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The Paradox of the Prometheus Vinctus Author(s): Lewis R. Farnell Source: The Journal of Hellenic

The Paradox of the Prometheus Vinctus Author(s): Lewis R. Farnell Source: The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 53, Part 1 (1933), pp. 40-50 Published by: The Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies

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THE

PARADOX

OF

THE

religion

PROMETHEUS

has no

VINCTUS

THE

student of Greek

more difficult problem

previous writings

I

to

had

that

or in the

face

always evaded it,

there

writings of others, I have

rather than a problem.

on it in outline, are

play

by the writers on Greek religion.

than

might

that of the PrometheusVinctus. In

be one.

because I do not find that the

because I had not found any solution and I hoped

Failing

to find

anything satisfactory myself

spoken of it in the title of this

paper as a paradox

And I am only now setting down my thoughts

religious the commentators or

the

The truth

difficulties of that

stage, (b)

through the

through the

the

products

appreciated in their full gravity either by

Greece, (c)

the

(a)

play is unique among

literature of

of the first two statements can

existing of the Attic drama.

protagonist, present on the stage through

The

the dramas of the Attic

religious literature of the world.

be

by a rapid glance

of Greece, especially through

proved

and recorded literature

In no other play, as far as we

know, was a God, the

not even in the and in

the character of the suffering God.

the whole action,

trilogy of Aeschylus, nor in the Bacchaeof Euripides;

of

suffering to

others than

brings

suffering

us within

a

sufferer himself.

AvKoVlpyEla

cause

no other Greek drama do we find

Dionysos in the dramas above mentioned, although attacked, is rather

Moreover,

And this

idea, unfamiliar to the Greeks.

certain myths, but it is only the God Prometheus who suffers for mankind.

His only parallels in the religious

Indian God Siva of Gods and men.1

maintaining drama of the

religious adoration of men and the love of God or the Gods.

Vinctus is tormented and hated

despised

play, through their lack of familiarity

have failed to

appreciate And I do not find it dealt with

proper magnitude.

the

Prometheus is a God

range of a deep and possibly pregnant religious

for his services to man, as a friend of man.

The dying God may

be half-shadowed in

world are Christ on the Cross, and the

from the Serpent's

poison for the welfare

one from

do not

preclude

suffering agony And even these two

Aeschylean

world.

by

parallels Prometheus is an

that the

unique figure in the

For Christ and Siva are consoled by the

But Prometheus

by the High God,

Olympians.

with Greek or

exception

The commentators on the

and with one

and insulted

all the

this

Comparative Religion,

at its

unique phenomenon

adequately by Mr. Thomson in his recently

briefly consider first the fundamental features of the play so far challenge our

Prometheus is presented to us as a God, and his Godhead was

published edition. Let us

as they bear on the religious and ethical questions which

solution.

1 VideMonier-Williams, Dictionary, s.v. Siva.

40

THE

PARADOX

OF THE PROMETHEUS

VINCTUS

41

sufficiently

by

associated with the

he is a

the

Titanic

group, such as he and his mother '

their survival was accounted for

pathetic

with the Titans.

advice alone that Zeus and

supreme

any

a

something

of

habits,'

his

Olympians

that Zeus had

fire and that Prometheus had

crude story of Adam and Eve and

ofjustice:

and the

Apollo

attested by Greek

they

mythology,

for the Athenians

him in the Akademeia and which was

Even the Olympians recognise that

the next

belongs to the older

few,

and

specially

the

altar which

God;

erected to

Lampadephoria.2

this

and he himself in

play proclaims

He

with

and in

play,

And

Prometheus Luomenos,deplores his immortality.

most

of whom

were dispossessed

Ge-Themis,'

by reference that they had

The

Aeschylean

his

helped

Kronos,

but a

survived in the later cult.

the

Olympians

avers

in their

that it was

the myth to which Prometheus makes

struggle

his

the

far from showing

Prometheus

by

Therefore

family won the victory.

gratitude.

But so

God owed him a deep debt of

indebtedness,

sense of

he inflicts on the Titan an

in

agonising punishment,

reprobates,3

crime

the sole

'philanthropic

of

torture of the kind

like

Prometheus

his

but

enemies

specially

as

a

alone,

that

the Eumenides specially

impaling.

mankind,

This

And

his

perpetual

is

crucifixion and

beneficent service to

his

gift

of fire to men.

that which was the

of

Hephaistos.

It

gift is represented by

the

nowhere indeed stated

that mortals were not to receive

deliberately disobeyed. In our equally

a primitive principle

they knew when eating it they were disobeying a divine mandate,

But there is

or in Hesiod of any disobedience on

might have justified the anger of the despot

theft of

rightful prerogative

is

especially

a

issued

clear mandate

the

apple

there is

early Jewish God

part

was fully as of

Aeschylus

merely

that

vindictive as Zeus.

Prometheus

Zeus

loved

no hint either on the

the part

of Prometheus which

0s

vtov

Kpar<,.

It

is

parvenu

and

tried

to

preserve a race whom

soon as the

the whole race

man, blameless lives under

new race of

the designs of Zeus and to save mankind.

supposed, Aeschylus

casual

escape Greek nor the Biblical

God

means of

in 11. 234-35 the Titan asserts that as

wished to destroy

and

them to create a

and Prometheus boasts that he alone dared to thwart

usually

and to some to Deukalion the

correct, neither in the

the action of the High

the

Zeus hated;

Olympian dynasty was established,

of

who

Kronos,

according

and

beings,

that

is here

to Hesiod had led

if,

happy

as is

having destroyed

to

It is

doubtful

very Deukalion's deluge

suggested

referring

myth

it was Prometheus who

in his ark.4

the

Even if this view is

Aeschylean

The

version of the deluge-story is

given a clear moral significance and purpose.5

So far we discern in

statement of the whole

Prometheus-legend is

tO0os

predominant

in the

tioned is the stealing of fire which Zeus had hidden away from mortals

influence of Hesiod.

given

both

Theogony and Worksand Days;

to

make

their

in

lot

detail,

in the latter the

former

only

offence men-

an

additional

on

Zeus

in

offence

order

harder.

In

the

the

trick

that

poem

is narrated

Prometheus

played

Vide my Cults

Athena,

3

Ref. 98g-.

1. 190o.

2

of the Greek States,v, p. 381, and i,

Apollod. i,

4

5 Ibid. 3, 8,

7, 2. 2, mentions the view that the flood was

caused by the wickedness of Lykaon.

42

parts poet tries to save the omniscience of Zeus

in the allocation of the

L.

R.

FARNELL

of the sacrificial

victim;

excuse

critic

who

refusing

motives

eagle,

narrative

the old Boeotian

for

wreaking

High

in

in the

of

antiquity

declares

who

his

in

a

cook-shop.

to

it

to allude

from Hesiod:

and

finally

the

appears

glory

Zeus

of the

of

from

whom,

Isthmian,7

the

he

child

great

of

only

of

by making

better

him choose the worser

his

God

portion

spite

to

gives

deliberately,

in order to have

the

that

is, he

thinks it

to

be

on

it

ignorant.

this

legend

suggests

for

high

But he borrows

regard

the further

to which

on mankind;

malignant

the

showed

more becoming

The

be

than

his

only

is Lucian,

right judgment that KaKi•aaos

i

RpoPlEvOs

his

a vulgar

tragedy

many

quarrel

by

other

of

the

Aeschylus

in

the cruel

deliverance

to consent

his beloved

as

prove borrowed the momentous

of Thetis.

by

The combination

trilogy

Aeschylus

the

to them

the

The

naivete

theology; discernible

But

of

in the popular

great

drama.

punishment,6

by

Herakles,

reluctantly,

son.

tried to

But

torment

in the Hesiodic

merely,

as it seems, for the increase

owes much

commentary

of the

also to Pindar, on the Eighth

prophecy

connected

rejected

as to

so

a

But Aeschylus

in

my

motive

I

have

Pindar,

But

we

variety

concerning

keystone

this was in no way

with the

it with

form the

mythopoeic

Prometheus-legend

strong reprobation. of a

achievement

who would

may

himself.

both.

probably of the two motives

believe

to

have

to Hesiod

have

been

is

his indebtedness

of his motives,

In

the

drama Zeus

narrative

greater

still, in respect

not

but of one momentous

religious of the Hesiodic

idea

poems

common

and

of

Prometheus-legend

is

presented

fire-theft

Aeschylean

Hesiodic

as an evil God, and the sacrifice

with

hating shows the crude

of higher

mankind.

of the

and feeble-mindedness

it

is

of folk-lore,

as

a weak veneer

the

only of importance

expressing

feeling, occasionally

of the divine

higher

powers. belief in the goodness was

conception

and even in the more

the

mythology, of an evil God

given

be

giving

the Phaeacians

outside

or of

us real folk-lore

for their

in

surviving

the better

impressive It is otherwise

when

this

and raised to

mind, of the malignancy

generally

God:

and

this has been overlaid by the prevailing

I

have

tried

to

show 8

how

this

its

way

Even

in the more advanced

in

the

crudest

Greek

only the faintest hint is ever

Homer

may was wroth with

inevitable

and won

primitive

religions.

God

essentially

he

Prometheus-legend,

a

when

saving

with

of Greece

to

crude and immoral

the highest pitch of poetry and religious emotion by the

For the PrometheusVinctusmust be called the chef d'euvre of religious drama.

It is religious

enough

his own

thought

hostile to man:

Poseidon

Walter

narrative,

records that

men at sea, and in the Hebrides.

day

Scott

attests the same feeling

clashing

was

not

But the Hesiodic

produce

and with

though

his own

better

thought,

a disturbance

in the

spiritual

world.

piece of folk-lore

on the heights;

is taken

up, developed

genius of Aeschylus.

reader

poetry

and there is no imaginative

6 He does not allude to the vile Oriental torture

a phrase in Hesiod appears

of impaling,

to which

to hint,

Theog. 522.

7

Vol. i, p. 288;

vol. ii, p. 38o.

8 Attributes of God,pp. 163-67.

THE

PARADOX

OF THE PROMETHEUS

VINCTUS

43

conversant with Greek who is not thrilled

have been a fateful crisis in the

history God of the whole nation and of the world-for

God-should have been

Therefore it might well

of Greek religion, when the High

Zeus is more than a national

the people

by it.

represented before a great gathering

helped mankind,

also as

and omniscience.

of

in all seriousness and solemnity as

them, callously ungrateful to his benefactor, cruelly tormenting one whose

obviously lacking And

Aeschylus him in the blackest traits:

eagle, the despot's reply

poet the narrative of the most discreditable of the amours of

Zeus,

for

It was only Pindar who had the power to invest them with poetic beauty and

dignity,

But

version

perjury

as told

utterly evil, hateful to men and hating

only

the

sin was to have saved and

supreme

qualities of omnipotence

has gone further in the process of representing

he borrows from Hesiod the further torture of the

to the defiance of the Titan.

as a by-motive

his love-affair with Io.

And he also borrows from the older

Such stories are

necessarily stumbling-blocks anthropomorphic religion.

Herakles, Aiakos,

in his

those who have risen above the level of

so that the divine amours that engendered

seem

gracious

Aristaios might

the

of Hera.

cruel

that they

actions for the welfare of mankind.

and

degrading

to

Zeus;

by

Hesiod the

Zeus commits

Zeus commits

of lovers.

lo-legend is graceless

perjury, so

Aeschylean

that henceforth there is no sin in the

version is

equally derogatory to

malignant cruelty

Prometheus may well appeal to this as a further proof of the

and the Chorus shudder at the thought

And the

High God who is impotent

oppression

of the

Finally, we may

to save his victim from the

tyrant God;

themselves might become the victims of divine lust.

nothing beyond this play,

note that even the ministers of Zeus, Strength and

as wholly

we should feel bound

Might, are depicted as specially brutal, and the Olympian

contemptible.9

and

to interpret it as a mighty religion.

Hermes

If we looked then at

dangerous challenge to the whole Olympian

greater force, as Aeschylus

being, so as to win

the

has lavished his

powers

of

Aeschylus was dramatically right.

to win

deliverance in the end, and holds the fate of Zeus in his hands, that the

wedge through his quivering

passively suffering, If he were in

a

be a motive for the Grand

Ober-Ammergau Passion-play

could be

malefactor who deserved his

Guignol, but not for the Attic stage.

This is felt with all the

in

depicting

the Titan as a noble and lovable

and

admiration.

It is only

And

for him our

entire sympathy

judgment because Prometheus is sinless

and deeply wronged, able by godlike endurance and patience

spectacle of a God

breast, doing

nailed to a rock with a

nothing

through the whole play but

of great tragedy. it

endured as a theme

torment,

might

At the

we

not

sense later antiquity,

Cynic school of philosophy, who maintained

should

for the

not

endure

the long

spectacle

of the

crucified

of the

triumphant

we

find

a

exaltation

of the

of

all civilisation

indeed,

condemnation

any way

were

Christ,

it

In

the

evil; 10

divine

man.

in

Prometheus

to be

9 On

theother hand,Hephaistos showssome kindly

doubt because he

sympathy with Prometheus, no

was affined to him as a brother-god in the Attic cult. o10E.g. Dio. Chrys. Or. vi, pp. 91-92 M.

44

they

of

and the Athenian

in

ances

after

reformer'

against

Prometheus

unmeasured

the

was a

virtue in and the rack are

brave and devoted

spat

of the

and admired

his tormentor. conscious of the

for the eagle-torture

his

devours

may

partly

the

L.

R.

FARNELL

could therefore

We know

of

regard

that

Prometheus

a view

As

who civilised man as

would

be

impossible

modern

the principle

Aeschylus

Thomson

evil.

such

and

cretinism.

for

period.

edition published

of his

regards

the

criticism, Mr.

Press quotes

implying

that

or

an

his recent

both

all

in

by

German

Cambridge

scholarship

was

a

some utter-

was

English

the

right.

deserved

moral

Zeus

Prometheus

his

rebel

'impertinent

protests

blame

who

such

punishment.

But

he

Mr. Thomson

himself

when

who

rightly

to

by

is

under torture he hurls

inclined

gently

for his lack of

against

the

acoq(poaivy,

High

God,

and

defiance

Now

retaliates

sending

self-restraint,

eagle.1"

coqPpooavn, measured

under

We do not

well-balanced

high regard among the

hardly

hetaira

places

who

face.

the Greeks;

for its exercise:

but the torture-chamber

did not blame the

and

victim

politeness we should not have loved

before

they

bit

out

her

from

tongue

the

and whimpered

B.c.,

Douris

of

finds a

Samos,

justification

torture

expect

And

it in the tyrant's

Inquisition

when under treatment.

A

more if he

the

of

Prometheus

writer

to violate

the

to

had cowered

century

older

fourth

religious immorality

by

the

perverting

maiden

of the

the

story,

the

legend:

was

and therefore the eagle

we

sin of Prometheus

moral

purposes,

attempt

Goddess

Athena,

his liver,

seat of lustful

justify

passion.12

has

when

For

believe,

Zeus, Douris

inspired

transferred to

he wrote

Prometheus

sinful attempt

Aeschylus

of Hephaistos,

and he can

his brother-god.

than

was never more

13

those words of

defiance to a white

his audience would blame his

There were dramatic

for the Titan;

heat,

his poetic sympathies

hardly

hero

have

at least seem to be kindled

coldly

or desired that

of language.

applaud,

although

the terror of

tremble

at the

calculated

for lack

the

of moderation

Greeks

might

occasions

when

not

from a free man

but a stormy outbreak

or a free God, from an Antigone,

a timid

the words.

boldness

function

righteousness

in

commending

and more faithful than the disciples of Christ.

of moral indignation

acoppoaqvn,

a Kassandra, or a Prometheus,

be thrilled

the Oceanids,

with

Chorus,

The

sitting

on the fence,

might

maidens,

Chorus of divine

implore

but

by

of the Titan

of

all

of the

it

that

and

Choruses; of his cause

him to be careful:

they

show

their

to abandon

to

share

this is the bourgeois

judgment

and

overthrow;

of

the

determining

thus

Choruses

final

him

refusing

spite

But

to

warnings

of Hermes

to

us

as the

that

his final

themselves

has

been

Prometheus

ooX

most lovable

Aeschylus

sinned:

of all Greek

supposed

has

O-t

himself indicates his own

the

Chorus

in giving

gently

'put

feeling

it

appear

saving them from misery.

somehow

him,'

and on the face of it this might

men fire and

ifjaprEs;

(1. 276),

to mean 6p.s that

they thought

If so,

he had sinned

that need not be the verdict of Aeschylus,

11 ' The wrath of Zeus is a disease, the unrestraint of Prometheus is a disease,' p. I I.

12 Miller,

FGH.

ii,

Fr.

19:

his new

version

blurs

the violation, but that is implied.

985-95;

1a 11.180-90;

939-59;

io19-28.

THE

PARADOX

OF THE PROMETHEUS

VINCTUS

45

but

for the Chorus are by no means always the mouthpiece of the poet;

that cannot be their

at once,

meaning, for Prometheus accepts their

OiK &pvi aopat: and he can only

was

a

&papria, an

the

against

suggestion

suggestion

mean,

half

KWVK&6VfapTov,

that

his whole

ironically,

activity

error of judgment,

in that he had

that Zeus would

does not allow us

And

Prometheus is the more blameless.

Prometheus.

strong, never thinking

Aeschylus, then,

to discern any sin, still less any confession of sin, in

as

Such a delineation of the character of Zeus is in direct contradiction

championed

the weak

repay him with such fearful cruelty.

Zeus

is

the

more

cruel,

the

more

ungrateful,

of the best Greek tradition from Homer

religious thought

consistent picture of the High

Gods and

over the self-inflicted miseries of mankind.

serious

fairly

as a righteous Judge, the Father of

grieving

And this aspect of him was

He

active

popular Prometheus claims to have been. No

downwards.

In

the

of Homer, as has been often exposed, we have the

God

the evil but

befriending

the

good

and

the

as

cult

as

devoted

until

to

q<ta&vepoTrros

men, punishing

indeed

was

recognised in many cults and cult-titles found throughout Greece.

was

philanthropy, as the

not

regarded in

Aeschylean

Greek

God

definitely

characterised

Asklepios,

who in the later

But neither

was

the

Also, the

par

Pagan period was the nearest

Greek

any

God

definitely

antithesis to the

counterpart to Christ.14

least

of all

Zeus.

was

And the strongest

presented by

long after the date of this play, and revealing

highest religious

in his other works. be said to have been

religious message that Aeschylus strives to convey

He is

of Apollo.

especially

of the Prometheus Vinctus,belong to the great religious poetry of the world.

And the people before whom he represents Zeus as a cruel and unjust

specially

who sit near the throne

the

you.' scholars try to belittle, but no

tyrant

And some of his utterances concerning the High God, those

Zeus of the

pt•aveppcoTros,

Prometheus-trilogy

masterpiece of Pheidias, the Zeus Olympios, wrought not

the

him in accordance with

peace

ideals of the race as the God of

Zeus of the

and mild benevolence.

conflicts with the

PrometheusVinctus violently

excellencethe

in the

apostle of Zeus, as Pindar may

at a date not

Oresteia,composed

far removed from that

in this play he hails in the majestic lyric of the Eumenidesas

god:

' Hail, ye people of this city, ye

dear to that

of Zeus, dear to his dear maiden

(sheltering) wings

Here

daughter; of Pallas Zeus halloweth

and being beneath

15

then is the paradox, which some

one

find in

or view from that found in his other

and declare the

has explained.

A cheap and easy solution, of course, is always open to us when we

a work attributed to a famous author a marked difference in tone

the attribution

than one scholar

works; we may deny

work spurious.

to

the

And so recently more

has been

taining

masquerading

established

deny

it to be the work of someone

found

authenticity

of the Prometheus

Vinctus, main-

of Jonia

the

influenced

by the scepticism

under the name of Aeschylus

Mr. Thomson

has

and writing

to undermine

religion.

sufficiently

exposed the absurdities

14 Vide my Hero-Cults,pp. 276-77.

x5 11.997-1002.

46

of this view,

classics should be devoid of out

can we

difficulty

distinction,

supreme

the

imperfect

only

merely as an imperfect

But

the

of the

myths as Pindar did, there was no reason

L.

R.

FARNELL

and we need

only lament

literary

that scholars who work upon

the

sense.

Ruling

any possibility

the

as we

find

by

in

God,

Zeus

of doubt

the

Platonic

the all-just

of

the

as to the authenticity

that

Stoic

Aeschylus

theology, ruler and beneficent a

mythology,

to explain

why

such repellent

of the play,

imagines

between

creator

a

a

of

limited

here,

traits;

and

and

not

evade

suggestion

and

such

God?

transcendental

and

the

universe,

here,

that

popular

still have

God

with

Even so, we should

represent

that

is unreal

of

and

he should

distinction

God, but as entirely

for Aeschylus.

highest

if our poet

his

evil, and a hater of mankind.

In

the

decisive

is still

of

passage

the

vision

Zeus

detrimental

of Zeus or of Aeschylus,

of God with

in our own

Agamemnon,16 the God

popular

religion,

religious

chose

to reject the

he should not be.

why to save the character

some justification

Other scholars, anxious

and man.

try to find some ' theodicy,'

Prometheus

pulpits;

suggested by Professor

the Aeschylean

of the dealings

' theodicies'

We are used

to strange

but to none so strange as that which is half expressed or tentatively

Murray

in his Rise of the Greek

Epic:

17

all is well

in

world, for the cruelty and the suffering end in reconciliation,

both

Zeus and

Prometheus

have

to go through

emerge

a long

and

and trouble from which

carrying

after thousands

of wishing

the

be

to

in

the

they the spirit of love presides with

on an amour

lo,

both

nobler

over the torture,

from which

because

the future

We

a sermon.

of years will be engendered.

to

amour

represented

preach of Zeus that was

human

need

us such

directly

with

by such a genial that

race

of

purification;

that

by

poet

was

but

unless

needs

And to suggest

a lofty

it,

strong

in Prometheus

victim

for his

and love;

has just

not

with

as

We

peace

period of probation

purified

Zeus

deliverer

ought

It

connected

as

Alkmena.

the poet

the tortured victim's

that

intrigue

purpose

and at the same

future release does not

time

at the end:

been

of Prometheus

to

accuse

cry

Aeschylus

was a far

Pindar

from Jo to

Herakles

an

act

discern

Herakles:

of

and

might

beneficence

beneficence

that

Zeus

is

does not show us the

dark spot

bold defiance of the tyrant is a vice.

the

of the narrative;

with

mortal

was

Zeus's

maiden

and