Prometheus

By Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Harth, Erich | Free Inquiry, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Prometheus


Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, Harth, Erich, Free Inquiry


The poem "Prometheus," as well as the fragment of a play by the same name, was written around 1773 during Goethe's Sturm und Drang period when the author was in his early twenties. Almost fifty years later Goethe cautioned against having the manuscript appear in print, arguing that it would be "too inciting for our revolutionary youth." But an unauthorized publication appeared nevertheless and caused a sensation among his contemporaries.

The figure of Prometheus is portrayed in this poem as the true father of mankind, a free spirit, who, once pursued by the Titans, now mocks the Olympian gods as blustering and ineffectual frauds. He proceeds to build a race of people in his own image. It is he, not the one "who nods up there," who is our creator and our prototype. Builder, artist, wanderer, and supreme humanist, Goethe's Prometheus recognizes only two masters: time and fate.

- Erich Harth

Cover your heavens with clouds and vapors, Zeus and, like the boy who lops off heads of thistles, try your hand on oaks and mountaintops.

But you can't touch my earth, my cabin that you did not build, my hearth whose glow you watch with envy.

There's none more pitiful than you, Gods! …

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