Prometheus  

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"In his dialogue titled Protagoras, Plato asserts that the gods created humans and all the other animals, but it was left to Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus to give defining attributes to each. As no physical traits were left when the pair came to humans, Prometheus decided to give them fire and other civilizing arts." --Sholem Stein


"whereas the other creatures were fully suitably provided for, man was naked, unshod, unbedded, unarmed."

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In Greek mythology, Prometheus (perhaps Greek for "foresight") is a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity, an act that enabled progress and civilization. Prometheus is known for his intelligence and as a champion of mankind.

The punishment of Prometheus as a consequence of the theft is a major theme of his mythology, and is a popular subject of both ancient and modern art. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. The immortal Prometheus was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to feed on his liver, which would then regenerate to be eaten again the next day. (In ancient Greece, the liver was thought to be the seat of human emotions.) In some stories, Prometheus is freed at last by the hero Heracles (Hercules).

In another of his myths, 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 (1818).

Other figures in Greek mythology punished by the gods include:

Contents

Classical tradition

Prometheus in popular culture

The myth of Prometheus has been a favorite theme of Western art and literature in the classical tradition, and occasionally in works produced outside the West.

Literature

For the Romantic era, Prometheus was the rebel who resisted all forms of institutional tyranny epitomized by Zeus — church, monarch, and patriarch. The Romantics drew comparisons between Prometheus and the spirit of the French Revolution, Christ, the Satan of John Milton's Paradise Lost, and the divinely inspired poet or artist. Prometheus is the lyrical "I" who speaks in Goethe's Sturm und Drang poem "Prometheus" (written ca. 1772–74, published 1789), addressing God (as Zeus) in misotheist accusation and defiance. In Prometheus Unbound (1820), a four-act lyrical drama, Percy Bysshe Shelley rewrites the lost play of Aeschylus so that Prometheus does not submit to Zeus (under the Latin name Jupiter), but instead supplants him in a triumph of the human heart and intellect over tyrannical religion. Lord Byron's poem "Prometheus" also portrays the Titan as unrepentant. Mary Shelley's 1818 novel Frankenstein is subtitled "The Modern Prometheus", in reference to the novel's themes of the over-reaching of modern man into dangerous areas of knowledge.

Franz Kafka (d. 1924) wrote a short piece on Prometheus, outlining what he saw as the four aspects of his myth:

According to the first, he was clamped to a rock in the Caucasus for betraying the secrets of the gods to men, and the gods sent eagles to feed on his liver, which was perpetually renewed.
According to the second, Prometheus, goaded by the pain of the tearing beaks, pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it.
According to the third, his treachery was forgotten in the course of thousands of years, forgotten by the gods, the eagles, forgotten by himself.
According to the fourth, everyone grew weary of the meaningless affair. The gods grew weary, the eagles grew weary, the wound closed wearily.
There remains the inexplicable mass of rock. The legend tried to explain the inexplicable. As it came out of a substratum of truth it had in turn to end in the inexplicable.
(Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir)

The British poet Ted Hughes titled a 1973 collection of poems Prometheus On His Crag. The Nepali poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota (d. 1949) wrote an epic entitled Prometheus (प्रमीथस).

Classical music, opera, and ballet

Works of classical music, opera, and ballet based on the myth of Prometheus include:

In painting

See also




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