Firstly Prometheus saves humankind from destruction. Zeus had planned to replace man with a more perfect species since he had become overlord at Olympus after his victory over the Titans. Prometheus steals fire from his forge and gives it to



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Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus

When you are reading this play consider some of the following points:

  • Prometheus has many excellent qualities and like all tragic heroes we are drawn to him and like a great deal about him. Firstly Prometheus saves humankind from destruction. Zeus had planned to replace man with a more perfect species since he had become overlord at Olympus after his victory over the Titans. Prometheus steals fire from his forge and gives it to man. Secondly with this “gift”, man can and does develop all of the metallurgical arts as well as agriculture. This sacred fire also gives man hope and wisdom. So Prometheus does more than save man – he elevates and improves humankind from a state of rank brutality. Thirdly Prometheus is a compassionate God. When he meets the misfortunate Io for the first time he declares “I was lamenting my pains, I have ceased now”. His compassion is compounded by his unwillingness to tell Io of her future wanderings and suffering, “I shrink from shattering your heart”.



  • However like the archetypical tragic hero, Prometheus does nothing to improve his own situation – he is arrogant and stubborn. He cannot fathom why he should have to suffer at the hands of Zeus, whom he knows will call on him some day to save him from being deposed by a heir. Prometheus’ gift of foreknowledge makes him arrogant – Zeus simply does not know what he knows and yet he must be brutalised by Zeus. This outrages Prometheus who is helpless to fend off Zeus’ superior strength. Equally his dismissal of Oceanos is quite arrogant considering this God was only trying to help and console Prometheus and give him sound advise about how to avoid further punishment, he tells Oceanos to “Go get out be what you are”. At the end of the play Prometheus’ treatment of Hermes cannot be quite understood by either the Chorus or Hermes – “Thought and words like this are what one may hear by lunatics” declares Hermes when he hears Prometheus rant and rave. In the end when Zeus sends down the eagle to feast on Prometheus’ liver, he has no one else to blame but himself. He had rejected all the good advice and friendship given to him and he had further enraged Zeus by teasing him with his foreknowledge of what is to happen in the future. He might have been wiser to keep his thoughts to himself and shorten his torment in Tartarus.



  • It is also clear that Zeus is ruling as an absolute king. “Power newly gained is always harsh”, All of the gods are afraid of him. Hephaestus says to Prometheus that “to slight what Zeus has spoken is a fearful thing”. He knows that even though he disagrees with the punishment, he has no choice put to nail Prometheus to the rock. Even Might and violence, who do Zeus’ bidding unquestionably, give out to him for showing pity to Prometheus. Similarly Oceanos also pities Prometheus put fears Zeus; He even says that he will go to Zeus to speak on his behalf. Oceanos urges Prometheus to accept the new reality – Zeus is in charge, “we are ruled by one whose harsh domain no one can charge”. At the end of the play Hermes also asks Prometheus to acknowledge who is in control and to divulge the secret about Zeus’ ill fated marriage and son. When Prometheus refuses, Hermes gives him a vivid account of the torture he is to endure. So while it is clear that Oceanos and indeed the Chorus support Prometheus, They along with the other gods either fear Zeus, or accept that he is in charge and in control. The only God to stand up to Zeus in fact Prometheus himself.



  • Zeus then appears to be a tyrant. He has Prometheus punished for doing a seemingly good deed – saving man. He orders Might and Violence to bound Prometheus horribly and brutally. He has Hephaestos and Oceanos running scared of him. He fails to protect Io from the Jealously of Hera and does nothing immediately to prevent her misery. In his battle with the Titans he has Typhos sizzled with his arrows and Atlas punished by holding the globe on his back. Indeed it is in his mind to abolish mankind altogether. At the end of the drama he further heightens Prometheus’ suffering by having an eagle eat his liver and this torment is to be prolonged for a thousand years. Throughout the drama, none of the gods want to offend Zeus, or want to hear Prometheus offend him. All urge caution and restraint. They are afraid of Zeus. There is a lack of free speech among the gods because no one wants to suffer at the hands of Zeus. There are other gods in the play who unquestionably do Zeus’ bidding. Hermes, Might and Violence might be considered Zeus’ SS - his storm troopers - they carry out his heavy-handed orders immediately and without delay. There loyalty is undoubted. Even the Chorus, who are normally balanced and fair minded, say of Zeus, “Zeus ruling by laws of his own invention provides an example of his proud power over the gods of the past”.


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