him. And so Prometheus decided to take the side of Zeus, and helped cast Cronus and others into the depths of the underworld. "This is a sickness rooted and inherent in the nature of a tyranny: that he that holds it does not trust his friends."
In this second post about Prometheus Bound we learn several interesting things. For one, Prometheus is not alone in his suffering, there are many friends that desire to lament with him and lament the rise of Zeus as well. Oceanos wants to help him, to plead his case before Zeus ... but Prometheus seems to have a gift of foresight and hints at a prophecy of the fates that will end of setting him free. But, for this time, it must be kept a secret from Zeus. We also learn that Prometheus gave human beings many things besides fire! He gave them reason, the ability to build real homes, to farm, to do math, how to build boats, and lash horses to chariots. Prometheus seems to claim that he is the origin of all human culture. It is still not clear why Prometheus helped humanity ... out of a good will, yes. But is there anything else? Maybe this all plays into the larger plans of the Fates.
Recounting the Story of His Punishment
So when Zeus took the throne, he handed out powers and privileges to different gods, but Zeus had no care for humanity and decided to destroy man. Prometheus was the only one willing to stand up for mankind and prevent their destruction. 2 And because of this, he is being punished by Zeus. "I caused mortals to cease foreseeing doom. ... I placed in them blind hopes. ... Besides this, I gave them fire. ... and from it they shall learn many crafts." 3
Prometheus is asked when his torment will ever stop, and he says that only when Zeus sees fit to stop it. The Chorus of Oceanos' daughters laments with Prometheus and longs to see him set aright. 4 Then rides into the scene Oceanos, himself. Oceanos, too, like his daughters, is sad for Prometheus and seeks to do something to help him. But, like his daughters, he takes a bit of a pragmatic approach to solving the situation. He basically tells Prometheus to drop the attitude against Zeus and get back in line. 5 "Know yourself and reform your ways to new ways, for new is he that rules among the Gods. But if you throw about such angry words, words that are whetted swords, soon Zeus will hear you, and even though his seat in glory is far removed, and then your present multitude of pains will seem like child's play." Regardless, Oceanos will go to plead Prometheus' cause. 6
Prometheus has no faith, though, that Zeus' will would be moved by such pleas. 7 He reminds Oceanos of what Zeus did to his siblings, Atlas and Typho. To Atlas he made him bear up the heavens and earth on his shoulders, and to Typho he smote him into a ruined mass, left to lay beneath the earth waiting to explode in anger. "I think about my brothers' fortunes - Atlas, who stands to westward of the world, supporting the pillar of earth and heaven on his shoulders, a load that suits no shoulders ..." 8 As much as Oceanos wants to help Prometheus, Prometheus convinces him that it will be a waste of time, and ultimately will bring punishment on Oceanos as well. 9
The Gifts Prometheus Gave to Men
When Oceanos leaves, his chorus of daughters picks up with a type of song and lament. They make it clear that Zeus' take over is a blow to the traditional gods and culture, a damaging blow that echoes throughout the earth. "Now all the earth has cried aloud, lamenting: now all that was magnificent of old laments your fall, laments your brethren's fall ... all lament in sympathy for your most grievous woes." 10 Again, it pains even Prometheus to be humiliated in this way, as he even helped Zeus dispense the honors to the new gods. Yet, he wanted to help humanity. A humanity which was without reason, living in caves. 11
Prometheus continues the list of benefits that he gave to humanity, including many more things. He says: medicine to heal disease, the gift to interpret dreams and omens, how to get along together, how to make torches, an awareness of the constellations, and the precious metals that lay in the earth. 13 "One brief word will tell the whole story: all arts that mortals have come from Prometheus."
Zeus Has No Power Over Fate
Again, the Chorus laments Prometheus' tortures. But Prometheus repeats again that it is not by craft or power that he will escape, but by necessity ... there is something that the fates have in store that will require Zeus to set him free. "Prometheus: ... he, too, cannot escape what is fated. Chorus: What is fated for Zeus besides eternal sovereignty? Prometheus: Inquire of this no further, do not entreat me. Chorus: This is some solemn secret, I suppose, that you are hiding. Prometheus: Think of some other story: this one is not yet the season to give tongue to, but it must be hidden with all care; for it is only by keeping it that I will escape my despiteful bondage and my agony." 14
The Chorus points out that Prometheus is going to suffer for creatures that are gone in a breath. Humans die and have no long life like the gods. "What succor in creatures of a day? You did not see the feebleness that draws its breath in gasps, a dreamlike feebleness by which the race of man is held in bondage, a blind prisoner. So the plans of men shall never pass the ordered law of Zeus." 15
To be continued in post three...
1 - Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound. Greek Tragedies Volume I. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. (Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, 1969.) Pg. 72.
2 - 73
3 - 74
4 - 75
5 - 76
6 - 76/77
7 - 77
8 - 78
9 - 79
10 - 80
11 - 81
12 - 81/82
13 - 82
14 - 83
15 - 84