Prometheus: Archetypal Image of Human Existence

by Carl Kerényi

Other authorsRalph Manheim (Translator)
Book, 1997



Call number


Call number



Princeton University Press (1997), Edition: Revised, 184 pages

Physical description

184 p.; 9 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member Zare
Although Kerenyi is always mentioned in same sentence with Jung I think lots of people are wrong with this. Although Kerenyi might have surfed the wave of Jung's mysticism, his goal (first and foremost) was to establish scientific approach to mythology (as he says in the foreword to the book - he
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used Archetypal in the title because it became everyday word, not because he wanted it linked to Jung's school). Kerenyi wanted to ensure that mythology is never looked at outside of the context (human life) and the role it played in it. Only when looked in the context of everyday life and beliefs mythology plays its role.

Considering that Greeks weren't very fond of their pantheon (at least not in a way monotheistic religions are) - by giving some of them very human nature and habits they tried to ground them into the reality of the world as they saw it. They might have been mighty and immortal, but squabbling bunch with short tempers. They weren't omnipotent but part of the greater scene where primordial forces like time (Kronos) and creation (Gaia) ruled everyone. So nobody was outside the reach so to speak - there was order of things in the universe. New gods led by Zeus and his Olympians were just that - new pantheon ruling in the skies that managed to obtain power after bringing old order - Titans - down. But as any rule achieved by force it is an unsteady one and soon they turn their attention to humanity they see as a potential threat.

And this is how we get to myth of Prometheus. By going through Prometheus myth from ancient times and legends to modern writers like Goethe and Shelley Kerenyi manages to give us clear picture of the Prometheus' life and role he played.

Titan (old god) who defied Zeus (ruler of heaven) in order to make sure humanity survives and prospers - by acts of trickery and outright theft of fire. Titan who accepted his punishment because he wanted to be closer to humanity, who decided to suffer in the same way humanity does (seemingly caught in infinite loop of suffering - in body and in mind - while always striving to be better) aware that it will take millennia to be relived of it.

By taking this suffering on himself Prometheus tries to get closer to man (which is usually opposite from "standard" stories of men trying to get closer to divine) - in some of legends Prometheus created the humanity -and gives him a nudge toward science, prosperity and civilization in general. He becomes the embodiment of humanity - "forethought" that always pushes forward to new achievements but [unfortunately] always with "afterthought" given to possible consequences of their actions.

His punishment is temporary (although for humans this time span is just too huge so it looks like eons) and he knows he will, ultimately, be saved. So you might say there is no tension here but this does not minimize his actions. He decides to take the punishment on himself because he knows he can handle it while humanity might end up wiped out from the face of the world. So it is quite something to have a deity ready to sacrifice itself to ensure survival of human kind against ever changing temper of "righteous" gods.

Very interesting book. Recommended to everyone interested in the mythology.
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