Prometheus Bound | Study Guide

Aeschylus

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Prometheus Bound | Prologos | Summary

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Summary

Two attendants of Zeus, Strength (often translated as Power) and Violence, drag Prometheus to the barren wastes of remote Scythia, while Hephaestus, the smith god (for his iron-forging skill), follows. Strength reminds Hephaestus he has been ordered to chain Prometheus to this rocky cliff for stealing fire for humankind. Strength tells Prometheus he must "accept the sovereignty of Zeus" and stop helping humanity. Hephaestus says he doesn't have the heart to chain Prometheus to this rock, but knows he has no choice. Hephaestus then tells Prometheus here he will hear no human voice, but will suffer in the blazing sun and shiver in the cold night. Every hour will bring him pain, and the one destined to free him has not yet even been born. Here he will eternally stand without rest, groaning and crying. Zeus will not soften: "Power newly won is always harsh."

Strength tells Hephaestus to stop wasting time and urges the smith god on as he first binds one arm and then the other to the rock. Strength mocks Prometheus's supposed wisdom in the face of Zeus's power. Then he orders Hephaestus to drive an adamantine wedge through Prometheus's chest. Hephaestus weeps over what he has to do, but Strength cruelly spurs him on to place iron bands around Prometheus's ribs and shackles on his legs, jeering at the smith god's softness while the god performs the task. Finally, his job done, Hephaestus leaves. Then Strength taunts Prometheus for his arrogance in stealing the privileges of gods for mortal men. Strength asks rhetorically if humans will be able to help Prometheus, and then mocks his supposed wisdom (his name means "Wise-before-the-event"), saying he'll need a lot of wisdom to get out of these bonds.

Prometheus then calls on the sky, the winds, the sea, and the earth to witness what has been done to him by other gods. He asks them to see his prison and his agony, and wonders when it will end. Then he remembers he knows how it will end. Just then he notices the sound of fluttering wings. It is the Chorus, the daughters of Oceanus (Ocean), who fly in, dancing and singing.

Analysis

The brutal treatment of Prometheus by the thuggish Strength and Violence helps to establish the idea Zeus, as the new king of Olympus, is acting like a cruel tyrant. A completely authoritarian autocrat, Zeus rules without law and uses brute force to control his subjects and punish and intimidate his enemies. Prometheus, in opposing Zeus, is portrayed as "the rebel" who "swell[s] with upstart arrogance; and steal[s] / The privileges of gods," and is therefore the object of Zeus's paranoia and rage. Although Hephaestus is the unwilling technician who dares not oppose Zeus, Strength is clearly the evil henchman, delighting in taunting both Prometheus and the softhearted Hephaestus.

As befits a scene in which the orders of a tyrant are executed, the prologos is full of cruelty and bullying. Strength echoes the anger of his master, Zeus, at the rebellious Prometheus: "Let him learn / That all his wisdom is but folly before Zeus." Hephaestus, by his hesitance and his compassion for the suffering he is about to inflict, helps to highlight the cruelty of Zeus's orders: "Alas! I weep, Prometheus, for your sufferings." In this way Hephaestus becomes a foil to the jeering Strength, who continually taunts and threatens Hephaestus for being slow to execute his task: "Still shrinking? Weeping for the enemy of Zeus? / Take care; or you may need your pity for yourself." All of the dialogue between Hephaestus and Strength supports the notion Zeus, as a new ruler, is unbending and unmoved by suffering. As Hephaestus notes, "Power newly won is always harsh."

From the very beginning, Prometheus is portrayed as a hero to humankind: he stole fire for men, "acting as champion of the human race." The prologos quickly (and continually) wins the sympathy of the human audience by repeatedly mentioning he is being punished for "bestowing gifts upon mankind." It is his "kindness to the human race" that has earned his punishment, his daring to confer "the privileges of gods [on] ... mortal men." His gift has far-reaching benefits for humanity, because it "has proved / for men a teacher in every art, their grand resource."

Prometheus's identification as a god who is "Wise-before-the-event" is introduced in this scene. Strength taunts him about his name, telling him, "Wisdom is just the thing you want ... / To squirm your way out of this blacksmith's masterpiece!" Although Prometheus at first wonders about his fate, he realizes he knows what will happen: "no torment will come unforeseen."

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