|PROMETHEUS (Promêtheus), is sometimes called a Titan, though in reality he did not belong to the Titans, but was only a son of the Titan Iapetus (whence he is designated by the patronymic Iapetionidês, Hes. Theog. 528; Apollon Rhod. iii. 1087), by Clymene, so that he was a brother of Atlas, Menoetius, and Epimetheus (Hes. Theog. 507). His name signifies "forethought," as that of his brother Epimetheus denotes "afterthought." Others call Prometheus a son of Themis (Aeschyl. Prom. 18), or of Uranus and Clymene, or of the Titan Eurymedon and Hera (Potter, Comment. ad Lyc. Cass. 1283; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 987). By Pandora, Hesione, or Axiothea, he is said to have been the father of Deucalion (Aesch. Prom. 560 ; Tzetz. ad Lyc. 1283; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. ii. 1086), by Pyrrha or Clymene he begot Hellen (and according to some also Deucalion; Schol. ad Apollon. l. c.; Schol. ad Pind. Ol. ix. 68), and by Celaeno he was the father of Lycus and Chimareus (Tzetz. ad. Lyc. 132, 219), while Herodotus (iv. 45) calls his wife Asia.
The following is an outline of the legends related of him by the ancients. Once in the reign of Zeus, when gods and men were disputing with one another at Mecone (afterwards Sicyon, Schol. ad Pind. Nem. ix. 123), Prometheus, with a view to deceive Zeus and rival him in prudence, cut up a bull and divided it into two parts : he wrapped up the best parts and the intestines in the skin, and at the top he placed the stomach, which is one of the worst parts, while the second heap consisted of the bones covered with fat. When Zeus pointed out to him how badly he had made the division, Prometheus desired him to choose, but Zeus, in his anger, and seeing through the stratagem of Prometheus, chose the heap of bones covered with the fat. The father of the gods avenged himself by withholding fire from mortals, but Prometheus stole it in a hollow tube (ferula, narthêx, Aeschyl. Prom. 110). Zeus now, in order to punish men, caused Hephaestus to mould a virgin, Pandora, of earth, whom Athena adorned with all the charms calculated to entice mortals; Prometheus himself was put in chains, and fastened to a pillar, where an eagle sent by Zeus consumed in the daytime his liver, which, in every succeeding night, was restored again. Prometheus was thus exposed to perpetual torture, but Heracles killed the eagle and delivered the sufferer, with the consent of Zeus, who thus had an opportunity of allowing his son to gain immortal fame (Hes. Theog. 521, &c., Op. et Dies, 47, &c. ; Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 15; Apollod. ii. 5. § 11). Prometheus had cautioned his brother Epimetheus against accepting any present from Zeus, but Epimetheus, disregarding the advice, accepted Pandora, who was sent to him by Zeus, through the mediation of Hermes. Pandora then lifted the lid of the vessel in which the foresight of Prometheus had concealed all the evils which might torment mortals in life. Diseases and sufferings of every kind now issued forth, but deceitful hope alone remained behind (Hes. Op. et Dies, 83, &c.; comp. Horat. Carm. i. 3. 25, &c.). This is an outline of the legend about Prometheus, as contained in the poems of Hesiod.
Aeschylus, in his trilogy Prometheus, added various new features to it, for, according to him, Prometheus himself is an immortal god, the friend of the human race, the giver of fire, the inventor of the useful arts, an omniscient seer, an heroic sufferer, who is overcome by the superior power of Zeus, but will not bend his inflexible mind. Although he himself belonged to the Titans, he is nevertheless represented as having assisted Zeus against the Titans (Prom. 218), and he is further said to have opened the head of Zeus when the latter gave birth to Athena (Apollod. i. 3. § 6). But when Zeus succeeded to the kingdom of heaven, and wanted to extirpate the whole race of man, the place of which he proposed to give to quite a new race of beings, Prometheus prevented the execution of the scheme, and saved the human race from destruction (Prom. 228, 233). He deprived them of their knowledge of the future, and gave them hope instead (248, &c.). He further taught them the use of fire, made them acquainted with architecture, astronomy, mathematics, the art of writing, the treatment of domestic animals, navigation, medicine, the art of prophecy, working in metal, and all the other arts (252, 445, &c., 480, &c.). But, as in all these things he had acted contrary to the will of Zeus, the latter ordered Hephaestus to chain him to a rock in Scythia, which was done in the presence of Cratos and Bia, two ministers of Zeus. In Scythia he was visited by the Oceanides; Io also came to him, and he foretold her the wanderings and sufferings which were yet in store for her, as well as her final relief (703, &c.). Hermes then likewise appears, and desires him to make known a prophecy which was of great importance to Zeus, for Prometheus knew that by a certain woman Zeus would beget a son, who was to dethrone his father, and Zeus wanted to have a more accurate knowledge of this decree of fate. But Prometheus steadfastly refused to reveal the decree of fate, whereupon Zeus, by a thunderbolt, sent Prometheus, together with the rock to which he was chained, into Tartarus (Horat. Carm. ii. 18, 35). After the lapse of a long time, Prometheus returned to the upper world, to endure a fresh course of suffering, for he was now fastened to mount Caucasus, and tormented by an eagle, which every day, or every third day, devoured his liver, which was restored again in the night (Apollon. Rhod. ii. 1247, &c. iii. 853; Strab. xv. p. 688 ; Philostr. Vit. Apoll. ii. 3; Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 15; Aeschyl. Prom. 1015, &c.). This state of suffering was to last until some other god, of his own accord, should take his place, and descend into Tartarus for him (Prom. 1025). This came to pass when Cheiron, who had been incurably wounded by an arrow of Heracles, desired to go into Hades; and Zeus allowed him to supply the place of Prometheus (Apollod. ii. 5. § 4; comp. Cheiron). According to others, however, Zeus himself delivered Prometheus, when at length the Titan was prevailed upon to reveal to Zeus the decree of fate, that, if he should become by Thetis the either of a son, that son should deprive him of the sovereignty. (Serv. ad Virg. Eclog. vi. 42 ; Apollod. iii. 13. § 5; Hygin. Fab. 54; comp. Aeschyl. Prom. 167, &c. 376.)
There was also an account, stating that Prometheus had created men out of earth and water, at the very beginning of the human race, or after the flood of Deucalion, when Zeus is said to have ordered him and Athena to make men out of the mud, and the winds to breathe life into them (Apollod. i. 7. § 1; Ov. Met. i. 81; Etym. Mag. s. v. Promêtheus). Prometheus is said to have given to men something of all the qualities possessed by the other animals (Horat Carm. i. 16. 13). The kind of earth out of which Prometheus formed men was shown in later times near Panopeus in Phocis (Paus. x. 4. § 3), and it was at his suggestion that Deucalion, when the flood approached, built a ship, and carried into it provisions, that he and Pyrrha might be able to support themselves during the calamity (Apollod. i. 7. § 2). Prometheus, in the legend, often appears in connection with Athena, e. g., he is said to have been punished on mount Caucasus for the criminal love he entertained for her (Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. ii. 1249) and he is further said, with her assistance, to have ascended into heaven, and there secretly to have lighted his torch at the chariot of Helios, in order to bring down the fire to man (Serv. ad Virg. Eclog. vi. 42). At Athens Prometheus had a sanctuary in the Academy, from whence a torch-race took place in honour of him (Paus. i. 30. § 2; Schol. ad Soph. Oed. Col. 55; Harpocrat. s. v. lampas).
SUMMARY OF THE STORY OF PROMETHEUS
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 15 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"[Constellation] Sagitta (Arrow). This arrow, they say, is one of the weapons of Hercules, with which he is said to have killed the eagle which ate the liver of Prometheus. It seems not unprofitable to speak of Prometheus at greater length. When the men of old with great ceremony used to carry on the sacrificial rites of the immortal gods, they would burn the victims entire in the flame of the sacrifice. And so, when the poor were prevented from making sacrifices on account of the great expense, Prometheus, who with his wonderful wisdom is thought to have made men, by his pleading is said to have obtained permission from Jove for them to cast only a part of the victim into the fire, and to use the rest for their own food. This practice custom later established. Since he had obtained this permission, not as from a covetous man, but easily, as from a god, Prometheus himself sacrifices two bulls. When he had first placed their entrails on the altar, he put the remaining flesh of the two bulls in one heap, covering it with an oxhide. Whatever bones there were he covered with the other skin and put it down between them, offering Jove [Zeus] the choice of either part for himself. Jupiter, although he didn’t act with divine forethought, nor as a god who ought to foresee everything, was deceived by Prometheus--sinve we have started to believe the tale!--and thinking each part was a bull, shoe the bones for his half. And so after this, in solemn rites and sacrifices, when the flesh of victims has been consumed, they burn with fire the remaining parts which are the gods.
But, to come back to the subject, Jupiter [Zeus], when he realized what had been done, in anger took fire from mortals, lest the favour of Prometheus should seem to have more weight than the power of the gods, and that uncooked flesh should not be useful to men. Prometheus, however, who was accustomed to scheming, planned by his own efforts to bring back the fire that had been taken from men. So, when the others were away, he approached the fire of Jove, and with a small bit of this shut in a fennel-stalk he came joyfully, seeming to fly, not to run, tossing the stalk so that the air shut in with its vapours should not put out the flame in so narrow a space. Up to this time, then, men who bring good news usually come with speed. In the rivalry of the games they also make it a practice for the runners to run, shaking torches after the manner of Prometheus.
In return for this deed, Jupiter, to confer a like favour on men, gave a woman to them, fashioned by Vulcanus [Hephaistos], and endowed with all kinds of gifts by the will of the gods. For this reason she was called Pandora. But Prometheus he bound with an iron chain to a mountain in Scythia named Caucasus for thirty thousand years, as Aeschylus, writer of tragedies, says. Then, too, he sent an eagle to him to eat out his liver which was constantly renewed at night. Some have said that this eagle was born from Typhon and Echidna, other from Terra [Gaia] and Tartarus, but many point out it was made by the hands of Vulcanus and given life by Jove.
The following reason for the release of Prometheus has been handed down. When Jupiter [Zeus], moved by the beauty of Thetis, sought her in marriage, he couldn’t win the consent of the timid maiden, but none the less kept planning to bring it about. At that time the Parcae [Moirai] were said to have prophesied what the natural order of events should be. They said that the son of Thetis’ husband, whoever he might be, would be more famous than his father. Prometheus heard this as he kept watch, not from inclination but from necessity, and reported it to Jove. He, fearing that what he had done to his father Saturnus in a similar situation, would happened to him, namely, that he would be robbed of his power, gave up by necessity his desire to wed Thetis, and out of gratitude to Prometheus thanked him and freed him from his chains. But he didn’t go so far as to free him from all binding, since he had sworn to that, but for commemoration bade him bind his finger with the two things, namely, with stone and with iron. Following this practice men have rings fashioned of stone and iron, that they may seem to be appeasing Prometheus. Some also have said that he wore a wreath, as if to claim that he as victor had sinned without punishment. And so men began the practice of wearing wreaths at times of great rejoicing and victory. You may observe this in sports and banquets.
But to come back to the beginning of the inquiry and the death of the eagle. Hercules, when sent by Eurystheus for the apples of the Hesperides, out of ignorance of the way came to Prometheus, who was bound on Mount Caucasus, as we have shown above. When victor, he returned to Prometheus to tell him that that Draco we have mentioned was slain, and to thank him for his kindness since he had pointed out the way. Straightway he gave what honour he could to the one that deserved it, for he killed the eagle and since it was slain, men began, when victims were sacrificed, to offer livers on the altars of the gods to satisfy them in place of the liver of Prometheus."
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound (extant play), Prometheus Unbound, Prometheus Fire-Bringer, Prometheus Fire-Kindler (lost plays) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound was the second of a trilogy of plays describing the story of the Titan Prometheus. Weir Smyth (L.C.L.) summarises evidence of the lost plays : "The Medicean Catalogue of Aeschylus’ plays names three entitled Promêtheus (desmôtês, lyomenos, purphoros); a fourth, Promêtheus purkaeus (Pollux, Vocabulary 9. 156, 10. 64) was probably the satyric drama of the trilogy Phineus, Persai, Glaukos (pontios) produced in 472 B.C. From the Scholiast on Prom. 511 it is to be inferred that the Lyomenos followed the Desmôtês. The theme and place of the Pyrphoros are still disputed: (1) it is another name for the Pyrkaeus; (2) it preceded the Desmôtês in the trilogy and dealt with the Titan’s theft of fire--in this sense, it is the Fire-Bringer or Fire-Giver; (3) as the Fire-Bearer, it followed the Lyomenos, and described the inauguration of the Promêtheia, the Athenian festival at which torch-races were held in honour of the Titan, now become the god of the potter-guild. Some, who follow Canter in identifying the Pyrphoros with the Pyrkaeus, maintain that it was the satyric drama, and dealt with the Attic worship of the god. A satyr-play in the Prometheus-trilogy is unknown."
PROMETHEUS & THE CREATION OF ANIMALS & MEN
Sappho, Fragment 207 (from Servius on Virgil) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric I) (Greek lyric C6th B.C.) :
"After creating men Prometheus is said to have stolen fire and revealed it to men."
Plato, Protagoras 320c - 322a (trans. Jowett) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"Once upon a time there were gods only, and no mortal creatures. But when the time came that these also should be created, the gods fashioned them out of earth and fire and various mixtures of both elements in the interior of the earth; and when they were about to bring them into the light of day, they ordered Prometheus and Epimetheus to equip them, and to distribute to them severally their proper qualities. Epimetheus said to Prometheus : `Let me distribute, and do you inspect.' This was agreed, and Epimetheus made the distribution [of claws and fur and other attributes] . . . Thus did Epimetheus, who, not being very wise, forgot that he had distributed among the brute animals all the qualities which he had to give-and when he came to man, who was still unprovided, he was terribly perplexed. Now while he was in this perplexity, Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. The appointed hour was approaching when man in his turn was to go forth into the light of day; and Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaistos and Athene, and fire with them." [See "Prometheus & the Theft of Fire" (below) for the rest of this passage from Plato.]
Aesop, Fables Aesop, Fables 516 (from Themistius, Orations 32) (trans. Gibbs) (Greek fable C6th B.C.) :
"This is also something that Aesop said. The clay which Prometheus used when he fashioned man was not mixed with water but with tears. Therefore, one should not try to dispense entirely with tears, since they are inevitable."
Aesop, Fables 527 (from Chambry 303 and Phaedrus 4. 10) :
"Prometheus has given us two sacks to carry. One sack, which is filled with our own faults, is slung across our back, while the other sack, heavy with the faults of others, is tied around our necks. This is the reason why we are blind to our own bad habits but still quick to criticize others for their mistakes." [N.B. In Phaedrus' Latin version of this fable, Zeus is substituted for Prometheus.]
Aesop, Fables 535 (from Life of Aesop 94) :
"Zeus once ordered Prometheus to show mankind the two ways: one the way of freedom and the other the way of slavery. Prometheus made the way of freedom rough at the beginning, impassable and steep, with no water anywhere to drink, full of brambles, and beset with dangers on all sides at first. Eventually, however, it became a smooth plain, lined with paths and filled with groves of fruit trees and waterways. Thus the distressing experience ended in repose for those who breath the air of freedom. The way of slavery, however, started out as a smooth plain at the beginning, full of flowers, pleasant to look at and quite luxurious, but in the end it became impassable, steep and insurmountable on all sides." [N.B. In another text, Prometheus is replaced by Tykhe (Fortune).]
Aesop, Fables 517 (from Phaedrus 4.16) :
"Someone asked Aesop why lesbians and effeminates had been created, and old Aesop explained, `The answer lies once again with Prometheus, the original creator of our common clay. All day long, Prometheus had been separately shaping those natural members which modesty conceals beneath our clothes, and when he was about to apply these private parts to the appropriate bodies Liber [Dionysos] unexpectedly invited him to dinner. Prometheus came home late, unsteady on his feet and with a good deal of heavenly nectar flowing through his veins. With his wits half asleep in a drunken haze he stuck the female genitalia on male bodies and male members on the ladies. This is why modern lust revels in perverted pleasures.'"
Aesop, Fables 517 (from Phaedrus 4.15) :
"[Prometheus made?] the woman's tongue by redeploying her private parts. This is where the obscene practice [fellatio?] finds its affinity." [N.B. This fable in Phaedrus is badly fragmented, only two lines survive.]
Aesop, Fables 515 (from Chambry 322) :
"Following Zeus's orders, Prometheus fashioned humans and animals. When Zeus saw that the animals far outnumbered the humans, he ordered Prometheus to reduce the number of the animals by turning them into people. Prometheus did as he was told, and as a result those people who were originally animals have a human body but the soul of an animal."
Aesop, Fables 247 (from Chambry 210) :
"The lion often found fault with the way he had been designed by Prometheus. Admittedly, Prometheus had made the lion very large and handsome, supplying him with sharp fangs in his jaw and arming him with claws on his feet; in short he had made the lion more powerful than all the other animals. `Yet great though I may be,' said the lion, `I am terribly afraid of roosters!' Prometheus replied, `Why waste your time blaming me? You have every good quality that I was able to create, and you are afraid of absolutely nothing, except for roosters.'" [N.B. This same fable is found in Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Cleitophon 2. 21.]
Aesop, Fables 530 (from Phaedrus, Appendix 5) :
"Prometheus, that potter who gave shape to our new generation, decided one day to sculpt the form of Veritas (Truth) [the spirit Aletheia], using all his skill so that she would be able to regulate people's behaviour. As he was working, an unexpected summons from mighty Jupiter [Zeus] called him away. Prometheus left cunning Dolus (Trickery) [a spirit, named Dolos also in Greek] in charge of his workshop, Dolus had recently become one of the god's apprentices. Fired by ambition, Dolus (Trickery) used the time at his disposal to fashion with his sly fingers a figure of the same size and appearance as Veritas (Truth) [Aletheia] with identical features. When he had almost completed the piece, which was truly remarkable, he ran out of clay to use for her feet. The master returned, so Dolus (Trickery) quickly sat down in his seat, quaking with fear. Prometheus was amazed at the similarity of the two statues and wanted it to seem as if all the credit were due to his own skill. Therefore, he put both statues in the kiln and when they had been thoroughly baked, he infused them both with life: sacred Veritas (Truth) walked with measured steps, while her unfinished twin stood stuck in her tracks. That forgery, that product of subterfuge, thus acquired the name of Mendacium (Falsehood) [the spirit Pseudologos], and I readily agree with people who say that she has no feet : every once in a while something that is false can start off successfully, but with time Veritas (Truth) is sure to prevail."
Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 45 (trans. Aldrich) (Greek mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Prometheus, after forming men from water and earth, gave them fire."
Callimachus, Iambi Fragments 1 & 8 (trans. Trypanis) (Greek poet C3rd B.C.) :
"It was that year when the winged fowl and the dweller in the sea and the four-footed creature talked even as the clay of Prometheus . . . Zeus the just, dispensing injustice, he robbed four-footed things of speech."
Callimachus, Fragment 493 :
"If Prometheus has moulded you, and you are not made of another clay."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 14. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"For Aras [one of the first men], they say, was a contemporary of Prometheus, the son of Iapetus, and three generations of men older than Pelasgus the son of Arcas."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 4. 4 :
"At Panopeus [in Phokis] . . . [in a] ravine there lie two stones, each of which is big enough to fill a cart. They have the colour of clay, not earthly clay, but such as would be found in a ravine or sandy torrent, and they smell very like the skin of a man. They say that these are remains of the clay out of which the whole race of man was fashioned by Prometheus."
Aelian, On Animals 1. 53 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd A.D.) :
"The Goat . . . inhales through its ears as well as through its nostrils, and has a sharper perception than any other cloven-hoofed animal. The cause of this I am unable to tell . . . But if the Goat also was a creation of Prometheus, what the intention of this contrivance was, I leave him to determine."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 142 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Prometheus, son of Iapetus, first fashioned men from clay. Later Vulcanus [Hephaistos], at Jove’s [Zeus'] command, made a woman’s form from clay. Minerva [Athene] gave it life, and the rest of the gods each gave come other gift. Because of this they named her Pandora. She was given in marriage to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. Pyrrha was her daughter, and was said to be the first mortal born."
Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 42 :
"[The Planets :] One of them is the star of Jove [Zeus], Phaenon by name, a youth whom Prometheus made excelling all others in beauty, when he was making man, as Heraclides Ponticus [Greek academic C4th B.C.] says. When he intended to keep him back, without presenting him to Jove as he did the others, Cupid [Eros] reported this to Jove, whereupon Mercury was sent to Phaenon and persuaded him to come to Jove and become immortal. Therefore he is placed among the stars."
Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 82 ff (trans. Melville) (Roman epic C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"In the sea the shining fish were set to swim; the land received the beasts, the gusty air the birds. A holier creature, of a loftier mind, fit master of the rest, was lacking still. Then man was made, perhaps from seed divine formed by the great Origo Mundi (World’s Creator), so to found a better world, perhaps the new-made earth, so lately parted from the ethereal heavens, kept still some essence of the kindred sky--earth that son of Iapetus [Prometheus] moulded, mixed with water, in likeness of the gods that govern the world--and while the other creatures on all fours look downwards, man was made to hold his head erect in majesty and see the sky, and raise his eyes to the bright stars above. Thus earth, once crude and featureless, now changed put on the unknown form of humankind. Aetas Aurea (the Golden Age) was that first age which unconstrained."