The Romantics, Lord Byron, and "Prometheus"

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The Romantics, Lord Byron, and "Prometheus"
The last quarter of the 18th century was a time of social and political turbulence, with revolutions in the United States, France, Ireland and elsewhere. In Great Britain, movement for social change and a more inclusive sharing of power was also growing. This was the backdrop against which the Romantic movement in English poetry emerged. While it is difficult to specifically identify characteristics common to all writers during the Romantic Era, many feel that this movement emphasizes individualism, freedom from rules, spontaneity, solitary life rather than life in society, and the love of beauty and nature.

In the early nineteenth century, the Promethean figure became a central theme/ideal in English literature. Poets, like Lord George Gordon Byron, began writing in the revolutionary spirit of the times and using Prometheus as a symbol of protest against religion, morality, limitations to human endeavors, prejudice, and the abuse of power (Mayerson 46). “Prometheus is one such literary work, published July 1816. Byron is using the character Prometheus to create a poem that becomes a model for rebellion. (DeMoss)

The Prometheus of Byron's poem shares some attributes of other characters from Byron's works. A character embodying these qualities is known as a "Byronic hero", an idealized figure who is characterized by proud individualism, which at time verges on arrogance, and a strong distaste for social norms. One of the main features of the Byronic hero is his rebelliousness, which is a central characteristic of Prometheus.

DeMoss, Virginia:

Prometheus Bound Sketch, By Howard David Johnson 1978



1. Provide a summary statement for every 4-6 lines in the poem. Hand in your marked text, stapled to these questions.

2. What is the primary conflict in the poem? Provide evidence from the text.

3. What is apostrophe, and how is apostrophe used in the poem? Provide examples to support your answer.

4. In the second stanza, to whom does "the Thunderer" allude? Give two pieces of evidence from the text to support your answer.

5. Look at the beginning of the third stanza. What is the oxymoron in the following lines, and what is ironic in the lines, "Thy Godlike crime was to be kind, /To render with thy precepts less / The sum of human wretchedness, /And strengthen Man with his own mind;" given the main conflict presented in the poem?

6. If Prometheus serves as a lesson in revolution, with the imprisoned Titan serving as an emblem of the lone individual in heroic rebellion against mindless tyranny, then: a) who is(are) the tyrant(s) in the poem, and b) how does Prometheus rebel? Find a quote to support each of your answers and explain its relevance.

7. The poem suggests that Prometheus acts as a model for man; it suggests he should be imitated and idolized. a) in what way does the speaker compare Prometheus to Man? and b) According to the speaker, what specifically, should Man learn from Prometheus? Give evidence from the text for your answer.

The Creation of Man by Prometheus

Prometheus and Epimetheus were spared imprisonment in Tartarus because they had not fought with their fellow Titans during the war with the Olympians. They were given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man out of mud, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure.

Prometheus had assigned Epimetheus the task of giving the creatures of the earth their various qualities, such as swiftness, cunning, strength, fur, wings. Unfortunately, by the time he got to man Epimetheus had given all the good qualities out and there were none left for man. So Prometheus decided to make man stand upright as the gods did and to give them fire.

Prometheus loved man more than the Olympians, who had banished most of his family to Tartarus. So when Zeus decreed that man must present a portion of each animal they scarified to the gods Prometheus decided to trick Zeus. He created two piles, one with the bones wrapped in juicy fat, the other with the good meat hidden in the hide. He then bade Zeus to pick. Zeus picked the bones. Since he had given his word Zeus had to accept that as his share for future sacrifices. In his anger over the trick he took fire away from man. However, Prometheus lit a torch from the sun and brought it back again to man. Zeus was enraged that man again had fire. He decided to inflict a terrible punishment on both man and Prometheus.

To punish man, Zeus had Hephaestus create a mortal of stunning beauty. The gods gave the mortal many gifts of wealth. He then had Hermes give the mortal a deceptive heart and a lying tongue. This creation was Pandora, the first women. A final gift was a jar which Pandora was forbidden to open. Thus, completed Zeus sent Pandora down to Epimetheus who was staying amongst the men.

Prometheus had warned Epimetheus not to accept gifts from Zeus but, Pandora's beauty was too great and he allowed her to stay. Eventually, Pandora's curiosity about the jar she was forbidden to open became too great. She opened the jar and out flew all manner of evils, sorrows, plagues, and misfortunes. However, the bottom of the jar held one good thing - hope.

Zeus was angry at Prometheus for three things: being tricked on sacrifices, stealing fire for man, and for refusing to tell Zeus which of Zeus's children would dethrone him. Zeus had his servants, Force and Violence, seize Prometheus, take him to the Caucasus Mountains, and chain him to a rock with unbreakable adamanite chains. Here he was tormented day and night by a giant eagle tearing at his liver. Zeus gave Prometheus two ways out of this torment. He could tell Zeus who the mother of the child that would dethrone him was. Or meet two conditions: First, that an immortal must volunteer to die for Prometheus. Second, that a mortal must kill the eagle and unchain him. Eventually, Chiron the Centaur agreed to die for him and Heracles killed the eagle and unbound him.

Michael Ondaatje's "Prometheus, with Wings"

Michael Ondaatje immigrated to Canada via England in 1962, and became a Canadian citizen in 1965. He attended the University of Toronto (BA) and Queen's (MA). In 1971 Ondaatje began teaching at York University. He received the Order of Canada in 1988.

Michael Ondaatje first gained his literary reputation as a poet. His first books of poetry include The Dainty Monsters (1967), The Man with Seven Toes (1969) and Rat Jelly (1973). The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, an account of the factual and fictional life of the notorious outlaw, won the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARD for poetry in 1970 and has been adapted for stage and produced at Stratford, Toronto and New York. His collection of poems There's a Trick with a Knife I'm Learning to Do (1963-78) won a second Governor General's Award in 1979. Running in the Family (1982) combines poetry and photography to depict the glamorous and unconventional life of his parents and grandparents in colonial Ceylon. Secular Love: Poems was published in 1984, and Handwriting: Poems in 1998. His selected poems, entitled The Cinnamon Peeler, appeared in 1992.

Michael Ondaatje's novel Coming Through Slaughter (1976) tells of real and imagined events in the life of New Orleans jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden. In the Skin of a Lion (1987) is a novel that takes place in Toronto in the 1930s. The English Patient (1992) is Ondaatje's most acclaimed novel to date. Set in Tuscany, Italy, at the end of World War II, the novel holds readers fascinated by both the present dramatic circumstances and astonishing pasts of the characters in this epic tale of the physical and emotional damage inflicted by war and love. In addition to winning another Governor General's Award for fiction in 1992, it earned Ondaatje a share of the prestigious Booker Prize, the first ever awarded to a Canadian. A 1996 film version of the novel won 9 Academy Awards.



1. What imagery does Ondaatje employ to heighten the reader's sympathy toward Prometheus? Discuss, providing examples from the text.

2. What do you make of the description of the dusk as growing "fat and brown"?

3. Why does the bird leave "frowning?"

4. "His crackled knuckles" is an example of what poetic device?

5. Why does the poet include a description of Prometheus' "whitened eye" in the second to last line? What purpose does this description serve at this point in the poem?

6. What is it, about Prometheus' actions at the end of the poem, that ultimately puzzles Zeus? Explain.

7. What is the meaning of the title, do you suppose?

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