May 18, 2009

The first rebel

Ouch! That had to hurt. A 17th century painting of Prometheus by Jacob Jordaens, courtesy of wikipedia.

Welcome to Goat Rope's latest series on Everything You Always Wanted to Know (or not) about Greek Tragedy. If you want to skip this part, you can scroll down for links and comments about current events. If, on the other hand, you are a budding or a seasoned classics dork, please click on earlier posts.

Aeschylus was the earliest tragedian whose works survive. Out of dozens and dozens of his plays, only seven survive, which is a real tragedy. Included among his surviving works is the only intact trilogy, the Orestes cycle, which includes the Agamemnon, Libation Bearers and the Eumenides.

I'm going to start a survey of his work with Prometheus Bound, the first and unfortunately only remaining work of a trilogy on the Titan who rebelled against Zeus to help humanity and paid a terrible price.

This is a deep myth, one that predates Aeschylus by centuries and has continued to inspire art and thought for thousands of years afterward. But it was Aeschylus' version that made the biggest impression.

Later generations of religious and political radicals would seize on the Titan who stole the fire of the gods and gave it to helpless humans as the founder of their line.

The English poet Percy Shelley, the archetypal romantic rebel, wrote a revolutionary play in 1820 called Prometheus Unbound. His widow Mary Shelley would subtitle her novel Frankenstein as The Modern Prometheus (although the analogy doesn't quite seem to work).

Another rebel, the young Karl Marx, in his doctoral dissertation on The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature called Prometheus "the most eminent saint and martyr in the philosophical calendar."

Herman Melville in Moby-Dick compared Captain Ahab to Prometheus:

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

And, while we're at it, the rebellious composer Franz Liszt composed a work in his honor.

All of which is to say, this story has legs. More to come...

CHEW ON THIS. From Democracy Now, here's an interview with Michael Pollan on the politics of food.

CAP AND TRADE. Here's Paul Krugman on current climate change proposals.

UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT. West Virginia's recently privatized workers compensation system is messing with people again. This looks like it could be a nice little fight.

THE UNION PREMIUM. Yet another study shows that unionized workers get a better deal.


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