May 19, 2009


Hesiod and the Muse but Gustave Moreau. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Welcome to an ongoing series about Greek tragedy, along with links and comments about current events. The topic at hand is the myth of Prometheus, which is the subject of Aeschylus' play Prometheus Bound. If you like this kind of thing, please click on earlier posts.

The earliest source on the myth of Prometheus is probably from the Greek poet Hesiod, who probably lived in the 8th century BC. He left two major works, Theogony and Works and Days. The former is one version of how the universe and gods came into being. The latter has some of that, along with advice on farming. Prometheus appears in both.

Hesiod's vision of the origin of things is anything but serene and orderly a la Genesis. The universe began with a void or chaos and many struggles, wars and reversals led to the triumph of the Olympian gods under the leadership of Zeus.

Prometheus, whose name means forethought was a Titan, a member of an earlier generation of immortals. He could foresee the outcome of the struggle between the older generation of Titans and that of the gods and sided with Zeus in the struggle.

His foresight wasn't much help in keeping him out of trouble. He initially enraged Zeus by a trick over a sacrificial meal. A dispute arose as to who got which part of a sacrificial ox. Prometheus tricked Zeus by disguising the best portions and allowing Zeus to choose. Zeus picked the part that just contained fat and some bones, while the humans got the good parts.

Zeus retaliated by withholding from men the secret of fire (and by creating the mischievous race of women to plague mankind, but that's a different story). You probably know the rest of the story. Prometheus stole the divine fire and gave it to humans. Then, according to the Theogony,

Cunning Prometheus he [Zeus] bound with unbreakable and painful chains and drove a stake through his middle. And he turned on him a long-winged eagle, which ate his immortal liver; by night the liver grew as much again as the long-winged bird had eaten in the whole day...

Thus it is not possible to deceive the mind of Zeus or escape his judgment. Even the trickster Prometheus, Iapetus' son, was not able to escape the heavy consequences of his anger. In spite of all his cleverness he lies helplessly bound by a great chain.

The punishment wasn't destined to last forever, but we'll see tomorrow that it lasted long enough.

IT'S ABOUT TIME. The new federal budget will expand protections for workers.


CLIMATE CHANGE. From Coal Tattoo, here's a look at the prospects of climate change legislation.

SENDING MESSAGES. Here's an interesting article on evolution and consumption.

ANNALS OF SOCIAL SCIENCE. Here's an item about path finding sociological research that involved walking around with untied shoelaces (for real).


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