Prometheus (forethought) In Greek mythology, Titan culture hero who gave humankind fire; invented architecture, astronomy, medicine, navigation, metalworking, and writing; son of the Titan Iapetos and either the goddess Themis (later married to Zeus) or Clymene (Asia), an Oceanide; brother of Atlas, Epimetheus (afterthought), and Menoetlus, married to Hesione; father of Deucalion by Hesione or Pronoea. After the gods had defeated the Titans in the battle to rule the universe, the gods negotiated with man about the honor man was to pay to the gods. Since Prometheus, though a Titan, had sided with the gods, he was chosen to decide how sacrificial victims were to be offered. Prometheus cut up an ox and divided it into two parts. He wrapped the choice cuts in the skin of the ox and placed the stomach on top of it to make it look unappetizing. The remainder of the animal, which was made up of bones, Prometheus covered with fat to make it look desirable. Zeus had to make the choice of which portion was to be set aside for the gods. Zeus knew that Prometheus had set up a trick but still chose the heap of bones and fat. Then, as a punishment to mankind, Zeus deprived them of the gift of fire, leaving them in darkness and cold.
That did not stop Prometheus, who, according to Hesiod’s Theogony, “cheated him, and stole the far seen splendor of untiring fire in a hollow fennelstalk” and gave it to man. Zeus, angered that man now had fire, called on the smith god Hephaestus to make a beautiful woman of clay, whom Zeus called Pandora. Until that time man had lived alone. Zeus called on the goddess Athena, who, according to Hesiod, “girded and arrayed Pandora in silver-white raiment (and) placed around her head lovely garlands freshbudding with meadow-flowers.” Hermes, the messenger of the gods, then carried to Pandora a jar (or box) as her dowry. In the jar was every evil that was to come into the world. Pandora was brought before Epimetheus. Though Prometheus had warned his brother not to accept any gifts from Zeus, Epimetheus was so moved by Pandora’s beauty that he married her. Pandora removed the lid from the jar, and out flew all the evils, troubles, and diseases that were unknown to man until that time. Only Hope remained in the jar when Pandora closed it again. The misogynist Hesiod wrote: “Just so to mortal men high-thundering Zeus gave woman as an evil.” But Zeus was not satisfied with punishing man; he now turned on Prometheus and had him bound in adamantine chains to a pillar, with an eagle (or vulture) who ate Prometheus’s
liver Epimetheus accepts Pandora from Mercury each day. The liver was restored at night only to be eaten again the next day. In a variant myth recorded in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 1), Prometheus is made the actual creator of humankind: “. . . Prometheus tempere’d into paste, / And, mix’t with living streams, the godlike image cast” (John Dryden translation). Goethe used this image in his poem Prometheus, which was set to music by Franz Schubert and Hugo Wolf. The combination of defiance of omnipresent authority and godly powers of creation have made Prometheus one of the most popular subjects in Western art, music, and literature. Among the most important works is Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound, part of a trilogy. The other two plays in the trilogy, Prometheus the Firebringer and Prometheus Released, have been lost. Other works include Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound; Beethoven’s Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus) (1801); Alexander Scriabin’s Prometheus, Poem of Fire; Franz Liszt’s symphonic poem Prometheus (1850), as well as his setting of texts of the German Romantic poet Herder, who wrote a play Prometheus; and André Gide’s Le Prométhée mal Enchaîné, in which the eagle or vulture is kept as a pet by Prometheus. Others who have treated the theme are Lord Byron, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Robert Bridges, James Russell Lowell, and Robert Graves. Painters using Prometheus as a subject include Piero di Cosimo, Rubens, Jordaens, and Jacob Epstein. The best-known modern sculpture is in Rockefeller Center in New York City and portrays Prometheus giving the gift of fire to humankind.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante
When the Olympic deities battled the Titans, Prometheus, together with his brother Epimethius, was among the very few Titans to join the Olympian spirits.
Prometheus is humanity’s ally and provider, even against other deities. There are various legends of his origin, the most famous that he is the son of a Titan and an Oceanid. Alternatively, Themis may be his mother. Atlas is his brother. Another legend says he is Hera’s child but not by Zeus. He is her illicit son by Eurymedon, snake-footed lord of the Gigantes. Yet another myth suggests that he was originally one of the Cabeiri (or perhaps the Dactyls), along with his son Aitnaios, who may be Hephaestus. Another myth says that Prometheus, not Hephaestus, mid-wifed Athena by splitting Zeus’ head open.
Prometheus’ name is usually translated as “Forethought,” but another theory suggests that it is related to the Sanskrit word pramantha, meaning “fire sticks.” He is a trickster. Prometheus inveigled Zeus to choose the lesser parts of meat for sacrifices, leaving the better tasting, more nutritious parts for people.
Prometheus pitied people who sat cold and shivering in the dark, so he stole fire for us even though, powerful clairvoyant that he is, he knew exactly how he would be punished. Different reports say that he stole fire from Hephaestus’ smithy or Zeus’ palace or even directly from the sun. Athena may have been his accomplice.
As punishment for this theft, Prometheus was chained to a huge rock on a cliff on the highest peak of the Caucasus Mountains. Zeus bound him with special unbreakable chains, and then drove a huge pillar-sized stake through his middle to hold him down. An eagle was sent to eat his liver every morning. At night the liver regenerated.
Reports say that Prometheus was bound for thirty thousand years or thirteen generations. Eventually Zeus gave Heracles, who pitied Prometheus, permission to free him. This change of heart occurred after Prometheus learned the full prophecy regarding Zeus’ succession by another ruler. Zeus released him in exchange for keeping the secret. (Allegedly Prometheus learned this secret from Gaia and Themis. It’s unclear how many other deities are also in the know.)
Artist Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) illustrated an alternative version of the binding of Prometheus in which Zeus delegates others to perform this task. The goddess Bia holds the stake that Hephaestus drives through Prometheus’ heart while Styx’s son, Cratus, Lord of Strength, holds Prometheus down. The straightforward title of Fuseli’s early nineteenth century illustration is Hephaestus, Bia, and Crato Securing Prometheus on Mount Caucasus.
No wonder Prometheus tries to provide for us and protect us—he may have created us. In some very old myths, Prometheus is a creator deity who crafts people from clay in the form of gods. He creates animals, too. Prometheus crafts bodies, but Athena brings souls in the form of butterflies. Prometheus’ son, Deucalion, is the Greek Noah, the only man to survive the global deluge. Deucalion’s son, Hellen, is the ancestor of the Greek people (Hellenes), so Prometheus is a primordial ancestor.
Presumably he has a big scar in the region of his liver. Prometheus wears an iron ring, a souvenir of his days as a Cabeiri or Dactyl. After his release, he had a bit of stone from the crag on which he was chained set into the ring as another souvenir.
Athena; Atlas; Bia; Cabeiri; Daktyls; Gaia; Hephaestus; Hera; Heracles; Olympian Spirits; Pandora; Psyche; Styx; Themis; Titans; Zeus
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by :Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.