Prometheus bound

by Aeschylus.,

Other authorsJames Scully (Translator), C. J. Herington (Translator)
Hardcover, 1975





New York : Oxford University Press, 1975.


The myth of fire stolen from the gods appears in many pre-industrial societies. In Greek culture Prometheus the fire-stealer figures prominently in the poems of Hesiod, but in Prometheus Bound Hesiod's morality tale has been transformed into a drama of tragic tone and proportions. In the introduction, Mark Griffith examines how the dramatist has achieved this transformation, looking at the play from all angles - plot and characters, dramatic technique, style and metre. He includes a short section on the production of the play and on the questions of authenticity and date. The commentary guides the reader through problems of language, metre and content. An important feature of this volume is the appendix, which gathers together the existing fragments of the other two plays in the supposed Prometheus trilogy, quoting them in full in the original language and in translation, with short accompanying commentary. This is suitable for undergraduates and students in the upper forms of schools. It also deserves the serious attention of scholars. The introduction requires no knowledge of Greek and will interest students of drama and literature in other cultures too.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jpsnow
Again we have a deep look into the religious mindset of the Greeks. The play opens with Prometheus being led to the rock and bound by a regretful Haephestus. They discuss the unforgiving nature of Zeus, who ordered Prometheus' punishment: "For not by prayer to Zeus is access won; An unpersuadable heart hath Cronos' son." Prometheus was a minor member of the gods who gave fire to the humans. According to his speech while on the rock, he gave them knowledge, including writing, animal husbandry, medicine, and the wheel. Prometheus is given the opportunity, through Hermes, to repent but declines, saying that he knew the consequences and had to do what he had done. For this lack of regret, he is further punished. The rock closes in around him and he descends into Hades, where a bird picks at his liver each day. Prometheus predicts the downfall of Zeus. The play also includes a significant interaction with Io, who passes by Prometheus bound. Prometheus predicts the son of the 13th generation of Io will lead to the downfall of Zeus and also prophecies Io's journey. It's very interesting reading and very valuable as an eye into how the Greeks portrayed their own "mythology." It's also great poetry, with a variance in rhyme and a strong conveyance of moods.… (more)
LibraryThing member Clif
When Aeschylus wrote this play 2500 years ago could he have anticipated that people would still be talking about it this many years later? Goethe, Shelley and Karl Marx all referenced the story of Prometheus in their writing. Wikipedia's discussion of the Promethean myth in modern culture has many examples where book titles, names used in science, game names, works of art, and numerous other examples where the name Prometheus has been used. With such a famous name, this story deserves to be read. It should be acknowledged that the myth of Prometheus predated the play written by Aeschylus, so perhaps the playwright shouldn't get all the credit for the longevity of the story.

The Great Books KC group selected this book for discussion because we had previously discussed Frankenstein, a Modern Prometheus. Our discussion spent considerable time discussing what Mary Shelly may have been thinking when she placed the name Prometheus into her book's subtitle. The logical conclusion is that Dr. Frankenstein was Prometheus and the Monster was the equivalent of saving humans, giving them fire and teaching them the secrets of divination. Assuming that Shelly intended the monster to be an example of a big mistake leading to unintended consequences, did Shelly think that humans were big mistake? One interpretation of the Prometheus is that he did a bad thing by defying Zeus's wishes and saving humans from being destroyed and giving them fire. Shelly must have been a romantic who thought that nature would be so much better off if humans were not on the scene.

I prefer to believe that Shelly was thinking more about the fire given to humans than about humans themselves. Fire can do many good things, but too much of it can be undesirably destructive. It would follow that humans aren't good or bad, but rather how they use the fire given to them that's good or bad.

The Promethean myth was a well known story to those living in the first century Greco-Roman world. That may explain why the new Christian religion spread as quickly as it did among the Greek culture of the middle east, and why they went on to developed the atonement theory. The image of Prometheus being spiked to a boulder has obvious similarities to the Christian crucifixion story. Both stories involve a god saving humans. Thus when a new religion came along that involved Christ dying for sinners, it made sense to the people at the time. It's interesting to note that Eastern Religions that were not influenced by Greek myths did not develop a religion that involved a god suffering for the benefit of humans.

Perhaps God gave the Promethean myth to the ancient Greeks in order to prepare the mind set of the first Century Greco-Roman world to be open the Christian message.

Read in December, 2008
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LibraryThing member JDHomrighausen
Prometheus bound is Aeschylus' play about Prometheus, the minor Greek deity who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind. For this act of rebellion, he is punished by Zeus. He is chained to a rock and forced to endure a crow eating his internal organs every day. By night he regenerates, never to die and never to escape the crow. He only gets freed by Herakles (Hercules), who is strong enough to break the chains binding Prometheus.

As a classics major, I encounter a lot of ancient literature. And much of that literature exists in bland public-domain translations from the late 1800s. Even worse, some translators render beautiful ancient poetry into prose. I avoid as much of that stuff as possible.

This translation is just the opposite. The product of a collaboration between Scully (a poet) and Herington (a classicist), this rendering is a very beautiful even if a bit loose. See this speech by the chorus:

"May Zeus never turn
His world
power against my mind
may I never
to approach the gods
with holy feasts
of blood drenched bulls
where Father Ocean, our father, streams and streams

may I never
say a sinful word

may this be ever
engraved in my mind
not melt
as words on wax

Nothing is sweeter
than life
as long as this may be

always to hope
and feast, keep
the heart while it throbs
alive, lit up
with happiness
O but my blood runs cold, I'm cold, seeing you

raked over with
ten thousand tortures

you won't cower for Zeus,
you've a mind of your own
and you
honor humans

too much! Prometheus!"

Definitely not your standard translation!

I really like how Aeschylus brings out some of the nuances in this story. We're not sure whether or not Prometheus is telling the truth about his motives - he claims he wanted to help humans. We are also not sure whether or not Zeus acted justly or unjustly in punishing Prometheus. Was he being petty and vindictive, or just setting an example for those rebelling against his authority?

I like this edition, because it also has forewards from the translators and an appendix with fragments from the other two plays in the trilogy. (Greek plays entered in the Dionysian theater-competitions were always in a trilogy, which need not be one storyline. "Prometheus Bound" is the first of this trilogy, and the only one we still have. The second and third plays, "Prometheus Unbound" and "Prometheus Firebearer," exist only in scattered quotations and paraphrases from other authors.)

I'll leave with this statement from the translator:

"This is one play that seems to have been written with the head, hands, and heart: bunched, impacted, in the solar plexus. Ideally it would not be read or seen, but undergone." (25)
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LibraryThing member AlCracka
We know the basic story of Prometheus: he gives fire to humans, is punished.

The story in Prometheus Bound is a little more complicated. One of the old school Titans, when their descendants (the Olympian Gods) under Zeus rebel, Prometheus tries to help the Titans; they spurn his help and he then changes sides. But Zeus turns out to be no more beneficent a ruler than Kronos was, so Prometheus once again switches, siding decisively with the common folk - humans - and giving them, along with fire, math, husbandry, and medicine. Now comes the punishment: the play opens as Hephaistos chains him down, and he whines like a bitch for like 30 pages before turning to self-aggrandizement and finally prophesying his own victory and the downfall of Zeus.

No wonder Karl Marx liked this play.

It's not terribly good. Certainly not as good as the Oresteia, and while it's unfair to say that because we're missing the second two parts of the Prometheus trilogy (stay tuned for my review of Percy Bysshe Shelley's recreation of Prometheus Unbound next week,) Prometheus Bound has nowhere near the depth of Agememnon, the first of the Oresteia trilogy and Aeschylus's best work. Apparently modern scholars (only in the past 20 years or so) are leaning towards believing that Prometheus Bound isn't by Aeschylus at all, and I see no reason to disagree.

Prometheus is one of our best metaphors. At his simplest: a genius chooses to share it with the proles against the will of the bosses and is punished. At what this play actually says: a genius goes with the revolution, hoping that life will be better under it; realizes that absolute power corrupts absolutely; and is punished. Either way, useful, although I prefer the second scheme for its depth and for its truth.

As a story it's terrific; whoever wrote this play didn't do a great job of expressing it.

The translation by Scully and Herington falls in the Fagles mode: a few too many modernizations ("Zeus is not / about to mellow," that seriously happened) but some lovely lines as well...uh, no, not really. Fagles can boast that, but Scully/ Herington have at best functional lines. I didn't care for this translation. I can't recommend it.
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LibraryThing member TheInvernessie
I had to read Prometheus Bound for my Greek Tragedies class. I was pleasantly surprised with it, it was relatively quick, and easy to follow. I loved it, quite frankly. It was fun to read, however it felt too short! (Crazy, right?)
LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
An amazing play. This is a recommended read for anyone interested in classics, ancient Greek literature, and drama.
LibraryThing member BayardUS
I can see Prometheus Bound serving as an excellent first play in a trilogy, but unfortunately any sequels to this work have been lost to the sands of time. As a standalone work Prometheus Bound has some fascinating characteristics, but spends so much time on long monologues of exposition and establishing conflicts that never come to fruition that it doesn't succeed in isolation.

As the title would suggest the titan Prometheus takes center stage in this play, the work opening after he has already disobeyed Zeus and given fire (and with it the arts and sciences) to humanity. Prometheus did this knowing full well that he would be punished for it, tortured in fact, but he accepts this fate in order to save mankind. When he is being chained and nailed to the mountainside it's impossible not to note the parallels between the figure of Prometheus and that of Jesus Christ, but while the suffering to redeem others is the same, no third day ascendance is at hand for Prometheus. Likewise, though Prometheus has taken action knowing what fate would result, he does not accept such punishment as did Christ. Prometheus is not going quietly into the night, nor is he a humble figure, but instead he continues to struggle against the injustice that has been done to him and refuses to bow down to the perpetrator of that injustice, despite acknowledging the superior power of Zeus. While Christ acted in accordance with God's wishes and suffered at the hands of those he sought to redeem, Prometheus went against Zeus for the sake of mankind, and suffers at the hands of Zeus because of it. Prometheus is, in short, a fascinating character, the very embodiment of the idea that tyranny should never be bowed to, but always struggled against. He is prideful, to be sure, but is being humble the correct response to injustice?

The other focus of the play is the newly enthroned Zeus, a character who never appears within the text of the play but who nevertheless influences every part of it. Through Prometheus, the chorus, Io, and Hermes the messenger, Aeschylus paints a dictatorial Zeus that has already begun to abuse his power. Zeus lords over both gods and man, taking what he wants and threatening to crush any opposition. He is a powerful God, but far from just, the only character who seems to conflate the two being Hermes his messenger. Of Zeus' newfound power Prometheus states that there "is a sickness, it seems, that goes along with dictatorship-inability to trust one's friends." A lesson still worth knowing now, over 2,400 years after the play was written. Like Prometheus is a fascinating character for resisting tyranny, Zeus is a fascinating character to look to for the descent into tyranny and the corrupting influence of power. He is not just powerful, but the ultimate power in the universe, and while there is the well known adage that "absolute power corrupts absolutely," Zeus' position at the head of the pantheon means that he will have to be dealt with before Prometheus is to be freed, and force is not an option.

In a scant forty pages Aeschylus establishes two fascinating characters (one of which doesn't even appear in person) and sets up a fascinating dynamic between the two. Unfortunately, that is all he does with this piece. The next two plays, if they existed, might have brought to fruition all of the potential this play contains, and if that had occurred then the Prometheus Cycle would have eclipsed the Oresteia and become a centerpiece of classical study. As it stands, however, all we have left is this introductory piece, with all the threads left dangling. We have lost whatever other parts of the cycle existed, and are left to wonder what might have been.
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