Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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They first molded an image similar in form to the gods; bade Eros breathe into its nostrils the spirit of life, and Minerva (Pallas) endow it with a soul; whereupon man lived, and moved, and viewed his new domain.

Justly proud of his handiwork, Prometheus observed man, and longed to bestow upon him some great power, unshared by any other creature of mortal birth, which would raise him far above all other living beings, and bring him nearer to the perfection of the immortal gods. Fire alone, in his estimation, could effect this; but fire was the special possession and prerogative of the gods, and Prometheus knew they would never willingly share it with man, and that, should any one obtain it by stealth, they would never forgive the thief. Long he pondered the matter, and finally determined to obtain fire, or die in the attempt.

One dark night, therefore, he set out for Olympus, entered unperceived into the gods’ abode, seized a lighted brand, hid it in his bosom, and departed unseen, exulting in the success of his enterprise. Arrived upon earth once more, he consigned the stolen treasure to the care of man, who immediately adapted it to various purposes, and eloquently expressed his gratitude to the benevolent deity who had risked his own life to obtain it for him.

“Of Prometheus, how undaunted
On Olympus’ shining bastions
His audacious foot he planted,
Myths are told and songs are chanted,
Full of promptings and suggestions.
“Beautiful is the tradition
Of that flight through heavenly portals,
[28] The old classic superstition
Of the theft and the transmission
Of the fire of the Immortals.”

From his lofty throne on the topmost peak of Mount Olympus Jupiter beheld an unusual light down upon earth. Anxious to ascertain its exact nature, he watched it closely, and before long discovered the larceny. His anger then burst forth, terrible to behold; and the gods all quailed when they heard him solemnly vow he would punish the unhappy Prometheus without mercy. To seize the offender in his mighty grasp, bear him off to the Caucasian Mountains, and bind him fast to a great rock, was but a moment’s work. There a voracious vulture was summoned to feast upon his liver, the tearing of which from his side by the bird’s cruel beak and talons caused the sufferer intense anguish. All day long the vulture gorged himself; but during the cool night, while the bird slept, Prometheus’ suffering abated, and the liver grew again, thus prolonging the torture, which bade fair to have no end.

Disheartened by the prospect of long years of unremitting pain, Prometheus at times could not refrain from pitiful complaints; but generation after generation of men lived on earth, and died, blessing him for the gift he had obtained for them at such a terrible cost. After many centuries of woe, Hercules, son of Jupiter and Alcmene, found Prometheus, killed the vulture, broke the adamantine chains, and liberated the long-suffering god.