Wednesday, December 28, 2011

16514--The Promethean Gift

We have a class of heroes in our culture that we hold dear for bucking rules and fighting systems.  These heroes we adore for "fighting the good fight", meaning that we'll love them whether they win or not.  We'll love them for having the heart, the courage and the staggering audacity to unleash their chutzpah against giants that may well crush them and not even care.  True enough, we hold these mavericks in positions of iconic reverence, but they are still mortal.  What status is deserved by a maverick who begins as an immortal?

His name, Prometheus, means "forethought" and he has long been credited with the power of prescience.  He was born to the Titans, child of Iapetus and Themis, brother to Epimetheus and Atlas.  When the Titans were the ones in power, he sided against them with the younger generation because he knew who would be victorious in their struggles for supremacy.  Though often cited as a trickster, he is also credited with committing the theft of fire from jealous gods for the benefit of mankind despite his diminished status and, given his powers, the horrific punishment he knew would be dealt as a result.  Who really wants to endure centuries of disembowelment by being eaten alive?  No one I know.  He ultimately traded his release for knowledge that Zeus and Poseidon both wanted, but he never broke, neither altering his position nor apologizing for it.  His levels of courage and tenacity are without doubt sublime. 

Unlike many mythic figures, he's not best remembered for his power.  Never have I found a tale of Prometheus being the super-annoying god of "I told you so" or the guy who was always peppering conversations with "I knew you were going to say that."  Instead, Prometheus is noted for his sacrifice and gifts, all favoring humanity against his oppressive kin. 

I am under the impression that the legendary "theft of fire" from Olympus has actually been underrated, whether for the sake of brevity or by the designs of the Olympian PR department.  I think the "fire" stolen for us was as metaphoric a description as the "darkness" that Zeus wished to keep mankind shrouded beneath.  The dark time following the Titanomachies (years of wars between generations of immortals) would be common following a rise to power, Zeus taking the position of establishing the strict control of his new regime.  Put 'em down, keep 'em down and keep 'em stupid...those tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Not if Zeus could help it.

Even though Prometheus had sided with Olympus against the Titans, he also showed that he intended to champion mortals against the gods.  The act of "stealing fire" represented Prometheus bestowing not just energy to man, but the blazing light of intellect, knowledge of craft and healing arts and the living Earth.  He traded his torture for our enlightenment, not only standing up to Zeus but flaunting whatever obscene he felt went best with that defiance.

Prometheus was a special kind of hero, a champion of the underdog rabble that humans really are.  Sounds like a Tough Guy to me.


  1. nice to see some praise for Prometheus!

    1. Whatever his motivations, I'd say he earned it.