Prometheus Unbound

By Kurtz, Paul | Free Inquiry, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Prometheus Unbound


Kurtz, Paul, Free Inquiry


Prometheus serves as a symbol for those who reject the reigning theistic orthodoxies and who criticize the temptation of men and women to deify and worship the dark unknown in an effort to appease their fears of death. Prometheus is also a symbol for those who wish to use human achievements, especially technology, to improve the human condition and are willing to shape nature in order to fulfill our needs and purposes.

The Promethean myth is Hellenistic in origin. It has inspired countless generations of protesters, atheists, secularists, and humanists who herald Prometheus' heroic virtues. Pitted against this myth are the Mosaic, Christian, and Islamic revelatory myths, Hebraic in origin and inspiration. One difference is that the Greeks, at least by the time of the pre-Socratic philosophers, knew that the Homeric legends were only mythological. They served a poetic and moral function, albeit as Plato pointed out in the Euthyphro, they presented a confused ethical message. Judeo-Christian theologians and philosophers, still today, have not accepted the fact that their Gospels are likewise only confused mythical fictions spun out of the human imagination.

Our knowledge of the Promethean myth is due primarily to Aeschylus, who authored three poems, Prometheus the Firebringer, Prometheus Bound, and Prometheus Unbound. The only one that has survived intact from the long period of theistic domination is Prometheus Bound. The poem opens with Hephaestos, along with Strength and Force, escorting Prometheus in chains, where he is bound to a rock on Mount Caucasos. The Prometheus tale is rich in imagery. Prometheus, a demigod, was, according to Hesiod, the son of the Titan Iapetos and Clymene. In a war between the Olympian gods and the Titans, Prometheus sided with the Olympians. The Titans were defeated and their dynasty was overthrown. Prometheus was unique in that he grieved for the sorry state of humankind. Humans, we are told by Aeschylus, lived wretched lives huddled in caves (reminiscent of the Stone Age). Out of love for humankind, Prometheus became their benefactor, stealing fire from Hephaestos (the god of fire and metalwork and son of Zeus), and bestowing it on man. Ancient man worshiped fire and the sun; to receive the gift of fire was the beginning of emancipation. It kept humankind warm, cooked food, and was basic to technology. Prometheus taught man the arts and sciences--the beginnings of civilization. He taught men how to build houses made of brick, and taught them carpentry. He taught them the significance of the seasons, astronomy, mathematics, the alphabet, language. We read in Prometheus Bound--and this is central for humanism--that "Men were aroused to reason and taught to think" by Prometheus, who made it possible for men "to cease from contemplating death." "Blind hopes I gave," said Prometheus, "to live and dwell with them."

Prometheus thus challenged the Olympian gods and especially Zeus, who was the symbol of savage power and autocracy. With the stimulation of reason, the birth of the technological arts, and the sciences, Prometheus gave men and women new interests in life. Humans, formerly impotent before the unknown forces of nature, discovered that they had new powers, and they were responsible, at least in part, for their own destinies.

For teaching humans these skills, Zeus had Prometheus chained to a rock, and, as further punishment, had a vulture (or eagle) pick out his liver incessantly. The organ was renewed by night and devoured by day.

In Prometheus Bound, Prometheus decleres his defiance:

To be the bond slave of the rock, is better than to be Zeus's trusting herald. All the gods I hate. I will not become womanized in mind, or entreat [Zeus], whom I greatly loathe, with upturned hand. Let [Zeus] do what he wills, I will not give in....

Zeus eventually frees Prometheus, because Prometheus had the gift of prophecy (for the skeptic a questionable ability) and foreknowledge of Zeus's doom. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Prometheus Unbound
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.