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Prometheus

Next to this statue [of Biton in Argos] is a fire which they keep burning, calling it the fire of Phoroneus. For they do not admit that fire was given to mankind by Prometheus, but insist in assigning the discovery of fire to Phoroneus. Pausanias

The Punishment of the Titan brothers Atlas and Prometheus, Vatican Museum

In Greek mythology, Prometheus, or Prometheas ("forethought") is the Titan chiefly honored for stealing fire from the gods in the stalk of a fennel plant and giving it to mortals for their use.

Worship

As a god of fire and craft, Prometheus had a small shrine in the Keramikos, or potter's quarter, of Athens, not far from Plato's Academy.

Myth

Prometheus was a son of Iapetus by Clymene (one of the Oceanids). He was a brother of Atlas, Menoetius, and Epimetheus. He surpassed all in cunning and deceit. He held no awe for the gods, and he ridiculed Zeus and Zeus's lack of insight. Prometheus was the creator of man. When he and Epimetheus (hindsight) set out to make creatures to populate the earth under the orders of Zeus, Epimetheus went with quantity and made many creatures, endowing them with many gifts that were alloted to the brother for that purpose (fur, claws, wings, and fins were some of these gifts). While his brother was making creatures, Prometheus was carefully crafting a creature after the shape of the gods. It was a human. However, Prometheus took so long in crafting his masterpiece that when he was finished, Epimetheus had already used up all the gifts from Zeus. Prometheus was sorry for his creations, and watched as they shivered in the cold winter nights. He decided to steal fire from the gods. He climbed Olympus and stole fire from the chariot of Helios (or, in later mythology, Apollo). He carried the fire back in the stalk of a fennel plant, which burns slowly and so was appropriate for this task. Thus mankind was warm. To appease Zeus, Prometheus told the humans to burn offerings to the gods. He killed a great bull for this purpose. When the gods smelled the offerings, Prometheus decided to play a trick on the gods. The meat he hid beneath a layer of bone and sinew, whilst the bones he disguised with delicious-looking fat. He then offered Zeus his choice of "meat" for the gods to eat. Zeus picked the plate of bones, and Prometheus took the plate of meat for himself and the mortals. To punish Prometheus for this hubris (and all of mankind in the process), Zeus took fire away from the earth.

Prometheus, Creation of man, Louvre Ma445

Prometheus, creation of man

To get revenge on Prometheus for this further offense, Zeus had Hephaestus (Vulcan) make a woman made of clay named Pandora. Zeus brought her to life and sent her to Prometheus, along with a jar with all the valuable presents she had received from the gods in it. Prometheus was suspicious and would have nothing to do with Pandora, claiming that she was foolish (lacking foresight), and she was sent on to Epimetheus, who married her.

Zeus was further enraged by Prometheus's escape and had Prometheus carried to mount Caucasus, where a vulture or an eagle named Ethon (offspring of the monsters Typhon and Echidna) would eat out his liver; it would grow back each day and the eagle would eat it again. This punishment was to last 30,000 years. About 30 years into the punishment, Heracles, passing by on his way to find the apples of the Hesperides as part of the Twelve Labours, freed Prometheus by shooting the eagle with an arrow. Zeus did not mind this time that Prometheus had again evaded his punishment, as the act brought more glory to Heracles, who was Zeus's son. Prometheus was invited to return to Olympus, though he still had to carry with him the rock that he was chained to.

As the introducer of fire and inventor of sacrifice he is seen as the patron of human civilization. Uncertain sources claim he was worshipped in ancient Rome.

He was the father of Deucalion with Celaeno. Epimetheus, the husband of Pandora, was his brother.

Comparative perspectives

In mythography, Prometheus may be classed among the trickster gods, such as Loki in Norse mythology (who likewise is a giant rather than a god, is associated with fire (a fire god), and is punished by being chained to a rock and tormented by an animal (a viper dripping venom on him)).

The motif is believed, by some, to have been borrowed from the Nart sagas of the Caucasian peoples, but the analogies with Loki seem to reveal an older Indo-European source.

Promethean myth in culture

The cloned horse Prometea and Prometheus, a moon of Saturn, are named after this Titan, as is the asteroid 1809 Prometheus. The story of Prometheus has inspired many authors through the ages, and the Romantics saw Prometheus as a prototype of the natural daemon or genius.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus" Mary Shelley

Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus (Prometheus Desmotes probably a Trilogy Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus the Fire-Bringer)

Prometheus - Dirck van Baburen, painting

Prometheus - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poem

Prometheus Unbound - Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819, Play with poetic dialogue

Prometheus - Thomas Kibble Hervey, 1832, poem

Prometheus - Tony Harrison, 1998. Feature film with poetic dialogue linking the myth to industrial decline

Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise - Emperor, 2001 black metal concept album

Promethea - Alan Moore & J.H. Williams III, comic series, updating the myth for the 21st century (Promethea brings not fire but rather inspiration).

Prometheism: The Temple of Prometheus (http://www.prometheism.net) A religion dedicated to Prometheus.

Prometheus is extensively referenced/parodied in Terry Pratchett's Discworld. This is mainly through the fondly remembered Fingers-Mazda, commonly labeled the world's first thief (although he was actually only the first human thief) who stole fire from the gods but was unable to fence it because it was too hot, but also through the Troll folk hero and demigod Monolith, who stole the secret of rock from the gods long before the appearance of Mazda. Apparently the secret of rock is that if you pick one up you can hit someone with it, a fact jealously guarded by the gods.

Music

  • Carl Orff, Prometheus,Opera
  • Theodore Antoniou, Prometheus (1983)
  • Mulgrew Miller (1955-), Promethean (1985) Jazz

NASA's nuclear power and propulsion technology development program for the exploration of the outer planets is called Project Prometheus.

Carl Kerenyi, Prometheus: Archetypal Image of Human Existence , Bollingen (November 10, 1997) , ISBN: 069101907X

Kai Brid, American Prometheus : The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

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