Prometheus Bound | Study Guide

Aeschylus

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Prometheus Bound | Episode 1 | Summary

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Summary

Prometheus explains to the Chorus when the gods first broke into two factions—those who wanted to overthrow Cronos and establish Zeus as an absolute king, and those opposed to the idea of Zeus's rule—he advised his fellow Titans cunning and intelligence would determine who would rule, but they believed brute force would triumph. When the Titans wouldn't listen to him, he decided to join Zeus's side. Prometheus gave Zeus the advice to imprison the Titans in Tartarus. And now Zeus shows "his black ingratitude" by chaining Prometheus here. "To look on all friends with suspicion" is typical of a tyrant.

He goes on to explain when Zeus first took the throne he also resolved to wipe out the human race, and Prometheus was the only one to oppose Zeus's plan. Prometheus saved humankind "from being ground / To dust." It is because of his pity for humankind he is being pitilessly tortured, which is a shame on Zeus. He then tells the Chorus he offended Zeus further, in two more ways. First he caused humans to "no longer foresee their death[s]," planting "firmly in their hearts blind hopefulness" instead. And then Prometheus gave them fire, with which they will "master many crafts." Prometheus tells the Chorus there will be no end to his ordeal until Zeus changes his mind. Commenting on the hopelessness of his situation, the Chorus asks him if he doesn't perhaps see he was wrong. Prometheus says yes, he "willed, willed to be wrong!" by helping humans although he never thought his punishment would be this bad, wasting away on this desolate rock.

At this point Oceanus enters, telling Prometheus he grieves along with him, not only because they are related by blood, but because Oceanus respects Prometheus and wants to help him. Oceanus advises Prometheus to adapt to the situation and to be careful of what he says lest Zeus hear him and make his situation worse. Oceanus also tells Prometheus his plight is the result of "a too proud-speaking tongue" and advises Prometheus to be more humble. In the meantime Oceanus will try to see if he can win Prometheus's release.

Prometheus tells Oceanus not to bother, because Zeus will not be persuaded and Oceanus may get himself into trouble. Prometheus does not wish others to suffer, and he still grieves over the fate of his brother Atlas, who must hold up the pillar of heaven and Earth. Prometheus also pities Typhon, who was defeated by Zeus's thunderbolt. So Prometheus warns Oceanus to save himself; Prometheus will wait until Zeus's anger subsides. Oceanus asserts words can heal anger, but Prometheus says only when they are spoken at the right time. Oceanus wants to know what Prometheus thinks of Oceanus risking sympathizing with him. Prometheus thinks Oceanus is being foolish. Oceanus then says, "Let me be guilty then of foolishness." But Prometheus warns Oceanus, again, to avoid Zeus's anger and sends him on his way.

Analysis

Prometheus, in this scene, is once again associated with cunning, intelligence, and forethought because of the advice he offers the Titans, advice he learned from his mother Themis (also known as Earth). Despite his current suffering, Prometheus seems to know how things will turn out, and warns Oceanus not to waste his time by trying to intervene on his behalf.

Episode 1 emphasizes both Prometheus's compassion and his pride. He is established as a figure that has made a great sacrifice—himself—for the sake of humankind. He also pities the suffering of other gods, and he doesn't want to see Oceanus suffer because of him. On the other hand, Prometheus continues to assert his identity as the ultimate rebel who "willed to be wrong"—to defy a cruel tyrant on purpose—and he refuses to cease speaking his mind.

The theme of Zeus's tyranny comes up again in several ways. Zeus's ingratitude for Prometheus's advice reflects the new Olympian god's inability to trust his friends. And the attitudes of the Chorus and Oceanus—they must be careful not to offend a powerful ruler—reflect the attitudes of citizens who seek to get along the best they can under a tyrant's rule. Such attitudes would be familiar to the citizens of Athens, who had only recently lived under the rule of a tyrant.

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