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English 10H, Mathews
Name ______________________________________
Myth of Prometheus
Prometheus was the son of the Titan Iapetus and of either the sea nymph Clymene or the goddess Themis. Atlas
and Epimetheus ("afterthought") were his brothers; Hesione, daughter of the Titan Oceanus, was his wife.
The Titans were one of a family of giants who ruled the earth until overthrown by the Greek gods of Olympus.
When Zeus and the other Olympian gods rebelled against the Titans, Prometheus sided with the gods and thus
won their favor. He held Zeus's aching head so that Hephaestus (Vulcan) could split it open and release the
goddess Athena. To show her gratitude, Athena taught Prometheus astronomy, mathematics, architecture,
navigation, metalworking, writing, and other useful skills. He later passed this knowledge on to humans.
Champion of Humankind.
Prometheus created humans by shaping lumps of clay into small figures resembling the gods. Athena admired
these figures and breathed on them, giving them life. Zeus disliked the creatures, but he could not un-create
them. He did, however, confine them to the earth and denied them immortality. Prometheus felt sorry for
humans, so he gave them fire and taught them various arts and skills.
Prometheus was given the task of determining how sacrifices were to be made to the gods. He cut up a bull and
divided it into two portions. One contained the animal's flesh and skin, but they were concealed beneath the
bull's stomach, the least appetizing part of the animal. The other consisted of the bones, wrapped in a rich layer of
fat. Prometheus then asked Zeus to choose a portion for himself, leaving the other for humans. Fooled by the
outward appearance of the portions, Zeus chose the one containing the bones and fat. Prometheus thus ensured
that humans got the best meat.
Angered by this trick, Zeus punished humans by withholding fire from them so that they would have to live in cold
and darkness and eat meat raw. Prometheus promptly went to Olympus, stole a spark of fire from Hephaestus,
and carried it back to humans. When Zeus discovered what Prometheus had done, he swore revenge. He ordered
Hephaestus to create a woman from clay, and he had the winds breathe life into her. Athena and other goddesses
clothed the woman, whose name was Pandora.
Zeus sent Pandora as a gift to Prometheus's brother Epimetheus, who married her despite warnings from
Prometheus not to accept any gift from Zeus. Pandora brought with her a box containing evil, disease, poverty,
war, and other troubles. When Pandora opened the box, she released these sorrows into the world, and Zeus thus
gained his revenge on humankind.
Prometheus's Punishment.
To punish Prometheus, Zeus chained the god to a rock on a mountain peak. Every day an eagle tore at
Prometheus's body and ate his liver, and every night the liver grew back. Because Prometheus was immortal, he
could not die. But he suffered endlessly. Prometheus remained chained and in agony for thousands of years. The
other gods begged Zeus to show mercy, but he refused. Finally, Zeus offered Prometheus freedom if he would
reveal a secret that only he knew. Prometheus told Zeus that the sea nymph Thetis would bear a son who would
become greater than his father. This was important information. Both Zeus and his brother Poseidon desired
Thetis, but they arranged for her to marry a mortal so that her son would not pose a challenge to their power.
Zeus sent Hercules to shoot the eagle that tormented Prometheus and to break the chains that bound him. After
his years of suffering, Prometheus was free. To reward Hercules for his help, Prometheus advised him how to
obtain the golden Apples of Hesperides, one of the twelve labors the famous hero had to accomplish.
English 10H, Mathews
The story of Prometheus' suffering and ultimate release from his torment has inspired artists and writers for
centuries. Among the most important early works dealing with the myth were a series of plays written by the
Greek playwright Aeschylus. Only one of these works, Prometheus Bound, survives. The Roman poet Ovid
incorporated parts of the story in his work the Metamorphoses. Prometheus has also been the subject of more
modern works of art, music, and literature by such individuals as the composer Beethoven and the poets Byron,
Shelley, and Longfellow.
1. Does Prometheus abandon his creations (man)?
2. What does this suggest about Prometheus and mankind?
3. Does Prometheus avoid his punishment?
4. What does this suggest about Prometheus?
5. As we read Frankenstein, consider how Victor (Frankenstein’s creator) is a “Modern Prometheus”
(Shelley’s title), and how that differs from the ancient Prometheus.