Friday, January 10, 2014

Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus

The basic story of Prometheus is well known.  Fire stolen from the gods and given to mankind.  For that, he was punished by Zeus; chained to a rock and attacked daily by eagles.  Aeschylus picks up the story as the chaining is taking place.  Two things that I learned from this telling:
  • Prometheus was a god, who gave fire to mortals.  Apparently I've had this wrong.  That changes the dynamic a bit.  He wasn't a clever mortal who found a way to enrich his fellow man.  He was a god that looked for a way to elevate those lower than him.
  • And it wasn't just fire.  Per the play, he also taught them how to build houses, how to use tell by the seasons when they should plant, the use of numbers (surpassing all inventions), how to domesticate horses and cows, how to make boats.  He also helped them with medicine and the high art of reading omens from birds and entrails.
Prometheus also speaks a prophecy about the overthrow of Zeus.
Wherefore let him rest on in his presumption, putting confidence in his thunders aloft, brandishing in his hand a fire-breathing bolt. For not one jot shall these suffice to save him from falling dishonored in a downfall beyond endurance; such an antagonist is he now with his own hands preparing himself, a portent that shall baffle all resistance; who shall invent a flame more potent than the lightning, and a mighty din that shall surpass the thunder; and shall shiver the ocean trident, that earth-convulsing pest, the spear of Neptune. And when he hath stumbled upon this mischief, he shall be taught how great is the the difference between sovereignty and slavery. 
Zeus is not too happy about this so he sends Hermes to ask for an explanation.  Prometheus refuses and Zeus promises further torments. 
This prophecy is very interesting.  Basically the tyrant will hold things so tightly that he will create his own opposition and eventual doom.  This is almost conventional wisdom now but apparently it was wisdom for Aeschylus too. 
It's also interesting that Aeschylus would have a play that shows Zeus in such a bad light.  I don't have the firmest grip on just how seriously the ancient Greeks took their religion but I've got to believe that this crossed some lines.  Zeus could have been portrayed as giving out a reluctant punishment.  Instead, he's somewhat bloodthirsty. 

1 comment:

  1. I always thought Prometheus was a mortal too. I wonder why... :/