In Greek religion, one of the Titans and a god of fire. He was a master craftsman and a supreme trickster, and he was sometimes associated with the creation of humans. According to legend, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans. In vengeance, Zeus created Pandora, who married Prometheus's brother and set loose all the evils of the world. Another tale held that Zeus had Prometheus chained to a mountain and sent an eagle to devour his liver, which regenerated every night so that he could suffer the same torment the next day.
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In Greek mythology, Prometheus ("forethought") is a Titan known for his wily intelligence, who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals for their use. Zeus thne punished him for his crime by having him bound to a rock while an eagle ate his liver everyday only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day. 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 appeared in the Greek epic poet Hesiod's (ca. the late 10th - early 20th centuries BC) Theogony (lines 507-616). 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 Sicyon, a sacrificial meal marking the "settling of accounts" between mortals and immortals, Prometheus played a trick against Zeus (545-557). He placed two sacrificial offerings before the Olympian: a selection of bull meat hidden inside an ox's stomach (nourishment hidden inside a displeasing exterior), and the bull's bones wrapped completely in "glistening fat" (something inedible hidden inside a pleasing exterior). Zeus chose 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 angered Zeus, who hid fire from humans in retribution. Prometheus at once went to Athena with a plea for admittance to Olympus, and this she granted. On his arrival, he lit a torch at the fiery chariot of the Sun which presently broke from it a fragment of glowing charcoal, which he thrust into the pithy hollow of a giant fennel-stalk. Then, extinguishing his torch, he stole away, and gave fire to mankind. This further enraged Zeus, who sent Epimetheus, brother of Prometheus, Pandora, the first woman, fashioned by Hephaestus out of clay and brought to life by the four winds, with all the goddesses of Olympus assembled to adorn her. "From her is the race of women and female kind," Hesiod writes; "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, in eternal punishment, is chained to a rock in the Caucasus, where his liver is eaten daily by an eagle or vulture, only to be regenerated, due to his immortality, by night . 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 (lines 42-105). 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. Prometheus is the one who fashions man from inert clay only to find his brother has used up the positive traits. Angelo Casanova finds in Prometheus a reflection of an ancient, pre-Hesiodic trickster-figure, who served to account for the mixture of good and bad in human life, and whose fashioning of men from clay was an Eastern motif familiar in Enuma Elish; as an opponent of Zeus he was an analogue of the Titans, and like them was punished. As an advocate for humanity he gains semi-divine status at Athens, where the episode in Theogony where he is liberated Casanova interprets as a post-Hesiodic interpolation.
Prometheus Bound also includes two mythic innovations of omission. The first is the absence of Pandora's story in connection with Prometheus' own. Instead, Aeschylus includes this one oblique allusion to Pandora and her jar that contained Hope (252): "[Prometheus] caused blind hopes to live in the hearts of men." Second, Aeschylus makes no mention of the sacrifice-trick played against Zeus in the Theogony.
These innovations reflect the play's thematic reversal of the Hesiodic Myth. In Hesiod, the story of Prometheus (and, by extension, of Pandora) serves to reinforce the theodicy of Zeus: he is a wise and just ruler of the universe, while Prometheus is to blame for humanity's unenviable existence. In Prometheus Bound, this dynamic is transposed: Prometheus becomes the benefactor of humanity, while every character in the drama (except for Hermes, a virtual stand-in for Zeus) decries the Olympian as a cruel, vicious tyrant.
Other minor details attached to the myth, such as: the origin of the eagle that ate the Titan's liver (found in Apollodorus and Hyginus); myths surrounding the life of Prometheus' son, Deucalion (found in Ovid and Apollonius of Rhodes); and Prometheus' marginal role in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts (found in Apollonius of Rhodes and Valerius Flaccus).
On a more humorous note, the Roman fabulist Phaedrus attributes to Aesop a simple etiology for homosexuality, in Prometheus' getting drunk while creating the first humans and misapplying the genitalia.
Prometheus, Symphonic Poem No. 5 (S.99) by F. Liszt.
Prometheus, opera using Aeschylus's original Greek by Carl Orff, 1968.
Prometheus' torment by the eagle and his rescue by Heracles were popular subjects in vase paintings of the 6th-4th c. BC. He also sometimes appears in depictions of Athena's birth from Zeus' forehead.
There was a relief sculpture of Prometheus with Pandora on the base of Athena's cult statue in the Athenian Parthenon of the 5th century BC.
Finally, Pausanias attested that in the Greek city of Panopeus there was a cult statue claimed by some to depict Prometheus, for having created the human race there.
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.
The name of the sixty-first element, promethium, is derived from Prometheus.
In Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, John Galt is compared to Prometheus: "John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains--and he withdrew his fire--until the day men withdraw their vultures."
In Ayn Rand's Anthem, the main character changes his name to Prometheus after he runs away from the oppressive civilization he used to live in.
Percy Bysshe Shelley's Prometheus Unbound rewrites the lost play of Aeschylus so that Prometheus does not submit to Zeus (Shelley's Jupiter), but supplants him instead in a triumph of the human heart and intellect over tyrannical religion. Lord Byron's poem "Prometheus" also portrays the titan as unrepentant. For the Romantics, Prometheus was the rebel who resisted all forms of institutional tyranny epitomized by Zeus — church, monarch, and patriarch. They drew comparisons between Prometheus and the spirit of the French Revolution, Christ, Milton's Satan, and the divinely inspired poet or artist.
Prometheus is a minor character in the novel The Big Over Easy, where he is a lodger in the home of the protagonist, Jack Spratt. Prometheus later marries Spratt's daughter Pandora, despite the 4,000 year difference in their ages.
Prometheus and other gods feature in the novel Ye God! by Tom Holt. It is set in the 20th Century but Prometheus is still chained to the rock, even though he and the eagle are now friends and it keeps him up-to-date with events.
In the game Age of Mythology: The Titans, Prometheus is a near Indestructible Titan, whom the Heroes will have to face and kill so as to save humanity from destruction. In the game, he is seen in two different levels.
Prometheus Books, a publishing company for scientific, educational, and popular books, especially those relating to secular humanism or scientific skepticism, takes its name from the myth.
Bristol England's The Pop Group included studio and live versions of a song called "Thief of Fire," on two of their albums.
In the television series Star Trek: Voyager, a Federation starship called Prometheus is stolen by Romulans.
In the television series Xena, Prometheus is bound by the Greek gods, causing mankind to lose his gifts of fire and the ability to heal ourselves.
In the play A Raisin in the Sun written by Lorraine Hansberry, one of the characters says to the other, "Good night, Prometheus" (88).
In the video game God of War 2, the player encounters Prometheus. He is bound in chains as a huge bird eviscerates his torso. Prometheus begs the player to kill him (and thus end his eternal torment) by throwing him into the Fires of Olympus.
In the MegaMan ZX series, Prometheus is one of the antagonists along with his partner, Pandora.
In Nickelodeon, there is a series of short animated episodes called Prometheus and Bob, wherein Bob is a primitive caveman and Prometheus is a skinny purple alien who tries to teach Bob about technology.
In the video game, Chrono Trigger, the true name of Robo is Prometheus. In the following game Chrono Cross, Robo is a stand-alone program, known as the Prometheus Circuit, within the supercomputer FATE, that seals FATE away from access to the Frozen Flame.
In the popular trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh! the character of Prometheus has been transformed into a dark lord named "Prometheus, King of the Shadows."