Prometheus – Suffered for Us

(c. 1817)  By Heinrich Friedrich Füger: Prometheus brings fire to mankind (as told by Hesiod), with its having been hidden as revenge for the trick at Mecone. PD Courtesy of Shuishouyue and Wikipedia.
(c. 1817) By Heinrich Friedrich Füger: Prometheus brings fire to mankind (as told by Hesiod), with its having been hidden as revenge for the trick at Mecone. PD Courtesy of Shuishouyue and Wikipedia.

Zeus punished most of the Titans for fighting against him in the Titanomachy, but  Prometheus had not, so Zeus spared him. He entrusted to Prometheus the task of forming man from water and earth. Prometheus loved his creation, as a parent, but Zeus didn’t think of humans in that way. The king of the gods wanted to keep mankind in its place and didn’t want them to share the luxury of fire manipulation. Fire was the new fashion among the gods since Hermes had only recently discovered how to produce it.

As a good parent, and realizing that fire was more than an unnecessary luxury, Prometheus determined to give his beloved quasi-offspring the benefits of fire, even if he had to go behind the king’s back.

He stole fire from Zeus’ lightning, concealed it in fennel, and gave it and skills stolen from Hephaestus and Athena to man.

Fire was involved in the next gift Prometheus gave us. Remember Hermes had recently not only discovered how to produce fire, but had created the concept of sacrifice to the gods. Slaughtered animals were offered to the gods for sacrifice ever since Hermes had first done so. Prometheus persuaded Zeus that part of the sacrifice made by humans should be enjoyed by them and the rest would be enjoyed by the gods. He gave Zeus the choice of which of two parts the gods should have.

Zeus smacking his lips with anticipation, picked the packet that looked better. It was dripping with rich fat. The other looked a bit like tripe sausage. Zeus picked the one that looked better, but inside the fat were only bones, while inside the stomach lining were the meat and organs. Ever after, sacrifices to the gods have entailed burning the bones to the gods while the humans get to celebrate the event by feasting on the meat.

Had Zeus decided to give in and appreciate the new creatures, along with Prometheus, or when he gave mankind a gift was there a sinister purpose behind it? What he gave mankind was the first woman, Pandora. Hmm.

But he hadn’t forgiven Prometheus; he chained Prometheus to Mount Caucasus where an eagle visited the Titan every day to chomp on his immortal liver. This is the topic of Aeschylus‘ tragedy Prometheus Bound and many paintings.

Eventually Hercules rescued Prometheus, and Zeus and the Titan were reconciled.

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