Prometheus in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
（Προμηθεύς), is sometimes called a Titan, though in reality
he did not belong to the Titans, but was only a son of the
Titan lapetus (whence he is designated by the patronymic
Ἰαπετιονίδης, Hes. Th. 528; Apollon Rhod. 3.1087), by
Clymene, so that he was a brother of Atlas, Menoetius, and
Epimetheus (Hes. Th. 507). His name signifies "forethought,"
as that of his brother Epimetheus denotes "afterthought."
Others call Prometheus a son of Themis (Aeschyl. Prom. 18),
or of Uranus and Clymene, or of the Titan Eurymedon and
HIera (Potter, Comment. ad Lyc. Cass. 1283; Eustath. ad
Horn. p. 987). By Pandora, Hesione, or Axiothea, he is said
to have been the father of Deucalion (Aesch. Prom. 560 ;
Tzetz. ad Lyc. 1283; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. 2.1086), by
Pyrrha or Clymene he begot Hellen (and according to some
also Deucalion; Schol. ad Apollon. l.c.; Schol. ad Pind. Ol.
9.68), and by Celaeno he was the father of Lvcus and
Chimareus (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 132, 219), while Herodotus (4.45)
calls his wife Asia. The following is an outline of the
legends related of him by the ancients. Once in the reign of
Zeus, when gods and men were disputing with one another at
Mecone (afterwards Sicyon, Schol. ad Pind. Nem. 9.123),
Prometheus, with a view to deceive Zeus and rival him in
prudence, cut up a bull and divided it into two parts : he
wrapped up the best parts and the intestines in the skin,
and at the top he placed the stomach, which is one of the
worst parts, while the second heap consisted of the bones
covered with fat. When Zeus pointed out to him how badly he
had made the division, Prometheus desired him to choose, but
Zeus, in his anger, and seeing through the stratagem of
Prometheus, chose the heap of bones covered with the fat.
The father of the gods avenged himself by withholding fire
from mortals, but Prometheus stole it in a hollow tube
(ferula, νάρθηξ, Aeschyl. Prom. 110). Zeus now, in order to
punish men, caused Hephaestus to mould a virgin, Pandora, of
earth, whom Athena adorned with all the charms calculated to
entice mortals; Prometheus himself was put in chains, and
fastened to a pillar, where an eagle sent by Zeus consumed
in the daytime his liver, which, in every succeeding night,
was restored again. Prometheus was thus exposed to perpetual
torture, but Heracles killed the eagle and delivered the
sufferer, with the consent of Zeus, who thus had an
opportunity of allowing his son to gain immortal fame (Hes.
Th. 521, &c., Op. et Dies, 47, &c. ; Ilygin. Poet. Astr.
2.15; Apollod. 2.5.11). Prometheus had cautioned his brother
Epimetheus against accepting any present from Zeus, but
Epimetheus, disregarding the advice, accepted Pandora, who
was sent to him by Zeus, through the mediation of Hermes.
Pandora then lifted the lid of the vessel in which the
foresight of Prometheus had concealed all the evils which
might torment mortals in life. Diseases and sufferings of
every kind now issued forth, but deceitful hope alone
remained behind (Hes. Op. et Dies, 83, &c.; comp. Hor. Carm.
1.3.25, &c.). This is an outline of the legend about
Prometheus, as contained in the poems of Hesiod. Aeschylus,
in his trilogy Prometheus, added various new features to it,
for, according to him, Prometheus himself is an immortal
god, the friend of the human race, the giver of fire, the
inventor of the useful arts, an omniscient seer, an heroic
sufferer, who is overcome by the superior power of Zeus, but
will not bend his inflexible mind. Although he himself
belonged to the Titans, he is nevertheless represented as
having assisted Zeus against the Titans (Prom. 218), and he
is further said to have opened the head of Zeus when the
latter gave birth to Athena (Apollod. 1.3.6). But when Zeus
succeeded to the kingdom of heaven, and wanted to extirpate
the whole race of man, the place of which he proposed to
give to quite a new race of beings, Prometheus prevented the
execution of the scheme, and saved the human race from
destruction (Prom. 228, 233). He deprived them of their
knowledge of the future, and gave them hope instead (248,
&c.). He further taught them the use of fire, made them
acquainted with architecture, astronomy, mathematics, the
art of writing, the treatment of domestic animals,
navigation, medicine, the art of prophecy, working in metal,
and all the other arts (252, 445, &c., 480, &c.). But, as in
all these things he had acted contrary to the will of Zeus,
the latter ordered Hephaestus to chain him to a rock in
Scythia, which was done in the presence of Cratos and Bia,
two ministers of Zeus. In Scythia he was visited by the
Oceanides; Io also came to him, and he foretold her the
wanderings and sufferings which were yet in store for her,
as well as her final relief (703, &c.). Hermes then likewise
appears, and desires him to make known a prophecy which was
of great importance to Zeus, for Prometheus knew that by a
certain woman Zeus would beget a son, who was to dethrone
his father, and Zeus wanted to have a more accurate
knowledge of this decree of fate. But Prometheus steadfastly
refused to reveal the decree of fate, whereupon Zeus, by a
thunderbolt, sent Prometheus, together with the rock to
which he was chained, into Tartarus (Hor. Carm. 2.18, 35).
After the lapse of a long time, Prometheus returned to the
upper world, to endure a fresh course of suffering, for he
was now fastened to mount Caucasus, and tormented by an
eagle, which every day, or every third day, devoured his
liver, which was restored again in the night (Apollon.
2.1247, &100.3.853; Strab. xv. p.688 ; Philostr. Vit. Apoll.
2.3; Hygin. Poet. Astr. 2.15; Aeschyl. Prom. 1015, &c.).
This state of suffering was to last until some other god, of
his own accord, should take his place, and descend into
Tartarus for him (Prom. 1025). This came to pass when
Cheiron, who had been incurably wounded by an arrow of
Heracles, desired to go into Hades; and Zeus allowed him to
supply the place of Prometheus (Apollod. 2.5.4; comp.
CHEIRON). According to others, however, Zeus himself
delivered Prometheus, when at length the Titan was prevailed
upon to reveal to Zeus the decree of fate, that, if he
should become by Thetis the either of a son, that son should
deprive him of the sovereignty. (Serv. ad Virg. Eclog. 6.42
; Apollod. 3.13.5; Hyg. Fab. 54; comp. Aeschyl. Pronm. 167,
There was also an account, stating that Prometheus had
created men out of earth and water, at the very beginning of
the human race, or after the flood of Deucalion, when Zeus
is said to have ordered him and Athena to make nmen out of
the mud, and the winds to breathe life into them (Apollod.
1.7.1; Ov. Met. 1.81; Etym. Mag. s. v. Προμηθεύς).
Prometheus is said to have given to men something of all the
qualities possessed by the other animals (Horat Carm. 1.16.
13). The kind of earth out of which Prometheus formed men
was shown in later times near Panopeus in Phocis (Paus.
10.4.3), and it was at his suggestion that Deucalion, when
the flood approached, built a ship, and carried into it
provisions, that he and Pyrrha might be able to support
themselves during the calamity (Apollod. 1.7.2). Prometheus,
in the legend, often appears in connection with Athena, e.
g., he is said to have been punished on mount Caucasus for
the criminal love he entertained for her (Schol. ad Apollon.
Rhod. 2.1249) and he is further said, with her assistance,
to have ascended into heaven, and there secretly to have
lighted his torch at the chariot of Helios, in order to
bring down the fire to man (Serv. ad Virg. Eclog. 6.42). At
Athens Prometheus had a sanctuary in the Academy, from
whence a torch-race took place in honour of him (Paus.
1.30.2; Schol. ad Soph. Oed. Col. 55; Harpocrat. s. v.
λαμπάς). The mythus of Prometheus is most minutely discussed
by Welcker, in his Aeschylische Trilogie Prometheus,
Darmstadt, 1824; by Völcker, Mythologie des Iapet.
Geschlechtes, 1824; and with especial reference to the
Prometheus of Aeschylus, by Schoemann, Des Aeschylus
Gefesselter Prometheus. Greifswald, 1844, and by Blackie, in
the Class. Mus. vol. v. p. 1, &c., which contain a very
sound explanation of the mythus, as developed by Aeschylus.
- A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology,
William Smith, Ed.