The Myth Of Prometheus And Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Myths have been an important part of developing societies and explaining the mysteries of the world. One of the most famous myths is the myth of Prometheus. It has influenced many Greek writers and poets, as well as those living in the Romantic Era. This myth gave the Greeks a story to tell about man was created, but it also shows how significant the discovery of fire was for humankind. In the myth, Prometheus defies Zeus by stealing the sacred fire from Mount Olympus, but, although there are benefits to this action, there are disastrous consequences that might be foreseen by Zeus. The myth has made its way into many books like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and is also found in many works with Prometheus- type characters. The myth of Prometheus has been portrayed in many ways, and in many genres.
When Epimetheus makes the animals of the world, he gives them all some kind of protection, but when it is time to create humans, there is nothing left. Prometheus, the wiser brother, decides to create the humans upright like the gods, but they have no natural protection, other than their capacity to think and make their own decisions. Prometheus steals the sacred fire from Mount Olympus so humans can be more superior to other animals, and create the civilizations that Prometheus foresees. “Man’s superior brain capacity allowed them (humans) to find many uses for fire, and soon became the most superior of the animals. ” “And now, though feeble and short-lived, mankind has flaming fire and therefrom learns many crafts”(Hamilton 86). By receiving fire, humans are now able to scare predators, cook food, make weapons, and have warmth and light. Fire can be a representation of a spark of intellect, because from then on, man continued to develop more and more complex ideas, and many say man truly benefited from this.
While Prometheus may have good intentions, there are detriments to this action that he has not foreseen. In fact, Zeus has very valid reasons for not wanting “this powerful instrument of progress” in the hands of unworthy and undeserving mortals. What Prometheus is not seeing, however beneficial fire may be, is that mortals now have the ability to receive the power they crave. With being able to hunt, comes the fight for more and more food. With making weapons comes the beginning of a war. Whatever good that comes with fire, a consequence is received alongside. In the end, however, it all boils down to the concept of greed, which is a “bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need, without ever reaching satisfaction. ” (Erich Fromm). With greed also comes the idea of luxury, which, to the Greeks, was not a positive concept, since, like greed, luxury is when people keep wanting more and better things, eventually to the point when they are led into conflict over materialistic things! This is why the Iron Age was one of the worst ages of history. “Man became subject to all manners of crime, deceit, and treachery/man learned to place values on possessions. “(The Flood) This may be what Zeus predicts, and why he was so opposed to this situation.
Aeschylus, one of the great Greek dramatists of that era, was the first to use Prometheus “as the subject of powerful literary works. ” Using Prometheus as a representation of humankind, he wrote two lays called Prometheus Bound and Prometheus Unbound. Although Prometheus Unbound has been lost, Percy Bysshe Shelley, a Romantic Era poet, wrote a poetic drama of the same name. In it, he “painted Zeus as evil, and Prometheus as having the power to help mankind find its way back to a state of innocence. ” “Other poets have interpreted Prometheus to represent the spirit of poetry, religion, and other expressions of the human soul. ” Prometheus, written by Lord Byron, puts forward the idea that Prometheus gives mortals his “spark of intellect” and also sets the standard of rebellion by not giving into defeat. Rebels like Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost or Don Juan from Byron’s Don Juan have the same or similar characteristics as Prometheus, who is also considered a rebel for not giving into Zeus. Over time, the Prometheus myth became a crucial part of the development of Romanticism.
Prometheus also has a connection to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is subtitled, the Modern Prometheus. Prometheus steals the spark of knowledge and gives it to the humans, which he is then tortured for. In Frankenstein, Victor stumbles upon the secret to life itself and is going to share it with the rest of the world, but like Prometheus is punished, Victor seems to be punished as well. He loses everything; his family, his work, and his life as well. “Victor’s torture mirrors that of Prometheus, undying and eternal. ” (Mtholyoke. edu) As Prometheus does, Victor “steals” the spark of intellect or life, which is not meant for humans to know. Both Frankenstein and Prometheus “want the best for their creations. ” While some might argue that only Prometheus succeeds in doing so, both party’s actions eventually end up in a tragic downfall. This may have been why Mary Shelley subtitles her novel, the Modern Prometheus. At the same time, Mary Shelley is also critiquing the other Romantic Era poets. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner explains very well what she is getting at, which is that many Romantic poets were, like Victor Frankenstein, Walton, the Ancient Mariner, and Prometheus, trying to go beyond their limits to achieve something which is usually not attainable. She is trying to say that we should accept our own limitations and implement moderation into our lives as to not get into any dangerous situations.
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