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The Punishment of the Titan brothers Atlas and Prometheus, Vatican Museum

Prometheus Bound is an Ancient Greek play. It is traditionally attributed to Aeschylus, but is now considered by some scholars to be the work of another hand, perhaps one as late as the 4th century BC. However, it is still normally included in collected editions of Aeschylus. There is evidence that it was the first play in a trilogy, but the other two plays, Prometheus Unbound and Prometheus Pyrphoros, survive only in fragments.

The play is based on the myth of Prometheus, a titan who gave the gift of fire to mortals and was punished by the god Zeus for this. Prometheus (whose name means 'foresight') possessed prophetic knowledge of the person who would one day overthrow Zeus, but refused to divulge this information.

The play is based on the myth of Prometheus, a titan who gave the gift of fire to mortals and was punished by the god Zeus for this. Prometheus (whose name means 'foresight') possessed prophetic knowledge of the person who would one day overthrow Zeus, but refused to divulge this knowledge.
Synopsis

The play is composed almost entirely of speeches and contains little action since its protagonist is chained and immobile throughout. At the beginning, Cratos (power), Bia (violence), and Hephaestus the smithy-god chain Prometheus to a mountain in the Caucasus and then depart. The daughters of Okeanos, who make up the chorus, appear and attempt to comfort Prometheus by conversing with him. Okeanos himself, a friend, arrives and warns Prometheus not to arouse the further wrath of Zeus by boasting of the god's future overthrow. Prometheus is then visited by Io, a maiden whom Zeus pursued, and who has been changed into a cow by Zeus to save her from the wrath of Hera; Prometheus gives her knowledge of her own future, telling her that one of her descendants will release him from his torment. Finally, Hermes the messenger-god is sent down by the angered Zeus to demand that Prometheus tell him who threatens to overthrow him. Prometheus refuses, and Zeus strikes him with a thunderbolt that plunges Prometheus into the abyss.

Prometheus Pyrphoros

Themes

Throughout the play, Prometheus remains defiant, identifying Zeus as a tyrant and criminal. He contrasts his own concern and sacrifice for the race of mortal men with Zeus's desire to destroy them. This treatment of Zeus is quite different from his treatment in other Attic plays, and perhaps suggests that Aeschylus, who elsewhere described Zeus as 'father of gods and man', was not the author. It is possible that the play was written as a political allegory.

Reputation

Prometheus Bound was not highly regarded among Greek plays until the early nineteenth century, when Romantic writers came to identify with the defiant Prometheus. Lord Byron became attached to the play in childhood, and claimed that it worked its way into everything he wrote. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a poem, Prometheus Unbound, which used some of the materials of the play as a vehicle for Shelley's own vision.

Memorable lines

to sungenes toi deinon he th'omilia.
homoia morphei glossa sou geruetai.
tuphlas in autois elpidas katoikisa. .
saphos m'es oikon sos logos stellei palin. .
Kinship and companionship are not small things.
Your speech and your appearance - both alike.
I established in them blind hopes.
Your speech returns me clearly home.

Translations

  • Edward Hayes Plumptre, 1868 - verse: full text
  • J. Case, 1905 - verse
  • Robert Whitelaw, 1907 - verse
  • E. D. A. Morshead, 1908 - verse
  • Walter Headlam and C. E. S. Headlam, 1909 - prose
  • Herbert Weir Smyth, 1926 - prose: full text
  • Clarence W. Mendell, 1926 - verse
  • Robert C. Trevelyan, 1939 - verse
  • David Grene, 1942 - prose and verse
  • Philip Vellacott, 1961 - verse
  • Paul Roche, 1964 - verse
  • unknown translator - verse: full text

Plays by Aeschylus
The Persians | Seven Against Thebes | The Suppliants |

Oresteia (Agamemnon | The Libation Bearers | The Eumenides )| Prometheus Bound (spurious)

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