Prometheus (Ancient Greek Προμηθεύς "Forethinker") is a Titan of Greek mythology, the son of Iapetus and Themis, and brother to Atlas, Epimetheus and Menoetius. A Trickster figure, he was a champion of mankind known for his wily intelligence, who stole fire from Zeus and the gods and gave it to mortals. Zeus then punished him for his crime by having him bound to a rock while a great eagle (or vulture) ate his liver every day only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day. The Greek derivation of Prometheus from the Greek pro (before) + manthano (learn) and the agent suffix -eus, thus "Forethinker", which engendered a contrasting brother Epimetheus ("Afterthinker"), has been disputed by some linguists who believe that the name comes from the Proto-Indo-European root which also produces the Vedic pra math, "to steal," hence pramathyu-s, "thief", whence "Prometheus", the thief of fire. The Vedic myth of fire's theft by Mātariśvan (Agni) is analogous to the account found in Greek myth and to these etymological cognates, can be added pramantha, the tool used to create fire.
- For the 2012 film featuring a spacecraft of this name, see Prometheus (film)
- Quotes about Prometheus arranged by author or source
- Why should the thirst for knowledge be aroused, only to be disappointed and punished? My volition shrinks from the painful task of recalling my humiliation; yet, like a second Prometheus, I will endure this and worse, if by any means I may arouse in the interiors of Plane and Solid Humanity a spirit of rebellion against the Conceit which would limit our Dimensions to Two or Three or any number short of Infinity.
- I am absolutely destitute of converts, and, for aught that I can see, the millennial Revelation has been made to me for nothing. Prometheus up in Spaceland was bound for bringing down fire for mortals, but I — poor Flatland Prometheus — lie here in prison for bringing down nothing to my countrymen. Yet I exist in the hope that these memoirs, in some manner, I know not how, may find their way to the minds of humanity in Some Dimension, and may stir up a race of rebels who shall refuse to be confined to limited Dimensionality.
That is the hope of my brighter moments.
- I must bear
What is ordained with patience, being aware
Necessity doth front the universe
With an invincible gesture.
- It is not time
Now to disclose that which requires the seal
Of strictest secresy; by guarding which I shall escape the misery of these chains.
- I imagine that some one there is declaiming a great poem, that some one is speaking of Prometheus. He has stolen light from the gods. In his entrails he feels the pain, always beginning again, always fresh, gathering from evening to evening, when the vulture steals to him as it would steal to its nest. And you feel that we are all like Prometheus because of desire, but there is neither vulture nor gods.
- Henri Barbusse, in The Inferno (1917), Ch. XVII
- A man contains all that is needed to make up a tree; likewise, a tree contains all that is needed to make up a man. Thus, finally, all things meet in all things, but we need a Prometheus to distill it.
- Cyrano de Bergerac, in The Other World (1657)
- Prometheus is a symbol and a personification of the whole of mankind in relation to an event which occurred during its childhood, so to say—the “Baptism by Fire”—which is a mystery within the great Promethean Mystery, one that may be at present mentioned only in its broad general features. By reason of the extraordinary growth of human intellect and the development in our age of the fifth principle (Manas) in man, its rapid progress has paralysed spiritual perceptions.
- Shelley, who in Prometheus Unbound had observed that the wise lack love and those who have love lack wisdom, went to his end in The Triumph of Life asking why good and the means of good were irreconcilable.
- Harold Bloom, in The Anatomy of Influence (2011), p. 142
- It is not enough to demand insight and informative images of reality from the theater. Our theater must stimulate a desire for understanding, a delight in changing reality. Our audience must experience not only the ways to free Prometheus, but be schooled in the very desire to free him. Theater must teach all the pleasures and joys of discovery, all the feelings of triumph associated with liberation.
- Bertolt Brecht, in Essays on the Art of Theater (1954)
- Titan! to whom 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,
Which speaks but in its loneliness,
And then is jealous lest the sky
Should have a listener, nor will sigh
Until its voice is echoless.
- Lord Byron, in "Prometheus" Stanza I
- Titan! to thee the strife was given
Between the suffering and the will,
Which torture where they cannot kill;
And the inexorable Heaven,
And the deaf tyranny of Fate,
The ruling principle of Hate,
Which for its pleasure doth create
The things it may annihilate,
Refused thee even the boon to die:
The wretched gift eternity
Was thine — and thou hast borne it well.
All that the Thunderer wrung from thee
Was but the menace which flung back
On him the torments of thy rack;
The fate thou didst so well foresee,
But would not to appease him tell;
And in thy Silence was his Sentence,
And in his Soul a vain repentance,
And evil dread so ill dissembled,
That in his hand the lightnings trembled.
- Lord Byron, in "Prometheus" Stanza II
- 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;
But 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:
Thou art a symbol and a sign
To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source;
And Man in portions can foresee
His own funereal destiny;
His wretchedness, and his resistance,
And his sad unallied existence:
To which his Spirit may oppose
Itself — and equal to all woes,
And a firm will, and a deep sense,
Which even in torture can decry
Its own concenter'd recompense,
Triumphant where it dares defy,
And making Death a Victory.
- Lord Byron, in "Prometheus" Stanza III
- Sweet were change,
If but a change of tortures! But to grow
A motionless rock, fast as my strong prison,
Age after age, till circling suns outnumber
The sands upon the tide-worn beach! No hope,
Or that sad mockery of hope that fools
With dull despair, spanning the infinite!
- Hartley Coleridge, in Prometheus (fragments of an unfinished play c. 1820); Prometheus
- Hard I strove
To put away my immortality,
Till my collected spirits swell'd my heart
Almost to bursting; but the strife is past.
It is a fearful thing to be a god,
And, like a god, endure a mortal's pain;
To be a show for earth and wondering heaven
To gaze and shudder at! But I will live,
That Jove may know there is a deathless soul
Who ne'er will be his subject. Yes, 'tis past.
The stedfast Fates confess my absolute will,—
Their own co-equal.
- Hartley Coleridge, in Prometheus (c. 1820); Prometheus
- Now shall I become a common tale,
A ruin'd fragment of a worn-out world;
Unchanging record of unceasing change.
Eternal landmark to the tide of time.
Swift generations, that forget each other,
Shall still keep up the memory of my shame
Till I am grown an unbelieved fable.
- Hartley Coleridge, in Prometheus (c. 1820); Prometheus
- Go your way. Forget Prometheus,
And all the woe that he is doom'd to bear;
By his own choice this vile estate preferring
To ignorant bliss and unfelt slavery.
- Hartley Coleridge, in Prometheus (c. 1820); Prometheus
- Jove is not one half so merciless
As thou art to thyself. But fare thee well;
Our love is all as stubborn as thy pride,
And swift as firm.
- Hartley Coleridge, in Prometheus (c. 1820); Sylphs
- Although the turning point in the interpretation of the myth appears in its most striking form in Germany with Goethe, and in England with Shelley and Byron, some of France's most famous artists of the first half of the nineteenth century found in the Prometheus figure a perfect image to express their ideals and/or fears. They took hold of Prometheus so well that the Titan became — whether intentionally or not — an artistic model to identify with. Different features of Prometheus as a symbol or as a myth appealed to them, and although different, there are probably no better examples of this new 'cult' devoted to Prometheus than his treatment by Hugo and Balzac in literature, and Liszt in music.
- Prometheus, thief of light, giver of light, bound by the gods, must have been a book.
- Playing God is indeed playing with fire. But that is what we mortals have done since Prometheus, the patron saint of dangerous discoveries. We play with fire and take the consequences, because the alternative is cowardice in the face of the unknown.
- Ronald Dworkin, in Sovereign Virtue (2000), p. 446
- Prometheus, I have no Titan's might,
Yet I, too, must each dusk renew my heart,
For daytime's vulture talons tear apart
The tender alcoves built by love at night.
- Philip José Farmer, in "In Common" in Starlanes #14 (April 1954); re-published in Pearls From Peoria (2006)
- Mike is our Prometheus — but that's all. Mike keeps emphazing this. Thou art God, I am God, he is God — all that groks. Mike is a man like the rest of us. A superior man admittedly — a lesser man taught the things the Martians know, might have set himself up as a pipsqueak god. Mike is above that temptation. Prometheus… but that is all.
- It is stern work, it is perilous work, to thrust your hand in the sun
And pull out a spark of immortal flame to warm the hearts of men:
But Prometheus, torn by the claws and beaks whose task is never done,
Would be tortured another eternity to go stealing fire again.
- Joyce Kilmer in "The Proud Poet" in Main Street and Other Poems (1917)
- The scientist, like the magician, possesses secrets. A secret — expertise — is somehow perceived as antidemocratic, and therefore ought to be unnatural. We have come a long way from Prometheus to Faust to Frankenstein. And even Frankenstein's monster is now a joke.
- John Leonard, in "Books of the Times" in The New York Times (6 July 1981)
- The myth of Prometheus means that all the sorrows of the world have their seat in the liver. But it needs a brave man to face so humble a truth.
- François Mauriac, in Le Nœud de vipères (1932), cited from Oeuvres romanesques, vol. 2 (Paris: Flammarion, 1965) p. 166; Gerard Hopkins (trans.) Knot of Vipers (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1951) p. 151.
- Civilization begins with a rebellion. Prometheus, one of the Titans, steals fire from the gods on Mount Olympus and brings it as a gift to man, marking the birth of human culture. For this rebellion Zeus sentences him to be chained to Mount Caucasus where vultures consume his liver during the day and at night it grows back only to be again eaten away the next day. This is a tale of the agony of the creative individual, whose nightly rest only resuscitates him so that he can endure his agonies the next day.
- Rollo May, in Power and Innocence : A Search for the Sources of Violence (1972), Ch. 11 : The Humanity of the Rebel
- Man is the animal who weeps and laughs — and writes. If the first Prometheus brought fire from heaven in a fennel-stalk, the last will take it back — in a book.
- John Cowper Powys, in The Pleasures of Literature (1938), p. 17
- That man, the unsubmissive and first, stands in the opening chapter of every legend mankind has recorded about its beginning. Prometheus was chained to a rock and torn by vultures — because he had stolen the fire of the gods. Adam was condemned to suffer, — because he had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Whatever the legend, somewhere in the shadows of its memory mankind knew that its glory began with one and that that one paid for his courage.
- John Galt is Prometheus who changed his mind. After centuries of being torn by vultures in payment for having brought to men the fire of the gods, he broke his chains — and he withdrew his fire — until the day when men withdraw their vultures.
- The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom;
And all best things are thus confused to ill.
Many are strong and rich, and would be just,
But live among their suffering fellow-men
As if none felt: they know not what they do.
- To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than Death or Night;
To defy Power, which seems Omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change nor falter nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan! is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life; Joy, Empire, and Victory!
- As technology became more important, the Trickster underwent a shift in character and became the god of crafts — of technology, if you will — while retaining the underlying roguish qualities. So we have the Sumerian Enki, the Greek Prometheus and Hermes, Norse Loki, and so on.
- The Titan Prometheus wanted to give mankind equal footing with the gods — for that he was cast from Olympus. Well my friends, the time has finally come for his return.
- The current rampages of territorial-emotional pugnacity sweeping this planet are not just another civilization failing … They are the birth-pangs of a cosmic Prometheus rising out of the long nightmare of domesticated primate history.
- Robert Anton Wilson, in Prometheus Rising (1983), Ch. 5 : Dickens & Joyce : The Two-Circuit Dialectic, p. 90