"Prometheus Bound" by Aeschylus (525 - 456 B.C.)

Prometheus Bound
by Aeschylus (525 - 456


Type of Work:

Classical tragic drama


A desolate Scythian cliff; remote antiquity

Principal Characters

Prometheus, the fire-bearing Titan demigod

Hephaestus, an Olympian fire god

Might (kratos) and Force (Bia), beings
representing Power and Violence

Oceanos, god of the sea, and brother to


Io, a river princess

Hermes, Zeus the chief Olympian god's
winged messenger

A Chorus composed of the daughters of Oceanos,
who converse, comment, and sing throughout the play

Play Overveiw

Prologue: Like other works of the Classical

Age, Prometheus Bound doesn't begin in the beginning but leaps in medias
res ("into the middle of things"), just as Prometheus, a defiant demigod,
is brought in chains to be fettered to a desolate mountain crag. For the
modern reader - as opposed to an Aeschylian audience, who would have already
been conversant with the plot - a bit of background is in order.

Prometheus was a god from the old order,
the Titans, who had now all been overthrown by a group of young upstarts,
the Olympians - all, that is, except for Prometheus. Rather than go down
in honor, this half-god Prometheus, in order to avoid further violence,
had chosen to desert over to the Olympian forces. In fact, he was instrumental
in Zeus' ursurpation of the throne from the old Titan king Chronus. In
the new order, Zeus stood as chief god.

Now one of Zeus' first objectives was to
destroy the rice of men, who, until then, had been a primitive, unenlightened
and miserable lot. Zeus' intent was to replace mankind with a new, more
noble race, servile to the gods' every whim.

When the destructive proclamation went
out, however, Prornetheus alone objected to Zeus' heartless proposal. He
saw in man a spark of divine promise that even the gods might envy, and
in order to save the human race, he willingly and courageously committed
a crime: he brought fire down from heaven and taught the mortals how to
use it. Furthermore, he tutored them in practical arts, applied sciences
and philosophy, that he might edify, ennoble and empower them.

But these saving acts were deemed highly
treasonous; such knowledge in the hands of humans threatened to put them
on an equal footing with the gods themselves. Furious, Zeus commanded the

Olympian blacksmith god of fire, Hephaestus, and the gods of Might and

Force, Kratos and Bia, to seize Prometheus and shackle him to a barren
mountain-side. But Hephaestus approached his task halfheartedly. He had
been taught to respect deity and he sympathized with Prometheus - after
all, it didn't seem right that a divine being should suffer such scornful
abuse. Pangs of sorrow overwhelmed him; to think that this god was doomed
to remain in chains as the solitary guardian of a lonely Scythian cliff
for all time to come! The exchange between Hephaestus and Might (Kratos)
showed clearly their separate sentiments. <>Even as the smithy was reasoning
and pleading:

Compassion will not move the mind of Zeus:

All monarchs new to power show brutality

How bitterly I hate any craftsman's cunning
now! ...

Prometheus! I lament your pain ...

Might stood by complaining of Hephaestus'
delay, and demanding full punishment:

Now do your work - enough of useless pitying.

How can you fail to loathe this god whom
all gods hate,

Who has betrayed to man the prize that
was your right? ...

The hammer! Strike, and rivet hurt against
the rock! ...

Teach this clever one he is less wise
than Zeus.

Now take your wedge of steel and with
its cruel point

Transfix him! Drive it through his breast
with all your strength!

The smithy had no choice but to comply
with his orders; and tied with bonds "as strong as adamant," Prometheus
was left alone on the jagged face of the cliff. Before departing, the mighty

Kratos hurled one last taunt at the Titan god, asking how his human friends
could help him now, and chuckling at the foolish Titans who had named him

Prometheus, "the Forethinker." It seemed now, Kratos pointed out, that

Prometheus required a higher intelligence to do his thinking for him.

The captive god called upon the wind, the
waters, mother earth, and the sun to look on him and see how gods tortured
a god. He bemoaned his invincible fate, puzzled that he should be punished
simply for loving mankind.

Presently, a chorus of the daughters of

Oceanos, Prometheus' brother, came on the scene. Seeing the tragic yet
defiant figure on the crag, they felt both pity and admiration, and listened
as their uncle described the events that had brought him to his exile.

The chorus stayed to provide comforting music and cheer.

Next, Prometheus received separate visits
from three characters - Oceanos himself, lo, and Hermes.