Prometheus Bound (Dover Thrift Editions)
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In the epic drama Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus (c. 525–456 BC), first of the three great Greek tragic poets, re-creates this legendary conflict between rebellious subject and vengeful god. Chained for eternity to a barren rock, his flesh repeatedly torn by a ravaging eagle, Prometheus defends his championship of mankind, rejoicing in the many gifts of language and learning he has given man despite Zeus's cruel opposition.
Inspired by Prometheus's spirit, Aeschylus reaches beyond the myth to create one of literature's most gripping portrayals of man's inhumanity to man. How Prometheus clings to his convictions and braves his harsh fate give Prometheus Bound its extraordinary vitality and appeal. For over 2,000 years, this masterpiece of drama has held audiences enthralled. It is reprinted here in its entirety from the translation by George Thomson.
Aeschylus is still in use. The word “drama,” in Greek, means “action,” and action, in modern theatrical practice, is generally understood to mean the physical accomplishment of a character’s intentions. Little of the sort seems to be happening in Prometheus Bound. “One man, a sort of demigod at that, chained to a rock, orated to, and orating at, a sequence of embodied apparitions.” That is how Robert Lowell, in a prefatory note to his translation of Prometheus Bound, summed up the play. Little
too, what the future will bring, and is there a cure for me? Tell me plainly. Speak the truth if you know it, and I will listen. PROMETHEUS I’ll tell you clearly what you want to know, not weaving riddles, but with simple words, as friends speak to each other, without guard: I am Prometheus, who gave fire to man. IO Oh you, the benefactor of mankind, wretched Prometheus, why this punishment? PROMETHEUS I only just now stopped lamenting that. IO Will you not grant me what I ask
you! PROMETHEUS Your words have no effect on me. You might as well try to persuade a wave out of its course. Don’t think that I, for fear of Zeus’s whims, will ever, like a woman, raise my upturned hands, imploring him to set me free. I do not have it in me. HERMES I’ve all but pleaded with you, and it seems I’ve said too much already. Nothing touches you or softens your resolve. You gnash your teeth into the bit like an unbroken colt that’s newly harnessed, thrashing against the
Oceanids, daughters of Okeanos; Io, the “cow-horned maiden,” a nymph, half human and half divine, who was transformed into a cow by the lustful Zeus and driven on endless wanderings by Zeus’s jealous wife, Hera; and finally Hermes, Zeus’s messenger, who here serves the additional function of an interrogator. But there is another, unlisted character who is present from the beginning to the end of the play, though he does not speak and never appears in person. It is Zeus. Kratos alludes to the
limit of Hephaistos’s resistance, and with it his dignity. Traditionally he was conceived to have been born weak and crippled. Here he is twisted at the core of his moral center by fear of the despotic will that holds him in its grip. He pities Prometheus, but is compelled to abuse him nonetheless. He recoils at the brutality of Kratos, but carries out his orders. He reviles his own skill for the use to which he is being forced to put it, then expresses pride in his workmanship. He blames