Prometheus, forethought, was a Greek heroic god, worshipped from about 800 BC to Christianization, c.a. 400 AD. His cult center was predominantly Athens, and mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony and Aeschylus drama. This deity was one of four sons of Iapetos and Klymene, both Titans. He is probably known as an heroic opponent of Zeus. Legend tells that Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity as a boon that separates the human race from all living things.
Legend further accords to him and his brother Epimetheus, the creation of humankind and its protector, in response Zeus created Pandora and her box containing the problem when set loose afflicted all human kind.
Zeus also imprisoned Prometheus by fastening to a great rock in the Caucasus Mountains with adamantine chains and sending an eagle to eat his liver. He was rescued by Hercules, who killed the eagle, thus liberating the god from his torment. A.G.H.
Prometheus in Greek Mythology
Prometheus is a central figure in Greek mythology, known for his intelligence, foresight, and as a champion of humanity. His story reflects themes of rebellion, suffering, and the human condition.
Background and Family
- Son of Titans: Prometheus was one of the four sons of the Titans Iapetos and Klymene. His lineage places him within the race of Titans, who preceded the Olympian gods.
- Brother of Epimetheus: He is often mentioned alongside his brother Epimetheus, whose name means «afterthought,» contrasting with Prometheus’s name, which means «forethought.»
Role and Legends
- Giver of Fire to Humanity: Prometheus is best known for stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to humanity. This act symbolized the enlightenment and advancement of the human race, distinguishing humans from other creatures.
- Creation of Humankind: Along with his brother Epimetheus, Prometheus is credited with the creation of humankind. He is often portrayed as a protector and benefactor of humanity.
- Punishment by Zeus: As punishment for his transgression, Zeus had Prometheus bound to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains, where an eagle (or in some versions, a vulture) was sent to eat his liver, which would regenerate each day.
- Rescue by Hercules: Prometheus’s suffering continued until he was eventually freed by Hercules (Heracles), who killed the eagle and released Prometheus from his chains.
Symbolism and Interpretation
- Rebellion Against the Gods: Prometheus’s defiance of Zeus can be interpreted as a symbol of rebellion against divine authority or the status quo.
- Suffering and Endurance: His enduring punishment represents themes of human suffering, endurance, and the consequences of challenging the gods.
- Advancement of Civilization: The gift of fire is symbolic of technological and cultural advancement, making Prometheus a symbol of progress and human achievement.
- Influence in Literature and Art: Prometheus’s story has been a popular subject in literature and art, inspiring numerous works, including Aeschylus’s tragedy «Prometheus Bound.»
- Representation of Human Struggle: In philosophical and literary interpretations, Prometheus often represents the human struggle for knowledge, freedom, and self-determination.
Worship and Cult
- Cult Center in Athens: While not one of the major deities of the Greek pantheon, Prometheus was venerated, particularly in Athens, where he had a significant cult following.
- Period of Worship: His worship spanned from about 800 BC until the Christianization of the Roman Empire around 400 AD.
- Symbol of Humanism and Enlightenment: In modern interpretations, Prometheus is often seen as a symbol of humanism, the quest for knowledge, and the enlightening power of education and reason.
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 210