Athena's Web Weekly Column

  Week of September 22nd-September 28th,  2000

Prometheus Bound

Columns Archive


   Like two sides of the same coin, Forethought and Afterthought go hand in hand. One peers into the future, while the other gazes over the past.

   The Greek mythological tradition personified these two intellectual notions as brothers, related by blood, but vastly different in temperament. Forethought was naturally wise, while Afterthought was very foolish.

Prometheus on a black figure bowl

Prometheus on a black figure bowl
with Atlas, his brother

   Forethought did many things for the race of men, and was indeed felt by some to be their champion. Some even said that he had molded people out of clay and gave them life. Having developed a special affection for his creation, he thought about how to improve their lot.

   Long ago, men were required to sacrifice an entire animal to the gods. Thinking this to be unfair, Forethought persuaded Zeus to allow men to eat some of the animal, offering the rest to the gods. He cunningly gave Zeus the choice of which parts would be offered to the gods, and which men could keep and eat. Forethought took all the best portions of an ox, that which could be used for meat, clothing and the like, and hid it in one pile under the hide. He then took all the bones, entrails, and less desirable sections and wrapped them in a smooth layer of marbled fat, which glistened and looked more appealing than their alternative. After making his choice, Zeus was 'angry in his heart' when he examined his selection more closely.

   Forethought's brother, however, was another story. Having been warned not to accept anything from the gods, Afterthought forgetfully took Pandora and her dowry as his wife, a gift from the gods. Her dowry was a box which contained the ills of mankind, which Pandora later opened, releasing all the plagues of humanity.

   Even so, there was one final gift that Forethought was able to give to mankind, and that was the fire which he secreted out of heaven in a fennel stalk. Until this time, men had to eat their food raw, and had nothing to protect them from the harsh cold and elements. Learning about fire was obviously an improvement. However, having had enough of his trickery, Zeus punished Forethought by ordered him bound by Hephaestus to a rocky crag in the Caucasus where an eagle would come peck at his liver daily. Myth claims that he was chained to this rock for thirty thousand years.

   The names that we have used here are the names as the Greeks would have known them. They have been translated to us from the Greek as Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus made man stand upright, unlike the other creatures of Earth, so that he could gaze upon heaven and the stars. It's not surprising when we consider his name, that the Greeks felt Prometheus had prophetic powers. Indeed, some say that he was able to use this knowledge to secure his release, by finally letting Zeus know who was destined to overthrow him.

   In an astrological sense, many of the principle parts of this myth are different manifestations of Jupiter (Zeus) and Sagittarius, the sign it rules. Both energies deal with vision and prophecy, while in the body Sagittarius rules both the liver and fat.

   The reason Prometheus is subjected to daily torture is because true knowledge of the future is often not a welcome or comforting prospect.


Hesoid's Theogony

   For when the gods and mortal men had a dispute at Mecone, even then Prometheus was forward to cut up a great ox and set portions before them, trying to befool the mind of Zeus. Before the rest he set flesh and inner parts thick with fat upon the hide, covering them with an ox paunch; but for Zeus he put the white bones dressed up with the cunning art and covered with shining fat. Then the father of men and of gods said to him:

Gustave Moreau's The Torture of Prometheus, 1868

Gustave Moreau's Torture of Prometheus, 1868

   "Son of Iapetus, most glorious of all lords, good sir, how unfairly you have divided the portions!"

   So said Zeus whose wisdom is everlasting, rebuking him. But wily Prometheus anasered him, smiling softly and not forgetting his cunning trick:

   "Zeus, most glorious and greatest of the eternal gods, take which ever of these portions your heart within you bids." So he said, thinking tickery. But Zeus, whose wisdom is everlasting, saw and throught mischief against mortal men which also was to be fulfilled. With borth hands he took up the white fat and was angry at heart, and wrath came to his spirit when he saw the white ox-bones craftily tricked out: and because of this the tribes of men upon earth burn white bones to the deathless dogs upon fragrant alters."

   And ready witted Prometheus he bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew as much again everyway as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day...


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