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In Greek mythology, Prometheus (/prəˈmiːθiːəs/; Greek: Προμηθεύς, pronounced [promɛːtʰéu̯s],

possibly meaning "forethought")[1] is a Titan, culture hero, and trickster figure who is credited with
the creation of man from clay, and who defies the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity, an
act that enabled progress and civilization. Prometheus is known for his intelligence and as a
champion of humankind[2] and also seen as the author of the human arts and sciences generally. He
is sometimes presented as the father of Deucalion, the hero of the Greek flood story.
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 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.)[3] Prometheus is freed at last by the hero Heracles.
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.[4]
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).

The first recorded account of the Prometheus myth appeared in the late 8th-century BC Greek epic
poet Hesiod's Theogony (507–616). 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 Mekone (535–544), 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
(556–557). 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.[13] Prometheus, however, stole fire back in a giant fennel-stalk and restored it to humanity
(565–566). 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 (571–574). 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" (590–594).
Prometheus Brings Fire by Heinrich Friedrich Füger. Prometheus brings fire to mankind as told by Hesiod, with
its having been hidden as revenge for the trick at Mecone.

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 (520–528).
Works and Days[edit]
Hesiod revisits the story of Prometheus and the theft of fire in Works and Days (42–105). In it the
poet expands upon Zeus's reaction to Prometheus's deception. Not only does Zeus withhold fire
from humanity, but "the means of life" as well (42). 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" (44–47).
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") (82). Zeus in this case gets
the help of Athena, Aphrodite, Hermes, the Graces and the Hours (59–76). After Prometheus steals
the fire, Zeus sends Pandora in retaliation. Despite Prometheus' warning, Epimetheus accepts this
"gift" from the gods (89). Pandora carried a jar with her from which were released mischief and
sorrow, plague and diseases (94–100). 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 (96–99).
Interpretation[edit]
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.[17]
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".[18]
The Lost Titanomachy[edit]
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.[19] along with the works
of Hesiod. Its reputed author was anciently supposed to have lived in the 8th century BC, but M. L.
West has argued that it can't be earlier than the late 7th century BC.[20] Presumably included in the
Titanomachy is the story of Prometheus, himself a Titan, who managed to avoid being in the direct
confrontational cosmic battle between Zeus and the other Olympians against Cronus and the other
Titans[21] (although there is no direct evidence of Prometheus's inclusion in the epic).[22] M. L. 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.[23]

Athenian tradition[edit]
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.
Aeschylus and the ancient literary tradition[edit]
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.[24] At the centre
of the drama are the results of Prometheus' theft of fire and his current punishment by Zeus. The
playwright's dependence on the Hesiodic source material is clear, though Prometheus Bound also
includes a number of changes to the received tradition.[25] It has been suggested by M.L. 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.[citation needed]

Heracles freeing Prometheus from his torment by the eagle (Attic black-figure cup, c. 500 BC)
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 (252): "[Prometheus] caused blind hopes to live
in the hearts of men." Second, Aeschylus makes no mention of the sacrifice-trick played against
Zeus in the Theogony.[24] The four tragedies of Prometheus attributed to Aeschylus, most of which
are lost to the passages of time into antiquity, are Prometheus Bound (Prometheus
Desmotes), Prometheus Unbound (Lyomenos), Prometheus the Fire Bringer (Pyrphoros),
and Prometheus the Fire Kindler (Pyrkaeus).
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.[27] Lynch's general thesis concerns the
rise of humanist and secular tendencies in Athenian culture and society which required the growth
and expansion of the mythological and religious tradition as acquired from the most ancient sources
of the myth stemming from Hesiod. 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.[28]
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.[29] As
Bloom states, "Much critical attention has been paid to the question of theodicy in Aeschylus. 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. 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."[31]
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." Rosenmeyer insists that ascribing portrayed
characters in Aeschylus should not conclude them to be either victims or agents of theological or
religious activity too quickly. 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."[32]
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"
[...] "I sometimes wish that Freud had turned to Aeschylus instead, and given us the Prometheus
complex rather than the Oedipus complex."[33]
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."[18]