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Prometheus

Προμηθευς

The Rebel God

Prometheus

Deukalion
The False Sacrifice
The Gift of Fire
Pandora
Prometheus and Io
The Age of Prometheus
Text References

Prometheus is the son of the Titans, Iapetos (Iapetus) and Klymene (Clymene) ... his name means Forethought. His brothers are: Atlas, Epimetheus and Menoitios (Menoetius).

Prometheus was a god long before Zeus took the Throne of Eternity on Mount Olympos (Olympus). His parents were Titans as were Zeus's ... in that respect, he and Zeus might be thought of as cousins. When the Titans rose in war against the new Olympians, Prometheus fought on the side of Zeus but despite his contempt for the race of Titans, Prometheus never had true respect for Zeus. He feared that the new Olympians had no compassion for each other or the mortals on the earth below.

Although Prometheus appeared to be subservient to Zeus, he committed two flagrant acts of disrespect which earned the wrath and punishment of Zeus.

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Deukalion (Deucalion)

Deukalion was the son of Prometheus. Deukalion and his wife Pyrrha built a boat at the advice of Prometheus and survived the flood which Zeus sent to destroy all humanity.

Zeus was determined to exterminate the human race because the children of the Immortals (demigods) were mating with mortals. Zeus wanted the two races (Immortals and mortals) to live separately on the earth but he could not keep them from consorting with one another; the flood was intended to solve that problem. After the waters subsided, Deukalion and Pyrrha repopulated the earth by throwing stones onto the earth; the stones which Deukalion threw became men and those which Pyrrha threw became women.

When Jason was trying to retrieve the Golden Fleece, he told Medeia (Medea) that Deukalion was the first man to build cities and build temples to the Immortals. Deukalion was the first ruler of men.

Deukalion and Pyrrha were also the parents of Thyia and Hellen. Thyia mated with Zeus and was the mother of Macedon and Magnes. Hellen was the founder of all the Greek races.

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The False Sacrifice

Prometheus's first act of rebellion was to try and make Zeus look foolish by offering him a false sacrifice. Prometheus prepared two animal sacrifices for Zeus ... he made one of fat and bones and the other of the finest meat. Prometheus offered the two to Zeus expecting him to mistakenly choose the fat and bones because Prometheus had wrapped the fat in such a way that it looked to be the most sincere tribute of the two. Zeus saw through the trick and magnanimously controlled his anger. He warned Prometheus not to provoke him but did not punish him. As a way of showing how little the trick had effected him, Zeus commanded that, in the future, all animal sacrifices would be of fat and bones.

Zeus had many plans for the reshaping of creation. After the fall of his father, Kronos (Cronos), and his confinement in Tartaros, Zeus took no interest in the mortal race of men on the bountiful earth ... he intended for them to live as primitives until they died off. Zeus said that knowledge and divine gifts would only bring misery to the mortals and he insisted that Prometheus not interfere with his plans.

Despite Zeus's warning, Prometheus took pity on the primitive mortals and again deceived Zeus. Prometheus gave the mortals all sorts of gifts: brickwork, woodworking, methods for telling the seasons by the stars, numbers, the alphabet (so that they could record and remember things), yoked oxen, carriages, saddles, ships and sails. He also gave other gifts: healing drugs, the gift of prophecy, signs in the sky, the mining of precious metals, animal sacrifice and all forms of art.

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The Gift of Fire

To compound his crime, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to the mortals in their dark caves. The question arises as to whether Prometheus actually stole the fire from Zeus or whether he simply showed the mortals how to kindle fire themselves. Zeus wielded the lightening but Prometheus is credited with the invention of fire. Regardless, fire was given to the mortals without Zeus's permission. The gift of divine fire unleashed a flood of inventiveness, productivity and, most of all, respect for the immortal gods. In a very brief time (by Immortal standards), culture, art, and literacy permeated the land around Mount Olympos (Olympus). When Zeus realized the deception that Prometheus had fostered, he was furious. He had Hephaistos (Hephaestus) shackle Prometheus to the side of a crag, high in the Caucasus mountains. There Prometheus would hang until the fury of Zeus subsided.

Each day, Prometheus would be tormented by Zeus's eagle as it tore at his immortal flesh and tried to devour his liver. Each night, as the frost bit its way into his sleep, the torn flesh would mend so that the eagle could begin anew at the first touch of Eos (the Dawn).

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Pandora

Zeus's anger did not stop there. He gave the mortals one more gift to undo all the good Prometheus had done. He fashioned a hateful thing in the shape of a young girl and called her Pandora. Her name means, 'giver of all' or 'all endowed.' Her body was made by Hephaistos (Hephaestus) ... he gave her form and voice. Athene (Athena) gave her dexterity and inventiveness. Aphrodite (goddess of Love) put a spell of enchantment around her head and Hermes put pettiness in her tiny brain. She was ready for the world. (Theogony, lines 561-602) (Works and Days, lines 60-105)

Zeus gave Pandora to Prometheus's brother, Epimetheus. Epimetheus knew better than to trust Zeus and he had been warned by Prometheus never to accept gifts from the Olympians, especially Zeus, but when Epimetheus saw Pandora he was rendered helpless ... he could not resist her and accepted her willingly. When the gift was opened, evil and despair entered into this world ... mistrust and disease spread over the wide earth. After Pandora was emptied of her curse, only Hope was left inside ... unreasonable, groundless Hope that transforms the curse of life into a blessing.

And so, Prometheus was destined to suffer at the hands of his own kind ... gods punishing gods. To him, the saddest part of his punishment was the implication that the gods (Zeus in particular) had lost their right to rule because they had lost their compassion.

As Prometheus was hanging, shackled to the rock-face, he spoke to Okeanos (Ocean) and the daughters of the Rivers. They were all shocked at Zeus's excesses but Prometheus warned them not to speak out against Zeus ... he was quite correct when he told them it would do no good ... he said that Zeus would soon fall from his throne and they had but to wait for that inevitable moment.

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Prometheus and Io

When the Heifer-Maiden Io, who was also being punished by Zeus, came upon Prometheus and the daughters of Okeanos, she wanted to know her future. Prometheus, even in his tortured condition, tried to spare the feelings of the poor girl. She had been transformed into a black and white heifer and was cursed to wander the earth, prodded by an evil gadfly, because she had refused the amorous advances of Zeus. Prometheus knew that Io's future was only slightly better than his but he considered her to be lucky because she was mortal and would eventually die and be rid of her earthly torment. Prometheus, on the other hand, was immortal ... his torment would last forever.

The journey of Io was crucial to the release of Prometheus from his bonds. After her wandering journey to Egypt, Io was returned to her human form and had a glorious son named Epaphos ... his bloodline continued for thirteen generations and from Io's descendants Herakles (Heracles) was born. Just as Zeus had ordained, Herakles climbed the mountain, killed the eagle and freed Prometheus from his shackles ... or so the story goes. However, there is serious doubt as to whether the Herakles who freed Prometheus was descended from Io ... in fact, the Herakles who freed Prometheus predated Io's descendants by tens of thousands of years.

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Prometheus

The Age of Prometheus

Prometheus is truly an ancient Immortal. As a child of Titans, his was only the second generation of Immortals to assume human form and this might be the reason why he demonstrated such sympathy for the shivering and frightened men who populated the earth. Prometheus was the same approximate age as the Olympians and Prometheus's sympathetic attitude towards men was also evident in the actions of Demeter, Histia (Hestia), Poseidon, Athene (Athena) and also with younger Immortals such as Hephaistos (Hephaestus), Artemis and Apollon.

The time in which Prometheus flourished was after the Titans fell from power and Zeus and the Olympians seized control of all creation. This would have been before mankind had been given fire and before womankind had been created. When Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to men, there was a twofold punishment: 1) Prometheus was chained to the Caucasus mountains and 2) Pandora, the first woman, was created.

If we use the creation of Pandora as a time reference, we might assume that she was created no later than 40,000 years ago. Likewise, the gift of fire might be placed at nearly the same point in time. When those things happened, Prometheus was a young adult.

We might also use Prometheus's relationship with Herakles to further determine the age in which Prometheus flourished. However, this correlation might not be as easy to establish as you would suspect.

The Herakles who freed Prometheus from the mountain was not the same Herakles who was the son of Zeus and Alkmene (Alcmene) ... he was not the Herakles who was given the Twelve Labors or who accompanied Jason and the Argonauts on the Quest for the Golden Fleece.

There were at least two and possibly three hero/gods named Herakles. To say that there were three Herakles's is within the realm of possibility but the number two is more likely and seems sufficient to account for the ancient and traditional deeds attributed to Herakles. The historian Herodotus mentions the probability of an ancient Herakles but Diodorus Siculus extends the possibility that there were three hero/gods named Herakles. The third Herakles mentioned by Diodorus Siculus was supposedly born on the island of Crete and was said to be one of the Idaean Daktyls (Dactyls) who were named after the mountain on which they lived ... Mount Ida ... they were best known as metal workers and magicians. This third Herakles would have lived several generations before the traditional Herakles. Diodorus does not specifically say that this Herakles was a son of Zeus.

For the sake of simplicity, we will limit this discussion to two Herakles's ... an ancient Herakles and the traditional Herakles.

With the passage of time, the exploits of the ancient and traditional Herakles have been homogenized to reflect the deeds of one individual. The ancient Herakles was born in Egypt to an unnamed mother and was the one who freed Prometheus from his bondage ... he lived approximately 40,000 years ago. The traditional Herakles was the son of Alkmene and was born circa 1300 BCE.

To add another element to the mystery as to when Herakles freed Prometheus from the mountain, we must consider the fact that when the Argonauts were sailing to the eastern shore of the Euxine (Black Sea), they distinctly heard and saw the eagle which had been tormenting Prometheus on the mountain. If you will recall, each day Zeus sent an eagle to tear at Prometheus's liver and each night the wounds would heal so the eagle could start afresh each morning.

If the eagle the Argonauts saw was the one which tormented Prometheus, that would mean that Prometheus was still chained to the Caucasus mountains one generation before the Trojan War ... this would have been circa 1480 BCE. Prometheus was chained to the mountain for thirteen generations before Herakles freed him. If we count a generation as thirty years, that would mean that Prometheus was chained circa 1970 BCE and freed circa 1480 BCE ... that time frame does not seem to be right ... the possibility that the Argonauts might have been mistaken must be seriously considered.

Using the available facts and trying to be as thoughtful and conservative as possible, it would seem that the time-frame most suited for Prometheus and his defiance of Zeus would have been at the dawn of human civilization or sometime prior to 40,000 years ago.

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Text References

Theogony

Works and Days

Catalogue of Women

(Loeb Classical Library vol. 503, Hesiod II)

The Argonautika by Apollonius Rhodius

Library of History by Diodorus Siculus

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Description of Greece by Pausanias

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