Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 15

Prometheus, found refuge he a just man, and she a faithful worshipper of the gods. Jupiter, when he saw none left alive but this pair, and remembered their harmless lives and pious demeanor, ordered the north winds to drive away the clouds, and disclose the skies to earth, and earth to the skies. Neptune also directed Triton to blow on his shell, and sound a retreat to the waters. The waters obeyed, and the sea returned to its shores, and the rivers to their channels. Then Deucalion thus addressed Pyrrha: "O wife, only surviving woman, joined to me first by the ties of kindred and marriage, and now by a common danger, would that we possessed the power of our ancestor Prometheus, and could renew the race as he at first made it! But as we cannot, let us seek yonder temple, and inquire of the gods what remains for us to do." They entered the temple, deformed as it was with slime, and approached the altar, where no fire burned. There they fell prostrate on the earth, and prayed the goddess to inform them how they might retrieve their miserable affairs. The oracle answered, "Depart from the temple with head veiled and garments unbound, and cast behind you the bones of your mother." They heard the words with astonishment. Pyrrha first broke silence: "We cannot obey; we dare not profane the remains of our parents." They sought the thickest shades of the wood, and revolved the oracle in their minds. At length Deucalion spoke: "Either my sagacity deceives me, or the command is one we may obey without impiety. The earth is the great parent of all; the stones are her bones; these we may cast behind us; and I think this is what the oracle means. At least, it will do no harm to try." They veiled their faces, unbound their garments, and picked up stones, and cast them behind them. The stones (wonderful to relate) began to grow soft, and assume shape. By degrees, they put on a rude resemblance to the human form, like a block half finished in the hands of the sculptor. The moisture and slime that were about them became flesh; the stony part became bones; the veins remained veins, retaining their name, only changing their use. Those thrown by the hand of the man became men, and those by the woman became women. It was a hard race, and well adapted to labor, as we find ourselves to be at this day, giving plain indications of our origin.

The comparison of Eve to Pandora is too obvious to have escaped
Milton, who introduces it in Book IV, of Paradise Lost:—

  "More lovely than Pandora, whom the gods
  Endowed with all their gifts; and O, too like
  In sad event, when to the unwiser son
  Of Jupiter, brought by Hermes, she ensnared
  Mankind with her fair looks, to be avenged
  On him who had stole Jove's authentic fire."

Prometheus and Epimetheus were sons of Iapetus, which Milton changes to Japhet.

Prometheus, the Titan son of Iapetus and Themis, is a favorite subject with the poets. AEschylus wrote three tragedies on the subjects of his confinement, his release, and his worship at Athens. Of these only the first is preserved, the Prometheus Bound. Prometheus was the only one in the council of the gods who favored man. He alone was kind to the human race, and taught and protected them.

  "I formed his mind,
  And through the cloud of barbarous ignorance
  Diffused the beams of knowledge . . . .
  They saw indeed, they heard, but what availed
  Or sight or hearing, all things round them rolling,
  Like the unreal imagery of dreams
  In wild confusion mixed! The lightsome wall
  Of finer masonry, the raftered roof
  They knew not; but like ants still buried, delved
  Deep in the earth and scooped their sunless caves.
  Unmarked the seasons ranged, the biting winter,
  The flower-perfumed spring, the ripening summer
  Fertile of fruits. At random all their works
  Till I instructed them to mark the stars,
  Their rising, and, a harder science yet,
  Their setting. The rich train of marshalled numbers
  I taught them, and the meet array of letters.
  To impress these precepts on their hearts I sent
  Memory, the active mother of all reason.
  I taught the patient steer to bear the yoke,
  In all his toils joint-laborer of man.
  By me the harnessed steed was trained to whirl
  The rapid car, and grace the pride of wealth.
  The tall bark, lightly bounding o'er the waves,
  I taught its course, and winged its flying sail.
  To man I gave these arts."
  Potter's Translation from the Prometheus Bound

Jupiter, angry at the insolence and presumption of Prometheus in taking upon himself to give all these blessings to man, condemned the Titan to perpetual imprisonment, bound on a rock on Mount Caucasus while a vulture should forever prey upon his liver. This state of torment might at any time have been brought to an end by Prometheus if he had been willing to submit to his oppressor. For Prometheus knew of a fatal marriage which Jove must make and by which he must come to ruin. Had Prometheus revealed this secret he would at once have been taken into favor. But this he disdained to do. He has therefore become the symbol of magnanimous endurance of unmerited suffering and strength of will resisting oppression.

Byron and Shelley have both treated this theme. The following are Byron's lines:—

  "Titan! To whose immortal eyes
  The sufferings of mortality,
  Seen in their sad reality,
  Were not as things that gods despise,
  What was thy pity's recompense?
  A silent suffering, and intense;
  The rock, the vulture, and the chain;
  All that the proud can feel of pain;
  The agony they do not show;
  The suffocating sense of woe.

  "Thy godlike crime was to be kind;
  To render with thy precepts less
  The sum of human wretchedness,
  And strengthen man with his own mind.
  And, baffled as thou wert from high,
  Still, in thy patient energy,
  In the endurance and repulse,
  Of thine impenetrable spirit,
  Which earth and heaven could not convulse,
  A mighty lesson we inherit."