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Prometheus Bound | Symbols

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Fire

The most salient symbol in Prometheus Bound is that of fire. Fire is the element with which Prometheus is most commonly associated in art and literature. It is his gift of fire to humanity that has always defined him as a friend to humans, and it is his act of stealing fire for humans that results in the punishment the audience witnesses in the play. Aeschylus develops the importance of fire further, by suggesting fire is the key to all human arts and sciences: "Fire has proved / For men a teacher in every art, their grand resource." Furthermore, Aeschylus seems to suggest Prometheus has given humans fire not only in a physical sense but also in a symbolic sense. Prometheus has breathed fire into the human spirit, giving humans the ability to think and create: "At first / Mindless, I gave them mind and reason."

Chains

Chains are an important symbol in Prometheus Bound. The only real action that occurs onstage during the play is the binding of Prometheus in chains. His chaining to the rocky cliff is his peculiar punishment for his singular crime: stealing fire for humans. By being punished this way, he is on display for all to see and jeer at his suffering, unlike the other Titans who are banished in the depths of Tartarus. In the Parodos Prometheus wishes, "Would that Zeus had sunk me under the earth, / ... / Into the immensity of Tartarus, / ... / That no god or any other creature / Might feel glad to see me suffer. / Instead I am the miserable sport of every wind." Chains also represent the physicality of Zeus's brutal rule. He causes Prometheus to be physically restrained and impaled in order to dominate him. However, Prometheus's power lies not in the physical but in the mental realm: he will escape these chains by making use of his knowledge.

Gadfly

Io, the mortal who has been turned into a cow, is pursued by a biting gadfly, sent by Hera to sting and madden Io, just as events were ordained by the oracle Io's father, Inachus. The annoying, painful gadfly causes Io to roam ceaselessly from land to land. Stung by the gadfly in Episode 3, she cries out, "Insanity falls on me like a raging storm / And drives me off course." This kind of continual suffering set in motion by the hand of a god renders her a parallel figure to Prometheus, who is chained to the rock indefinitely and, according to Hermes's warning, will be attacked daily by an eagle sent by Zeus.

Questions for Symbols

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