Words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.


A picture is worth a thousand words.

~Napoleon Bonaparte

Friday, 4 May 2012


PROMETHEUS  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).

EPIMETHEUS was the Titan god of afterthought, the father of excuses. He and his brother Prometheus were given the task of populating the earth with animals and men. However, Epimethius quickly exhausted the supply of gifts allotted for the task in the equipment of animals, leaving Prometheus' masterpiece, mankind, completely helpless. As a result the Titan brother was forced to steal fire from heaven to arm them. Zeus was angered by this theft and ordered the creation of Pandora, the first woman, as a means to deliver evil into the house of man. Despite the warnings of his brother, Epimethius happily received her as his bride, but as soon as she arrived she lifted the lid of a jar entrusted her by the gods, releasing a plague of harmful daimones (spirits) to trouble mankind. Only Hope (Elpis) remained behind to succor the unfortunate race.

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. There were some to whom he gave strength without swiftness, while he equipped the weaker with swiftness; some he armed, and others he left unarmed; and devised for the latter some other means of preservation, making some large, and having their size as a protection, and others small, whose nature was to fly in the air or burrow in the ground; this was to be their way of escape. Thus did he compensate them with the view of preventing any race from becoming extinct. And when he had provided against their destruction by one another, he contrived also a means of protecting them against the seasons of heaven; clothing them with close hair and thick skins sufficient to defend them against the winter cold and able to resist the summer heat, so that they might have a natural bed of their own when they wanted to rest; also he furnished them with hoofs and hair and hard and callous skins under their feet. Then he gave them varieties of food-herb of the soil to some, to others fruits of trees, and to others roots, and to some again he gave other animals as food. And some he made to have few young ones, while those who were their prey were very prolific; and in this manner the race was preserved. 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 defense. 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 Hephaestus and Athena, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man. Thus man had the wisdom necessary to the support of life, but political wisdom he had not; for that was in the keeping of Zeus, and the power of Prometheus did not extend to entering into the citadel of heaven, where Zeus dwelt, who moreover had terrible sentinels; but he did enter by stealth into the common workshop of Athena and Hephaestus, in which they used to practice their favorite arts, and carried off Hephaestus' art of working by fire, and also the art of Athena, and gave them to man. And in this way man was supplied with the means of life. But Prometheus is said to have been afterwards prosecuted for theft, owing to the blunder of Epimetheus."

In the Fables of Aesop, Prometheus is represented as the creator of both animals and men. 

Otto Greiner. Prometheus.
Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 142 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"Prometheus, son of Iapetus, first fashioned men from clay. Later Vulcan  [Hephaestus], at Jove’s [Zeus'] command, made a woman’s form from clay. Minerva [Athena] 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 Epimethius. Pyrrha was her daughter, and was said to be the first mortal born." 

Hesiod, Theogony 510 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"Scatter-brained Epimethius who from the first was a mischief to men who eat bread; for it was he who first took of Zeus the woman [Pandora], the maiden whom he had formed."

Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1. 46 :
"Prometheus had a son Deukalion, who was king of the lands round Phthia and was married to Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimethius and Pandora, the first woman created by the gods."

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1. 363 ff :
"[Deukalion speaks aloud, after the Great Deluge has wiped out all of mankind:] ‘O for my father's [Prometheus'] magic to restore mankind again and in the molded clay breathe life and so repopulate the world!’" 

 After Prometheus has created man out of mud, Athena breathes life into him, imparting reason and understanding. Part of a cycle on the myth of Prometheus by Christian Griepenkerl. Ceiling painting (oil on canvas) above the grand staircase in the Augusteum, Oldenburg.

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 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 daimon (spirit), named Dolos 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) [the spirit Aletheia in Greek] 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 in Greek], 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."

 Prometheus creating man in the presence of Athena, detail. Painted in 1802 by Jean-Simon Berthélemy

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, Prometheus is replaced by Zeus.] 

The creation of man by Prometheus. Marble relief, Italy, 3rd century CE.

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.] 

The Myth of Prometheus, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

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."

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."

Sappho, Fragment 207 (from Servius on Virgil's Aeneid) (trans. Campbell, Vol. Greek Lyric II) (Greek lyric C6th B.C.) :
"After creating men Prometheus is said to have stolen fire and revealed it to men. The gods were angered by this and sent two evils on the earth, women and disease; such is the account given by Sappho and Hesiod."

 Christian Griepenkerl,The "Theft of Fire" by Prometheus from the sleeping Zeus and Ganymede. Ceiling painting in the grand staircase of the Augusteum, Oldenburg.

 Cossiers, Jan, Prometheus Carrying Fire

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. 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.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 249 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Chorus: Did you perhaps transgress even somewhat beyond this offence?
Prometheus: Yes, I caused mortals to cease foreseeing their doom (moros).
Chorus: Of what sort was the cure that you found for this affliction?
Prometheus: I caused blind hopes (elpides) to dwell within their breasts.
Chorus: A great benefit was this you gave to mortals.
Prometheus: In addition, I gave them fire."
[N.B. "I caused blind hopes (elpides) to dwell within their breasts" presumably alludes to the story of Pandora's jar, a curse concocted by Zeus to punish mankind for the theft of fire. Prometheus seems to say that he was the one who stayed Hope inside the jar, when the other evils had escaped.

George Frederic Watts, Hope


Hesiod, Theogony 511 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or C7th B.C.) :
"And ready-witted Prometheus he [Zeus] bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew as much again everyway as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day. That bird Heracles, the valiant son of shapely-ankled Alkmene, slew; and delivered the son of Iapetos from the cruel plague, and released him from his affliction--not without the will of Olympian Zeus who reigns on high, that the glory of Heracles the Theban-born might be yet greater than it was before over the plenteous earth. This, then, he regarded, and honored his famous son; though he was angry, he ceased from the wrath which he had before because Prometheus matched himself in wit with the almighty son of Cronos . . . So it is not possible to deceive or go beyond the will of Zeus; for not even the son of Iapetos, kindly Prometheus, escaped his heavy anger, but of necessity strong bands confined him, although he knew many a wile."

 Jacob Jordaens, Prometheus Bound

 Rubens, Prometheus

  José de Ribera, Prometheus

 Dirck van Baburen,Prometheus chained by Hephaestus.
 Gustave Moreau, Prometheus


Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 482 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[After stealing fire from the gods Prometheus instructed man in the arts including the reading of the signs of the sacrifice:] ‘I marked out many ways by which they might read the future . . . The smoothness of their [the sacrificial animal's] entrails, and what color the gall must have to please the gods, also the speckled symmetry of the liver-lobe; and the thigh-bones, wrapped in fat, and the long chine I burned and initiated mankind into an occult art. Also I cleared their vision to discern signs from flames, which were obscure before this.’"

Pseudo-Hyginus, Astronomica 2. 15 (trans. Grant) (Roman mythographer C2nd A.D.) :
"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 [Zeus] 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--since 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 favor of Prometheus should seem to have more weight than the power of the gods, and that uncooked flesh should not be useful to men."

 PrometheusPark von Schloss Dhaun


Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3. 844 ff (trans. Rieu) (Greek epic C3rd B.C.) :
"She [Medea] took a magic ointment from her box. This salve was named after Prometheus. A man had only to smear it on his body, after propitiating the only-begotten Maiden [Hecate] with a midnight offering, to become invulnerable by sword or fire and for that day to surpass himself in strength and daring. It first appeared in a plant that sprang from the blood-like ichor of Prometheus in his torment, which the flesh-eating eagle had dropped on the spurs of Caucasus. The flowers, which grew on twin stalks a cubit high, were of the color of Korykian saffron, while the root looked like flesh that has just been cut, and the juice like the dark sap of a mountain oak. To make the ointment, Medea, clothed in black, in the gloom of night, had drawn off this juice in a Caspian shell after bathing in seven perennial streams and calling seven times on Brimo [Hecate], nurse of youth, Brimo, night-wanderer of the underworld, Queen of the dead. The dark earth shook and rumbled underneath the Titan root when it was cut, and Prometheus himself groaned in the anguish of his soul."

Propertius, Elegies 1. 12 (trans. Goold) (Roman elegy C1st B.C.) :
"Was it a magic Promethean herb [sprung from his blood] picked to divide lovers?"
Seneca, Medea 705 ff (trans. Miller) (Roman tragedy C1st A.D.) :
"[The witch Medea prepares her magics:] When she had summoned forth the whole tribe of serpents, she assembled her evil store of baleful herbs. Whatever trackless Eryx produces on his rocky slopes; plants that grow on heights clothed in unbroken winter, the heights of Caucasus, spattered with Prometheus' gore."

Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 7. 352 ff (trans. Mozley) (Roman epic C1st A.D.) :
"She [Medea] prays to Hecate to send her now more potent spells and mightier powers, nor abides contented with the drugs she knew. Then she girds up her robe and takes forth a Caucasian herb, of potency sure beyond all others, sprung of the gore that dropped from the liver of Prometheus, and grass wind-nurtured, fostered and strengthened by that blood divine among snows and grisly frosts, when the Vulture rises from his feasting on the flesh and from his open beak bedews the cliffs. That flower knows not the languor of life, but stands, immortally fresh, against the thunderbolt, and in the midst of lightnings its leaves are green. Hecate first, plying a blade that Stygian springs hardened, tore forth the strong stalk from the rocks; then showed she the plant to her handmaid [Medea], who beneath the tenth shining of Phoebe's [Selene the Moon's] light reaps the harvest of the mountain-side and rages madly among all the gory relics of the god; fruitlessly doth he groan, beholding the face of the Colchian maid; then over all the mountain pain contracts his limbs, and all his fetters shake beneath her sickle [Prometheus suffers anguish when the plant sprung from his blood is gathered]."

Andrea Schiavone, Medea

 Prometheus (ca. 1900), Reinhold Begas (Berlin)

Prometheus at Rockefeller Center, sculpture by Paul Manship, 1933

 "Prometheus" statue, at Minho's University.

 The Prometheus, Tbilisi, Georgia