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Prometheus

Προμηθευς

The Rebel God

Prometheus

Deukalion
The False Sacrifice
The Gift of Fire
Pandora
Prometheus and Io
The Age of Prometheus
Text References

Prometheus is the son of the Titan Iapetos (Iapetus) and Klymene (Clymene), daughter of Okeanos [Ocean]. His name means Forethought. His brothers are Atlas, Epimetheus and Menoitios (Menoetius).

The daughters of Okeanos are benign goddesses and there is no doubt that Prometheus and his brothers inherited their gentle natures from their mother, Klymene. Iapetos was a Titan and passed along his rebellious nature to his sons. The Titans are twelve children of Ouranos [Heavens] and Gaia [Earth]. They were so outrageous in their behavior that their father Ouranos named them Titans, meaning Strainers or Stretchers … they strained and stretched the bounds of propriety and abused their seemingly limitless powers. The rule of the Titans was of an indefinite time period but we do know that the first race of mortal men was created by the Titan Kronos (Cronos), Zeus's father.

After Zeus dethroned Kronos, a long and bitter war erupted between the Titans and the younger gods. Kronos led the Titans and their minions against Zeus and all who chose to follow him … Prometheus sided with Zeus. The conflict became known as the War of the Titans.

Even though Prometheus fought on the side of Zeus, he never had true respect for Zeus. He suspected that the younger gods were like the Titans in that they had no compassion for each other or the mortals on the earth below.

When the war ended, the Titans were banished to Tartaros (Tartarus), i.e. The Pit. Zeus established his throne on Mount Olympos (Olympus) and assumed the title of the Father of Gods and Men. Although Prometheus appeared to be subservient to Zeus, he committed a series of disrespectful acts that provoked the wrath of Zeus.

Deukalion

After several failed attempts at creating a suitable mortal race, Zeus decided to wipe the slate clean and start afresh. He wanted the two races [Immortals and mortals] to live separately but despite his protestations, the children of the Immortals were mating with mortals … he fashioned a Deluge to solve the problem.

Zeus made no secret of his plans to flood the earth … he expected no opposition from the Immortals and the mortals were helpless. Prometheus did not voice his objections but he began making preparations to save his son Deukalion (Deucalion) and Deukalion's wife Pyrrha so that they might reseed the human race after the flood. At Prometheus's prompting, Deukalion built a boat capable of surviving the Deluge.

After the waters subsided, Deukalion and Pyrrha repopulated the earth by throwing "stones" over their shoulders … as the stones hit the ground, they became human beings. The stones Deukalion threw became men and those Pyrrha threw became women. The "stones" that Deukalion and Pyrrha threw were not ordinary rocks … they were made of a special clay that was provided by Prometheus.

Deukalion became the first ruler of men … he was also the first man to build cities and construct temples to the Immortals.

The False Sacrifice

The subversion of Zeus's will regarding the Deluge was only the first in a series of flagrant acts that would eventually result in severe punishment for Prometheus.

Prometheus's next act of rebellion was a slight-of-hand designed to make Zeus look foolish … he offered Zeus a false sacrifice. It was the custom to offer the best meat of a sacrificial animal to the gods … Prometheus thought it would be clever if he could make Zeus accept an inferior portion of meat. He prepared two sacrifices for Zeus … he made one of fat and bones and the other of the finest meat. After the two sacrifices were wrapped in the animal hide, they appeared to be identical. Knowing all, Zeus saw through the trick but magnanimously controlled his anger. To lessen the insult and turn the tables on Prometheus, Zeus decreed that in the future, all animal sacrifices would be of fat and bones.

Saving the human race from extinction and making the false sacrifice were only annoyances for Zeus, he had much more important concerns on his mind … he was making plans for reshaping all of creation. After the banishment of the Titans to Tartaros, Zeus took no interest in the human population engendered by Deukalion and Pyrrha … he apparently intended for them to live as primitives until they died off. Zeus said that knowledge and divine gifts would only bring misery to the mortals and insisted that Prometheus not interfere with his plans.

Despite Zeus's warning, Prometheus took pity on the primitive mortals and defied Zeus again. Prometheus gave the mortals all sorts of gifts — brickwork, woodworking, methods for telling the seasons by the stars, numbers, the alphabet [so that they could record and remember things], yoked oxen, carriages, saddles, ships and sails. He also gave them knowledge regarding — healing drugs, prophecy, reading signs in the sky, mining precious metals, animal sacrifice and all forms of art.

The Gift of Fire

Of all the gifts Prometheus gave to the mortals, fire was by far the most important. The fire was stolen from Zeus … Prometheus concealed the fire in a fennel stalk and took it from Mount Olympos to the earth below. Men no longer had to fear the night or eat uncooked food … dark caves became warm homes. In a very brief time [by Immortal standards], culture, art, and literacy began to flourish … civilization began to change the shape of the land. Zeus was furious!

There are those who believe that even though Zeus wielded the lightening, Prometheus either invented fire or inspired a man named Phoroneus to invent it. This however is not the opinion of most of the classical writers. Regardless, fire was given to the mortals without Zeus's permission. The gift of divine fire unleashed a flood of inventiveness, productivity and, most of all, respect for the immortal gods.

When Zeus realized the deception that Prometheus had fostered, he ordered Hephaistos (Hephaestus) to shackle Prometheus to the side of a crag, high in the Caucasus mountains. To compound the punishment, Prometheus was tormented by Zeus's eagle as it tore at his immortal flesh and tried to devour his liver. Each night, as the frost bit its way into his sleep, the torn flesh would mend so that the eagle could begin anew at the first touch of Eos [Dawn].

Prometheus was condemned to suffer on the mountain for thirteen generations of mortal men … at that time, he would be freed by Herakles (Heracles).

Pandora

After Prometheus had been shackled to the mountain, Zeus devised a punishment for the mortals who benefited form the stolen fire. He fashioned a hateful thing in the shape of a young girl and called her Pandora. Her name means, 'giver of all' or 'all endowed.' Her body was made by Hephaistos (Hephaestus) … he gave her form and voice. Athene (Athena) gave her dexterity and inventiveness. Aphrodite [goddess of Love] put a spell of enchantment around her head and Hermes put pettiness in her tiny brain. She was ready for the world.

Zeus gave Pandora to Prometheus's brother, Epimetheus. Epimetheus knew better than to trust Zeus. He had been warned by Prometheus never to accept gifts from the Olympians, especially Zeus, but when Epimetheus saw Pandora he was rendered helpless … he could not resist her and accepted her willingly. When the gift was opened, evil and despair entered into this world … mistrust and disease spread over the wide earth. After Pandora was emptied of her curse, only Hope was left inside … unreasonable, groundless Hope that transforms the curse of life into a blessing.

And so, Prometheus was destined to suffer at the hands of his own kind … gods punishing gods. To him, the saddest part of his punishment was the implication that the gods [Zeus in particular] had lost their right to rule because they had lost their compassion.

As Prometheus was hanging, shackled to the rock-face, he spoke to Okeanos [Ocean] and the daughters of the Rivers. They were all shocked at Zeus's excesses but Prometheus warned them not to speak out against Zeus … he was quite correct when he told them it would do no good … he said that Zeus would soon fall from his throne and they had but to wait for that inevitable moment.

Prometheus and Io

When the Heifer-Maiden Io, who was also being punished by Zeus, came upon Prometheus and the daughters of Okeanos, she wanted to know her future. Prometheus, even in his tortured condition, tried to spare the feelings of the poor girl. She had been transformed into a black and white heifer and was cursed to wander the earth, prodded by an evil gadfly, because she had refused the amorous advances of Zeus. Prometheus knew that Io's future was only slightly better than his but he considered her to be lucky because she was mortal and would eventually die and be rid of her earthly torment. Prometheus, on the other hand, was immortal … his torment could last forever.

The journey of Io was crucial to the release of Prometheus from his bonds. After her wandering journey to Egypt, Io was returned to her human form and had a glorious son named Epaphos … his bloodline continued for thirteen generations and from Io's descendants Herakles (Heracles) was born. Just as Zeus had ordained, Herakles climbed the mountain, killed the eagle and freed Prometheus from his shackles … or so the story goes. However, there is serious doubt as to whether the Herakles who freed Prometheus was descended from Io … in fact, the Herakles who freed Prometheus predated Io's descendants by tens of thousands of years.

Prometheus

The Age of Prometheus

Prometheus is truly an ancient Immortal. As a child of a Titan, his was only the second generation of Immortals to assume human form and this might be the reason why he demonstrated such sympathy for the shivering and frightened men who populated the earth. Prometheus was the same approximate age as the Olympians and Prometheus's sympathetic attitude towards men was also evident in the actions of Demeter, Histia (Hestia), Poseidon, Athene (Athena) and also with younger Immortals such as Hephaistos (Hephaestus), Artemis and Apollon.

The time in which Prometheus flourished was after the Titans fell from power and Zeus and the Olympians seized control of all creation. This would have been before mankind had been given fire and before womankind had been created. When Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to men, there was a twofold punishment: 1) Prometheus was chained to the Caucasus mountains and 2) Pandora, the first woman, was created.

If we use the creation of Pandora as a time reference, we might assume that she was created no later than 40,000 years ago. Likewise, the gift of fire might be placed at nearly the same point in time. When those things happened, Prometheus was a young adult.

We might also use Prometheus's relationship with Herakles to further determine the age in which Prometheus flourished. However, this correlation might not be as easy to establish as you would suspect.

The Herakles who freed Prometheus from the mountain was not the same Herakles who was the son of Zeus and Alkmene (Alcmene) … he was not the Herakles who was given the Twelve Labors or who accompanied Jason and the Argonauts on the Quest for the Golden Fleece.

There were at least two and possibly three hero/gods named Herakles. To say that there were three Herakles's is within the realm of possibility but the number two is more likely and seems sufficient to account for the ancient and traditional deeds attributed to Herakles. The historian Herodotus mentions the probability of an ancient Herakles but Diodorus Siculus extends the possibility that there were three hero/gods named Herakles. The third Herakles mentioned by Diodorus Siculus was supposedly born on the island of Crete and was said to be one of the Idaean Daktyls (Dactyls) who were named after the mountain on which they lived … Mount Ida … they were best known as metal workers and magicians. This third Herakles would have lived several generations before the traditional Herakles. Diodorus does not specifically say that this Herakles was a son of Zeus.

For the sake of simplicity, we will limit this discussion to two Herakles's … an ancient Herakles and the traditional Herakles.

With the passage of time, the exploits of the ancient and traditional Herakles have been homogenized to reflect the deeds of one individual. The ancient Herakles was born in Egypt to an unnamed mother and was the one who freed Prometheus from his bondage … he lived approximately 40,000 years ago. The traditional Herakles was the son of Alkmene and was born circa 1300 BCE.

To add another element to the mystery as to when Herakles freed Prometheus from the mountain, we must consider the fact that when the Argonauts were sailing to the eastern shore of the Euxine [Black Sea], they distinctly heard and saw the eagle which had been tormenting Prometheus on the mountain. If you will recall, each day Zeus sent an eagle to tear at Prometheus's liver and each night the wounds would heal so the eagle could start afresh each morning.

If the eagle the Argonauts saw was the one which tormented Prometheus, that would mean that Prometheus was still chained to the Caucasus mountains one generation before the Trojan War … this would have been circa 1480 BCE. Prometheus was chained to the mountain for thirteen generations before Herakles freed him. If we count a generation as thirty years, that would mean that Prometheus was chained circa 1970 BCE and freed circa 1480 BCE … that time frame does not seem to be right … the possibility that the Argonauts might have been mistaken must be seriously considered.

Using the available facts and trying to be as thoughtful and conservative as possible, it would seem that the time-frame most suited for Prometheus and his defiance of Zeus would have been at the dawn of human civilization or sometime prior to 40,000 years ago.

Text References

Theogony

Works and Days

Catalogue of Women

[Loeb Classical Library vol. 503, Hesiod II]

The Argonautika by Apollonius Rhodius

Library of History by Diodorus Siculus

Description of Greece by Pausanias

Immortals Index
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