PROMETHEUS Biography - Religious Figures & Icons


Biography » religious figures icons » prometheus


Name: Prometheus                                                                     
In Greek mythology, Prometheus  is a Titan known for his                             
wily intelligence, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to                           
mortals for their use. His myth has been treated by a number of ancient sources,     
in which Prometheus is credited with (or blamed for) playing a pivotal role in       
the early history of humankind.                                                     
The Prometheus myth first appears in the Greek epic poet Hesiod's (ca. the late     
8th - early 7th centuries BC) Theogony. He was a son of the                         
Titan Iapetus by Themis or Clymene, one of the Oceanids. As a son of Iapetus he     
was also a brother of Atlas, Menoetius and Epimetheus. In the Theogony, Hesiod       
introduces Prometheus as a lowly challenger to Zeus' omniscience and omnipotence.   
At a meal marking the "settling of accounts" between mortals and immortals,         
Prometheus plays a trick against Zeus (545-557). He places two sacrificial           
offerings before the Olympian: a selection of ox meat hidden inside an ox's         
stomach (nourishment hidden inside a displeasing exterior), and the ox's bones       
wrapped in "glistening fat" (something inedible hidden inside a pleasing             
exterior). Zeus chooses the latter, setting a precedent for future sacrifices;       
henceforth, humans would keep the meat for themselves and burn the bones wrapped     
in fat as an offering to the gods. This angers Zeus, who hides fire from humans     
in retribution. Prometheus, however, steals fire from Zeus and gives it back to     
humans for their use. This further enrages Zeus, who sends mortal man the first     
woman, presumably Pandora (590-93): "From her is the race of women and female       
kind: of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who live amongst mortal men       
to their great trouble, no helpmeets in hateful poverty, but only in wealth."       
Prometheus, meanwhile, is chained to a rock where his regenerating liver is         
eaten daily by a vulture. Years later the Greek hero Heracles would shoot           
the vulture and free Prometheus from his chains.                                     
Hesiod revisits the story of Prometheus in the Works and Days.                       
Here, the poet expands upon Zeus' reaction to the theft of fire. Not only does       
Zeus withhold fire from men, but "the means of life," as well (42). Had             
Prometheus not provoked Zeus' wrath (44-47), "you would easily do work enough in     
a day to supply you for a full year even without working; soon would you put         
away your rudder over the smoke, and the fields worked by ox and sturdy mule         
would run to waste." Hesiod also expands upon the Theogony's story of the first     
woman, now explicitly called Pandora. After Prometheus' theft of fire, Zeus sent     
Pandora to Prometheus' brother Epimetheus. Pandora carried a jar with her, from     
which she released (91-92) "evils, harsh pain and troublesome diseases which         
give men death."