ALIENATION OF THE HUMAN AND DIVINE: PROMETHEUS, FIRE, AND
The ambiguity of Hesiod’s creation account also exists in his view of human
history: with Zeus as the new leader of the gods, the universe is less chaotic,
but humans are worse off than before.
When Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to humans, Zeus, already
angered by Prometheus’s tricking him into accepting the inferior parts of the
sacrifice, chains him to a mountain crag, where an eagle feasts on his liver.
While Hesiod describes Prometheus as a mere trouble-making trickster (an
archetypal character), other versions of the myth show him as cultural hero and
even as creator of the first human being.
The trickster archetype is common to many mythologies. Typically, this
character is cunning, quick-witted, and mischievous.
He loves to outsmart
others and cause trouble.
He may also be a cultural hero.
According to Hesiod, the mentality of the trickster was critical in shaping the
cosmos and human society.
Uranus, Cronus, Zeus, Prometheus, and Hermes all
repesent this archetype.
Hesiod depicts Prometheus as a troublemaker.
emphasizes his philanthropy (love of humanity), which motivates his
interference with Zeus.
Hermes, although a quintessential trickster, is also indispensable in various ways
to Zeus’s government of the universe. Autolycus, his son, is a notorious human
trickster and also maternal grandfather of Odysseus—another superb trickster.
Aeschylus turns Hesiod’s depictions of Zeus and Prometheus on their ear.
, Zeus is an immature and tyrannical ruler and Prometheues
is a champion of freedom.
, Prometheus suffers a terrible punishment
after giving fire—a metaphor for all the arts of civilization—to miserable
10. To punish men for accepting Prometheus’s gift, Zeus has Hephaestus make the
first woman, Pandora. Before Pandora, men mingled with the gods; after her
appearance, the gods withdraw from the world of mortals.
11. Here Hesiod emphasizes a connection between food, sacrifice, fire, cooking, and
woman: the guilt of killing a fellow creature and the breaking of human ties to
nature is compounded by cooking and eating the animal. As a result of this act,
human ties to the gods are also broken: cooking and using the sacrificial ox as
a medium of communication means that the gods will no longer dine with men
but will only inhale the smoke of the sacrifice.
12. The Greek and Judeo-Christian traditions agree on seeing woman as the catalyst
of humanity’s historical decline.