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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Prometheus Bound - Aeschylus, James Scully, C. John Herington 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.