The Secret is Revealed - Part 3/3 of "Prometheus Bound" by Aeschylus

Part III

Here we finally get the answers that we are looking for in this play. It was hinted at in the beginning that Prometheus can see the future, and knows a secret that he is reluctant to tell about the downfall of Zeus. Prometheus is not fan of Zeus, of course, as he is being tortured by him for his helping of humanity. And so, when Zeus sends his servant, Hermes, to demand that Prometheus tell him the information, Prometheus refuses and accepts an even harsher punishment. He will be chained to the rocks, then struck by lightening and buried in the earth, then taken out only to have his insides ripped out by an eagle ... every single day. What's the secret? Prometheus finally reveals, through his interaction with Io, that Zeus will enter into another marriage (he has so many), and it will be his son from this woman (they don't say who it is) that is actually going to overthrow his father, fulfilling Cronus' curse on Zeus when Zeus did that to his father. Not only this, but one of Io's descendants is going to eventually free Prometheus from his chains. 

Prometheus Meets Io
At this point in the play Io enters the scene. 1 She has been wandering the earth and has happened to find herself at the rocky crag in which Prometheus is chained. She is distraught as she is continually pursued by "Argos," her tormentor with a thousand eyes. She has to wander the world as a cow, never content because she got accidentally caught up in Zeus' affairs. 2 "...I am moving always tortured and hungry, wild bounding, quick sped I come, a victim of jealous plots." In meeting Prometheus she asks him for some insight into what might stop her torments. Even she can sense that Prometheus has gift with knowing the future. 3 "IO: ... indicate to me what date shall be the limit of my wanderings. PROMETHEUS: Better for you not to know this than to know it. IO: I beg you, do not hide from me what I must endure. PROMETHEUS: It is no that I grudge you this favor. IO: Why then delay to tell me all? PROMETHEUS: It is no grudging, but I hesitate to break your spirit." 4 "IO Do not have more thought for me than pleases me myself.  PROMETHEUS: Since you are so eager, I must speak; and do you give ear." 

Io's Backstory
Before this happens, though, the Chorus of Oceanos' daughters interject and ask that Io tell the story of her ill fate. Io recalled having continuing dreams in which a spirit came to her telling her Zeus desired lustfully after her and to give into his wishes. She is told to go to a pasture, hidden away in the high grass with the cattle, so that Zeus can finally have his way with her. After continually suffering these dreams, so told her father what was happening. 5 Her father sent out servants to visit some seers, seeking for some guidance regarding what to do. The messages that he received back, though, were not very clear to understand. Finally, he came to understand that he is to cast he daughter out of his home to wander the world, otherwise Zeus would destroy his whole people. Though he did not want to, he parted with his daughter. "He drove me out and shut his doors against me with tears on both our parts, but Zeus' bit compelled him to do this against his will." 

In leaving, Io realizes that she has been changed into a cow. In the chaos of figuring this out, an angry huntsman named Argos began to follow her and track her. Zeus, in her defense strikes him with a thunderbolt and destroys him from his current form. Io (bothered as cows are by annoying flies) continues her aimless wandering around the world. In finishing her backstory, she again asks Prometheus to please reveal to her about her future. 6 Now Prometheus will speak ...

Io's Future and Zeus' Downfall
Prometheus begins to lay out the travels of what Io still must endure around the world. 7 Essentially she wanders around Europe and then must go to Asia. 8 Io begins to despair. "What good is life to me then? Why do I not throw myself at once from some rough crag, to strike the ground and win a quittance of all my troubles? It would be better to die once for all than suffer all one's days." Here the conversation takes an interesting turn. Prometheus hints that Zeus will be overthrown at some point. And he finally gives us another clue as to how it is going to happen. "He shall make a marriage that shall hurt him." Prometheus will not say who the marriage is to, though. 9 He does say that this marriage will produce a son which will be greater than Zeus and overthrow him. Also, it will be one of Io's descendants in the 13th generation that will have Prometheus released from his chains. 10

Briefly returning to Io's fate, Prometheus gives more information about her wanderings and concludes that she will end up in Egypt. 11 The main point here is that her descendants are going to play a role in Prometheus' freedom. Here's the full prophecy: 

"There is a city, furthest in the world, Canobos, near the mouth and issuing point of the Nile: there Zeus shall make you sound of mind touching you with a hand that brings no fear, and through that touch alone shall come your healing. You shall bear Epaphos, dark of skin, his name recalling Zeus' touch and his begetting. This Epaphos shall reap the fruit of all the land that is watered by the broad flowing Nile. From him five generations, and again to Argos they shall come, against their will, in number fifty, women, flying from a marriage with their kinsfolk: but these kinsfolk their hearts with lust flutter like the hawks barely outdistanced by the doves will come hunting a marriage that the law forbids: the God shall grudge the men these women's bodies, and the Pelasgian earth shall welcome them in death: for death shall claim them in a fight where women strike in the dark, a murderous vigil. Each wife shall rob her husband of his life dipping in blood her two-edged sword: even so may Love come, too, upon my enemies. But one among these girls shall love beguile from killing her bedfellow, blunting her purpose: and she shall make her choice to bear the name of coward and not murder: this girl, she shall in Argos bear a race of kings. To tell this clearly needs a longer story, but from her seed shall spring a man renowned for archery, and he shall set me free. Such was the prophecy which ancient Themis my Titan mother opened up to me; but how and by what means it shall come true would take too long to tell, and if you heard the knowledge would not profit you." 12

The Chorus jumps in and makes the point that it is never good to get involved with Zeus' lustful conquests, not least of all because his wife, Hera, will come after you. One should, then, marry someone within their same status and station and keep the eyes of the gods off of them. 13 And yet, it is by a wrongful marriage that Zeus' too shall meet his downfall. His father Cronus' curse on him will come true, and that descendent will learn how to destroy Zeus ... no one can do anything, but at least Prometheus knows what will happen. 14 

Enter Hermes, Zeus' Messenger
Hermes enters the scene, angry on Zeus' behalf, and demanding to know Prometheus' secret about who Zeus' marriage will be to. "You, subtle-spirit, you bitterly overbitter, you that sinned against the immortals, giving honor to the creatures of a day, you thief of fire: the Father has commanded you to say what marriage of his is this you brag about that shall drive him from power - and declare it in clear terms and no riddles. You, Prometheus, do not cause a double journey; these [chains] will prove to you that Zeus is not softhearted." 15 Prometheus rebuffs him, calling him a new god. He has seen two gods been thrown down and now knows that it will happen to Zeus as well, and all those that Zeus appointed. 16 

Prometheus and Hermes argue at each other back and forth, getting nowhere. In Prometheus' words, "And are you not a child, and sillier than a child, to think that I should tell you anything? There is not a torture or an engine wherewithal Zeus can induce me to declare these thing, till he has loosed me from these cruel shackles. So let him hurl his smoky lightening flame, and throw in turmoil all things in the world with white-winged snowflakes and deep bellowing thunder beneath the earth: me he shall not bend by all this to tell him who is fated to drive him from his tyranny." 17 Prometheus will not give in or beg for mercy from Zeus. And so, according to Hermes, his punishments will be increased. 18 

Zeus is going to strike the rocks with his thunder bolts, cracking them and pulling Prometheus to be buried deep beneath where he cannot see the light. Eventually he will be taken out, but only to have a servant of Zeus, an eagle, rip off his flesh and tear out his liver every single day, over and over again. Prometheus is not afraid, though, and accepts his suffering at the hands of his enemy. 19 Hermes concludes saying that this suffering is now their own fault. They should not blame anyone but themselves. He gave them a chance to comply, and they did not. 20 Prometheus will not accept this, though, and calls out to his mother to behold the unjust sufferings that he is being put through. 

1 - Who is Io?
Ovid gives us some backstory. Zeus is wandering by a river and sees a beautiful woman, Io. Then his wife, Hera, shows up, and Zeus changes Io into a cow in order to trick Hera that he’s not interested in the girl. Hera asks to keep the cow, and Zeus allows it. Hera wants to then torture Io. A fly chases her around and bothers her. Io doesn’t realize that she’s a cow until she sees her dad back at home looking for her. She tries to call out to him but all she can do is mooo at him. She becomes a sad cow. She scratches her name in the sand with her hoof, and her dad sees it, and he becomes mad at Zeus. He becomes ashamed and mad because now he has no daughter, and blames her. Hera puts her on an island, guarded by Argus, Hera’s 100 eyed servant, who always has at least two open. Years later, Zeus sends Hermes and lulls Argus to sleep, and Hermes kills him and steals Io back. 

2 - Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound. Greek Tragedies Volume I. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. (Chicago. The University of Chicago Press, 1969.) Pg. 85.
3 - 86
4 - 87
5 - 88
6 - 89
7 - 90
8 - 91
9 - 92
10 - 93
11 - 94
12 - 95, 96
13 - 97
14 - 98
15 - 99, 100
16 - 100
17 - 101, 102
18 - 102
19 - 103
20 - 104
21 - 105