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Prometheus Bound | Study Guide


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Prometheus Bound | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram



In the barren wastes of Scythia, two thuggish attendants of Zeus, Strength and Violence, drag Prometheus over to a cliff, to be chained to a rock by Hephaestus. Prometheus is being punished for stealing fire for humankind. Hephaestus, calling Zeus a harsh ruler, reluctantly chains Prometheus to the rock and then hammers a sharp adamantine (unbreakable) wedge through his chest, while Strength hurries Hephaestus on. When Hephaestus leaves, Strength jeers at Prometheus for helping the weak humans and mocks Prometheus's supposed wisdom.


Just after Prometheus calls on the elements of nature to witness his suffering, a Chorus (of sea nymphs called Oceanids), the daughters of Oceanus, visits him. The Chorus, aware of Zeus's tyrannical rule, is sympathetic to Prometheus's suffering. Prometheus says he will be needed in the future to reveal the way Zeus will one day be overthrown, but Prometheus will not reveal it until he is freed from the rock. The Chorus advises him to curb his speech, but Prometheus believes one day Zeus will soften.

Episode 1

Prometheus explains how he originally wanted to help his Titan brothers against Zeus's faction, but the Titans believed only in brute force, so Prometheus joined Zeus's side, offering him valuable advice. But now Zeus, suspicious of even his friends, like a typical tyrant, is repaying Prometheus with this torture. The reason for his punishment, Prometheus says, is when Zeus threatened to wipe out the human race, Prometheus pitied humankind, giving them blind hope and the gift of fire. Prometheus is not sorry for what he did, but he did not think the punishment would be this bad.

Oceanus enters, saying he is a friend of Prometheus's and he wants to help. Oceanus advises Prometheus to be careful about saying things that will further offend Zeus. Oceanus says he will try to intervene on Prometheus's behalf, but Prometheus, unwilling to see another being suffer the way he and his brother Atlas are suffering, tells Oceanus not to risk getting into trouble.

Stasimon 1

The Chorus, weeping for Prometheus, calls Zeus a tyrant who invents his own laws.

Episode 2

Prometheus explains to the Chorus how at first mortals were little more than beasts until he gave them the ability to reason and reflect and taught them all the various arts and sciences.

The Chorus hopes Prometheus will one day be freed, but Prometheus says it will occur only after much suffering.

Stasimon 2

The Chorus expresses the hope they may never anger Zeus.

Episode 3

At this point the mortal Io enters. She was a beautiful maiden who was the object of Zeus's lust. To avoid Hera's suspicion, he turned Io into a cow, and Hera set a multi-eyed herdsman, Argus, to watch Io and a gadfly to follow and sting her. Io believes Zeus is tormenting her, and she is being driven mad by the gadfly. Prometheus, who recognizes her, identifies himself to her. She then tells the Chorus the source of her sufferings: her seduction by Zeus through nighttime visions that caused her father to turn her out of his house, leading to her current wanderings.

Prometheus proves he knows her story and then prophecies in the future she will wander through many savage lands and ultimately settle in the Nile delta. After that, Zeus will impregnate her, and, ultimately, a descendant of hers will free Prometheus from his present bondage.

Stasimon 3

The Chorus sings about how it is better for a person not to marry above their station in life, a comment on what befell Io.


Prometheus repeats the prophecy Zeus will one day marry a woman who will bear a son who will overthrow him, and only he, Prometheus, can show Zeus how to avoid this. Although the Chorus warns him not to say such things so openly, Prometheus refuses to cringe before Zeus.

Hermes, Zeus's messenger, enters and orders Prometheus to tell him of the marriage that will lead to Zeus's fall from power, but Prometheus refuses. Hermes admonishes Prometheus for his bad attitude, but Prometheus says he'd rather be chained to a rock than be Zeus's servant. Prometheus says there is no way Zeus can induce him to reveal the secret before Zeus frees Prometheus from his bonds.

Hermes tells Prometheus he is just being foolishly stubborn and warns him of the consequences of disobeying Zeus. The Chorus urges Prometheus to listen to Hermes's advice, but Prometheus remains unmoved. Hermes exits, and then Zeus causes earthquakes, thunder, winds, and waves, as the rock collapses out of sight.

Prometheus Bound Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Prometheus is chained to the rocky cliff by Hephaestus.

Rising Action

2 Prometheus describes to the Chorus why he has been punished.

3 Oceanus tells Prometheus to curb his speech.

4 Io arrives, and Prometheus predicts her future.


5 Hermes demands Prometheus reveal the secret of Zeus's doom.

Falling Action

6 Prometheus refuses to speak until he is freed from his bonds.


7 Zeus causes an earthquake and sinks the rocky cliff.

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