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Zeus , king of the Olympian gods , sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. The immortal was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to eat Prometheus' liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten again the next day. In ancient Greece, the liver was often thought to be the seat of human emotions. In another myth, Prometheus establishes the form of animal sacrifice practiced in ancient Greek religion.

Evidence of a cult to Prometheus himself is not widespread. He was a focus of religious activity mainly at Athens , where he was linked to Athena and Hephaestus , other Greek deities of creative skills and technology. In the Western classical tradition , Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences.

In particular, he was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy: Mary Shelley , for instance, gave The Modern Prometheus as the subtitle to her novel Frankenstein The etymology of the theonym prometheus is debated. The classical view is that it signifies "forethought," as that of his brother Epimetheus denotes "afterthought".

It has also been theorised that it derives from the Proto-Indo-European root that also produces the Vedic pra math , "to steal", hence pramathyu-s , "thief", cognate with "Prometheus", the thief of fire. The reference is again to the "fire-drill", a worldwide primitive method of fire making using a vertical and a horizontal piece of wood to produce fire by friction.

The oldest record of Prometheus is in Hesiod , but stories of theft of fire by a trickster figure are widespread around the world. Some other aspects of the story resemble the Sumerian myth of Enki or Ea in later Babylonian mythology , who was also a bringer of civilisation who protected humanity against the other gods. The first recorded account of the Prometheus myth appeared in the late 8th-century BC Greek epic poet Hesiod 's Theogony — He was a son of the Titan Iapetus by Clymene , one of the Oceanids.

He was brother to Menoetius , Atlas , and Epimetheus. Hesiod, in Theogony , introduces Prometheus as a lowly challenger to Zeus 's omniscience and omnipotence. In the trick at Mecone — , a sacrificial meal marking the "settling of accounts" between mortals and immortals, Prometheus played a trick against Zeus.

He placed two sacrificial offerings before the Olympian: a selection of beef hidden inside an ox's stomach nourishment hidden inside a displeasing exterior , and the bull's bones wrapped completely in "glistening fat" something inedible hidden inside a pleasing exterior.

Zeus chose the latter, setting a precedent for future sacrifices — Henceforth, humans would keep that meat for themselves and burn the bones wrapped in fat as an offering to the gods. This angered Zeus, who hid fire from humans in retribution. In this version of the myth, the use of fire was already known to humans, but withdrawn by Zeus.

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This further enraged Zeus, who sent the first woman to live with humanity Pandora , not explicitly mentioned. The woman, a "shy maiden", was fashioned by Hephaestus out of clay and Athena helped to adorn her properly — Hesiod writes, "From her is the race of women and female kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth" — Prometheus is chained to a rock in the Caucasus for eternity, where his liver is eaten daily by an eagle, [14] only to be regenerated by night, due to his immortality.

The eagle is a symbol of Zeus himself. Years later, the Greek hero Heracles slays the eagle and frees Prometheus from his torment — Hesiod revisits the story of Prometheus and the theft of fire in Works and Days 42— In it the poet expands upon Zeus's reaction to Prometheus' deception.

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Not only does Zeus withhold fire from humanity, but "the means of life" as well Had Prometheus not provoked Zeus's wrath, "you would easily do work enough in a day to supply you for a full year even without working; soon would you put away your rudder over the smoke, and the fields worked by ox and sturdy mule would run to waste" 44— Hesiod also adds more information to Theogony' s story of the first woman, a maiden crafted from earth and water by Hephaestus now explicitly called Pandora " all gifts " After Prometheus steals the fire, Zeus sends Pandora in retaliation.

Despite Prometheus' warning, Epimetheus accepts this "gift" from the gods Pandora carried a jar with her from which were released mischief and sorrow, plague and diseases 94— Pandora shuts the lid of the jar too late to contain all the evil plights that escaped, but Hope is left trapped in the jar because Zeus forces Pandora to seal it up before Hope can escape 96— Angelo Casanova, [15] professor of Greek literature at the University of Florence, finds in Prometheus a reflection of an ancient, pre-Hesiodic trickster -figure, who served to account for the mixture of good and bad in human life, and whose fashioning of humanity from clay was an Eastern motif familiar in Enuma Elish.

As an opponent of Zeus he was an analogue of the Titans and, like them, was punished. As an advocate for humanity he gains semi-divine status at Athens, where the episode in Theogony in which he is liberated [16] is interpreted by Casanova as a post-Hesiodic interpolation. According to the German classicist Karl-Martin Dietz , in Hesiod's scriptures, Prometheus represents the "descent of mankind from the communion with the gods into the present troublesome life". The Titanomachy is a lost epic of the cosmological struggle between the Greek gods and their parents, the Titans, and is a probable source of the Prometheus myth.

Its reputed author was anciently supposed to have lived in the 8th century BC, but M. West has argued that it can't be earlier than the late 7th century BC. West notes that surviving references suggest that there may have been significant differences between the Titanomachy epic and the account of events in Hesiod; and that the Titanomachy may be the source of later variants of the Prometheus myth not found in Hesiod, notably the non-Hesiodic material found in the Prometheus Bound of Aeschylus.

The two major authors to have an influence on the development of the myths and legends surrounding the Titan Prometheus during the Socratic era of greater Athens were Aeschylus and Plato. The two men wrote in highly distinctive forms of expression which for Aeschylus centered on his mastery of the literary form of Greek tragedy, while for Plato this centered on the philosophical expression of his thought in the form of the various dialogues he wrote or recorded during his lifetime.

Prometheus Bound , perhaps the most famous treatment of the myth to be found among the Greek tragedies , is traditionally attributed to the 5th-century BC Greek tragedian Aeschylus. The playwright's dependence on the Hesiodic source material is clear, though Prometheus Bound also includes a number of changes to the received tradition.

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West that these changes may derive from the now lost epic Titanomachy [26]. Before his theft of fire, Prometheus played a decisive role in the Titanomachy , securing victory for Zeus and the other Olympians. Zeus' torture of Prometheus thus becomes a particularly harsh betrayal. The scope and character of Prometheus' transgressions against Zeus are also widened.

In addition to giving humanity fire, Prometheus claims to have taught them the arts of civilisation, such as writing, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, and science. The Titan's greatest benefaction for humanity seems to have been saving them from complete destruction. In an apparent twist on the myth of the so-called Five Ages of Man found in Hesiod's Works and Days wherein Cronus and, later, Zeus created and destroyed five successive races of humanity , Prometheus asserts that Zeus had wanted to obliterate the human race, but that he somehow stopped him.

Moreover, Aeschylus anachronistically and artificially injects Io , another victim of Zeus's violence and ancestor of Heracles, into Prometheus' story. Finally, just as Aeschylus gave Prometheus a key role in bringing Zeus to power, he also attributed to him secret knowledge that could lead to Zeus's downfall: Prometheus had been told by his mother Themis , who in the play is identified with Gaia Earth , of a potential marriage that would produce a son who would overthrow Zeus. Fragmentary evidence indicates that Heracles, as in Hesiod, frees the Titan in the trilogy's second play, Prometheus Unbound.

It is apparently not until Prometheus reveals this secret of Zeus's potential downfall that the two reconcile in the final play, Prometheus the Fire-Bringer or Prometheus Pyrphoros , a lost tragedy by Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound also includes two mythic innovations of omission. The first is the absence of Pandora 's story in connection with Prometheus' own. Instead, Aeschylus includes this one oblique allusion to Pandora and her jar that contained Hope : "[Prometheus] caused blind hopes to live in the hearts of men.

The larger scope of Aeschylus as a dramatist revisiting the myth of Prometheus in the age of Athenian prominence has been discussed by William Lynch.


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For Lynch, modern scholarship is hampered by not having the full trilogy of Prometheus by Aeschylus, the last two parts of which have been lost to antiquity. Significantly, Lynch further comments that although the Prometheus trilogy is not available, that the Orestia trilogy by Aeschylus remains available and may be assumed to provide significant insight into the overall structural intentions which may be ascribed to the Prometheus trilogy by Aeschylus as an author of significant consistency and exemplary dramatic erudition. Harold Bloom , in his research guide for Aeschylus, has summarised some of the critical attention that has been applied to Aeschylus concerning his general philosophical import in Athens.

For generations, scholars warred incessantly over 'the justice of Zeus,' unintentionally blurring it with a monotheism imported from Judeo-Christian thought. The playwright undoubtedly had religious concerns; for instance, Jacqueline de Romilly [30] suggests that his treatment of time flows directly out of his belief in divine justice. But it would be an error to think of Aeschylus as sermonising.


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His Zeus does not arrive at decisions which he then enacts in the mortal world; rather, human events are themselves an enactment of divine will. According to Thomas Rosenmeyer , regarding the religious import of Aeschylus, "In Aeschylus, as in Homer, the two levels of causation, the supernatural and the human, are co-existent and simultaneous, two ways of describing the same event.

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As Rosenmeyer states: "[T]he text defines their being. For a critic to construct an Aeschylean theology would be as quixotic as designing a typology of Aeschylean man. The needs of the drama prevail. In a rare comparison of Prometheus in Aeschylus with Oedipus in Sophocles, Harold Bloom states that "Freud called Oedipus an 'immoral play,' since the gods ordained incest and parricide.

Oedipus therefore participates in our universal unconscious sense of guilt, but on this reading so do the gods" [ Karl-Martin Dietz states that in contrast to Hesiod's, in Aeschylus' oeuvre, Prometheus stands for the "Ascent of humanity from primitive beginnings to the present level of civilisation. Olga Raggio , in her study "The Myth of Prometheus", attributes Plato in the Protagoras as an important contributor to the early development of the Prometheus myth.

After the gods have moulded men and other living creatures with a mixture of clay and fire, the two brothers Epimetheus and Prometheus are called to complete the task and distribute among the newly born creatures all sorts of natural qualities. Epimetheus sets to work but, being unwise, distributes all the gifts of nature among the animals, leaving men naked and unprotected, unable to defend themselves and to survive in a hostile world.

Prometheus then steals the fire of creative power from the workshop of Athena and Hephaistos and gives it to mankind. Raggio then goes on to point out Plato's distinction of creative power techne , which is presented as superior to merely natural instincts physis. For Plato, only the virtues of "reverence and justice can provide for the maintenance of a civilised society — and these virtues are the highest gift finally bestowed on men in equal measure. In his dialogue titled Protagoras , Plato contrasts Prometheus with his dull-witted brother Epimetheus , "Afterthinker".

As no physical traits were left when the pair came to humans, Prometheus decided to give them fire and other civilising arts.

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It is understandable that since Prometheus was considered a Titan and not one of the Olympian gods that there would be an absence of evidence, with the exception of Athens, for the direct religious devotion to his worship. Despite his importance to the myths and imaginative literature of ancient Greece, the religious cult of Prometheus during the Archaic and Classical periods seems to have been limited. Athens was the exception, here Prometheus was worshipped alongside Athene and Hephaistos.

For the Panathenaic festival , arguably the most important civic festival at Athens, a torch race began at the altar, which was located outside the sacred boundary of the city, and passed through the Kerameikos , the district inhabited by potters and other artisans who regarded Prometheus and Hephaestus as patrons. According to Pausanias 2nd century AD , the torch relay, called lampadedromia or lampadephoria , was first instituted at Athens in honour of Prometheus.

By the Classical period, the races were run by ephebes also in honour of Hephaestus and Athena. The wreaths worn symbolised the chains of Prometheus. Although the classical tradition is that Hephaistos split Zeus's head to allow Athene's birth, that story has also been told of Prometheus. A variant tradition makes Prometheus the son of Hera like Hephaistos. The artisan's cap was also depicted as worn by the Cabeiri , [50] supernatural craftsmen associated with a mystery cult known in Athens in classical times, and who were associated with both Hephaistos and Prometheus.

Pausanias recorded a few other religious sites in Greece devoted to Prometheus. Both Argos and Opous claimed to be Prometheus' final resting place, each erecting a tomb in his honour. The Greek city of Panopeus had a cult statue that was supposed to honour Prometheus for having created the human race there.

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Prometheus' torment by the eagle and his rescue by Heracles were popular subjects in vase paintings of the 6th to 4th centuries BC. He also sometimes appears in depictions of Athena's birth from Zeus' forehead. There was a relief sculpture of Prometheus with Pandora on the base of Athena's cult statue in the Athenian Parthenon of the 5th century BC. A similar rendering is also found at the great altar of Zeus at Pergamon from the second century BC. The event of the release of Prometheus from captivity was frequently revisited on Attic and Etruscan vases between the sixth and fifth centuries BC.