- What do you feel when you see this picture?
- What do you associate with fire?
- Try to think of activities you couldn’t do if you didn’t know how to make fire.
Cultural Heritage Background
According to Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods. In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human effort (particularly the search for scientific knowledge) and the risk of failing and its consequences. In the Romantic era he represented the solitary genius who makes efforts to improve human existence that can result in tragedy. Mary Shelley, for instance, gave “The Modern Prometheus” as the subtitle to her novel “Frankenstein” (1818).
Scientific developments made it possible to control diseases, improve food systems, reduce pests, and facilitate communication and the distribution of culture. With all these advances we became more pragmatic. But in many cases this pragmatism hurts our humanity. We become slaves of things and achievements.
In today’s fast-turning world, reaching one goal is only the beginning of reaching the next. This can be very positive, because we always want to go further. But completing a project is not the only important thing: reflecting on it and enjoying what we achieve is also an important part of our project. We need to be sure that what we get is really what we want and need. Otherwise, our work will never end, like Prometheus’ punishment. Unending work is also represented by the story of Sisyphus. He was forced to push a stone up a mountain. Every night, the stone fell back down, and he had to start again from the beginning.
Listen to a fragment of the poem Prometheus by Lord Byron and fill in the gaps.
Reading the story
A muscular Prometheus lies on the rocks. His left hand is chained to a rock. The blue-and-white cloth under him barely covers him. In this painting, Prometheus is depicted in the light, with a strong contrast between him and the darkness around him. The eagle is particularly dark. It represents the evil force that Prometheus has attracted by stealing fire from the Greek gods and giving it to humans.
Prometheus looks at the eagle, with its wings spread out, as he almost falls off the rocks (but he can’t fall because the chains keep him in place). The large beak of the eagle rips open Prometheus’ skin and takes the liver out of his body. The liver is the source of his torture because Greeks considered the liver as the site of the intelligence and the soul, the seat of life. The claws of the eagle are placed on his face and his upper leg to emphasize the pain that Prometheus suffers. The pain is shown in the expression of agony on his face. On the bottom left you can see a small fire burning, which refers to the fire that Prometheus gives to humans.
This painting is based on the mythological story of Prometheus. According to myth, Prometheus was a great benefactor of humanity. He annoyed Zeus for the first time by sacrificing a large ox and offering one part to the gods and one part to humans. He divided the ox into two parts. In one part he put the skin and flesh and hid it in the belly of the ox. In the other part he put the bones but covered them with appetizing fat. Later, he let Zeus choose which part the gods would eat. Zeus chose the layer of fat and became very angry when he saw that he had chosen the bones. Since then, men have burnt the animal’s bones in sacrifices to offer them to the gods and eaten the flesh themselves.
Angered by this trick, Zeus prohibited humans from using fire. Prometheus decided to steal it. He climbed Mount Olympus, took fire, and managed to return it to humanity. In this way people were able to warm themselves and use it to perform animal sacrifices.
Once again, Zeus was very angry with Prometheus and took him to the Caucasus Mountains, where he was chained to a rock. Zeus sent an eagle to eat Prometheus’ liver. Since Prometheus was a Titan and therefore immortal, his liver grew back every night, and the eagle ate it again every day. This punishment was supposed to last forever. However, after hundreds of years, Herakles, son of Zeus, passed by Prometheus’ place of captivity. He freed him by shooting the eagle with an arrow and breaking the chains that held him. Zeus didn’t mind that Prometheus had escaped his punishment, because this act of liberation and mercy helped to glorify the myth of his son Herakles. Prometheus was finally free, although he still had to carry around a ring attached to a piece of the rock with a chain.
We should learn from Prometheus, because he risked Zeus’ anger to defend a weaker group, humanity. At first it seemed that he had lost because he was punished for eternity. But in the end, he was freed by Herakles (the Roman “Hercules”). And ultimately, he did not lose, because his name became the name of a benefactor of humanity. To call someone “a Prometheus” is to speak of a brave and honourable person. We, like Titans, must take risks to defend our ideas, our principles, and our values, and to help those who are in a more disadvantaged position.
Some verbs usually go with certain prepositions, such as:
- Be angry with
- Divide into
- Lie on
- Look at
- Manage to
- Pass by
- Do some research into this topic at World History Encyclopedia https://www.worldhistory.org/Prometheus/
- Other cultures also have stories about stealing fire. Read about some of them here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theft_of_fire
- In the myth, Prometheus’ liver grows back, and in fact the liver is the only organ in our bodies that can regrow. Find out some more facts about livers here: https://www.thefactsite.com/liver-facts/
- If you want to do more work on prepositions go to https://www.grammar-monster.com/lessons/prepositions.htm