Prometheus was the wisest Titan. His name
means "forethought" and he was able to foretell the future. Prometheus,
along with his brother Epimetheus, were two of the four sons of the Titan
Iapetus (a son of Uranus--Heavens-- and Gæa--Earth--, and thus elder
brother of Cronus) and the Oceanide Clymene (or Asia, a daughter of Ocean
and Tethys in both cases). Thus they were cousins of Zeus, who was the
son of their uncle Cronus. Their brothers were Menoetius (who was so proud
and rude that Zeus struck him with lightning and plunged him into Tartarus,
as he did with his father and all the Titans) and Atlas (see Hesiod's Theogony,
507, sq). Prometheus was as shrewd as his brother Epimetheus was clumsy.
Prometheus became the father of Deucalion, the first man, with his wife
Celæno, or Clymene (in traditions where she is not mentioned as his
mother). He was also sometime given as the father of Hellen, the ancestor
of all Greek tribes, in the place of his son Deucalion.
There are many versions of the Prometheus
myth. One is that the Titans and Gods were equally matched in their
internecine war until Prometheus struck a deal with Zeus to throw his power
on the side of the Gods in return for a pledge that Zeus would free humankind
from servitude. After Zeus won, he reneged on his promise and chained
Prometheus and all the other Titans.
Another version is that Prometheus was
one of the Titans who was given the task of creating mankind by Zeus, molding
human beings from clay, and guarding humanity against the angry Gods.
By some accounts he and his brother Epimetheus were delegated by Zeus to
create man. In all accounts, Prometheus is known as the protector and benefactor
of man, he felt great compassion for his creations. Prometheus decided
he had to give man fire, even though gods were the only ones meant to have
access to it. As the sun god rode out into the world one morning Prometheus
took some of the fire and brought it back to man. He hid the fire
in a hollow reed, which he concealed in his cloak. This he then gave to
man, teaching him how to use fire to warm, to cook, to make bricks, tools
and earthenware, everything needed to give people a more comfortable life.
He taught his creation how to take care of it and then left them. When
Zeus discovered Prometheus' deed he became furious. For when he stole
fire from the Gods and gave it to humanity, he also initiated all the arts
of human civilization. He also tricked Zeus into allowing man to
keep the best part of the animals sacrificed to the gods and to give the
gods the worst parts. For this Zeus punished Prometheus.
Prometheus' punishment was to be chained
to a huge rock in Caucasus where an eagle would come every day to eat his
liver, that would reconstitute immediately. And Zeus vowed never to unchain
Prometheus from his rock. Yet, when Heracles happened to pass by, he killed
the eagle and unchained Prometheus, who told him how to get the Golden
Apples from the garden of the Hesperides. Zeus was proud of this deed of
his son, but, so as not to renege on his vow, he ordered Prometheus to
always wear a ring that would be made out of the steel from his chains
and a piece of the rock he had been tied to. Toward that time, the Centaur
Chiron, wounded by Heracles' arrows, wished to die. But, because he was
immortal, he could do so only if he could find some mortal that would take
over his immortality. Prometheus accepted the deal, and thus became immortal,
with Zeus' blessing at last, because, owing to his gift of prophecy, he
had warned him that, if he had a son with the Nereid Thetis, with whom
he was then in love, this son would become stronger than him and unseat
him (no longer courted by the gods, Thetis later became Achilles's mother).
It is also Prometheus who warned his son Deucalion, who had by then married
Pyrrha, the daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora, of the impending flood
Zeus was planning to destroy mankind, and gave him the means to escape
Prometheus is also mentioned in the final
myth of last judgment in the Gorgias as responsible for the ability that
men once had to know the hour of their death ahead of time (Gorgias, 523d-e).
Again, in the myth of the Statesman about the golden age of Cronus and
the time when the earth is left to itself, in a reference to god given
gifts to men, Prometheus is mentioned as the one who gave men fire (Statesman,
274c). And in the Philebus, Socrates attributes to "some sort of Prometheus"
the godly gift of "a most dazzling fire" that allows men to partake in
the knowledge of the one and the many (Philebus, 16c).
Throughout history, Prometheus has symbolized
unyielding strength that resists oppression.
"Titan! to whose immortal eyes
The sufferings of mortality,
Seen in their sad reality,
Were not as things that gods despise;
What was thy pity's recompense?
A silent suffering, and intense;
The rock, the vulture, and the chain;
All that the proud can feel of pain;
The agony they do not show;
The suffocating sense of woe.
"Thy godlike crime was to be kind;
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen man with his own mind.
And, baffled as thou wert from high,
Still, in thy patient energy
In the endurance and repulse
Of thine impenetrable spirit,
Which earth and heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit."
(Prometheus, Lord Byron)