And in a single word to sum the whole-– Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
All manner of arts men from Prometheus learned
This is the first comic I ever made, in it’s terribly pixelated glory:
The Greek myths and stories have always held a special place in my heart, ever since I was but a young 9-year-old reading about the adventures of the demigod Perseus Jackson. 5 years after finishing the much-treasured series, I retain that fascination with Greek mythology to this today, and one of my favorite stories is that of Prometheus.
In case you’ve been chained under a rock and have never heard of this story, this video provides a quick animation of the tale. Short version is, Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to the humans. Zeus was very much unhappy with this, and so he sentenced Prometheus to an eternity of torment chained to a rock. It’s a fun (the Greeks had a different definition of fun) story about the origin of fire that you tell your child before bedtime, and all’s well.
Except I don’t think that’s all there is to it.
The Ancient Greeks were a society of poets and philosophers. In fact, the words themselves derive from the Greek language (“poet” comes from “poiētḗs” – inventor; “philosophy” comes from “phil” – love and “sophos” – wisdom). Their mythology wasn’t simply an assortment of bedtime stories, nor was it a set of doctrines to live by. Instead, many of their myths were attempts to personify and characterize the forces that governed the world around them.
It is not so surprising, then, that the Greek Gods and Titans were so… human. They weren’t perfect, omnipotent beings like Yahweh of the Abrahamic religions, nor were they abstract spirits or ideas like those present in Aboriginal myths*. Instead, they were embodiments the best of us and the worst of us. They were powerful and intelligent and loving and caring but they could also be zealous and cold and ruthless and tempestuous and prideful and petty.
*this isn’t to say the Aboriginal and Abrahamic myths aren’t interesting in their own ways, of course.
And so with this in mind, Prometheus’ myth takes on a new meaning. The story tells us that humanity began to prosper and grow bountifully after receiving fire stolen from the Gods. It allowed us to transform from docile beings of dirt and clay to people of passion, ambition and aspirations. The “fire” then can now be seen as so much more than a flame; it’s a representation for our innate drives that compel us to think and feel and love and hate.
Here the myth becomes less a tale about the origin of fire and more of a declaration by the Greeks that we hold this Godly flame. In other words, if there is anything that can be called divine in our universe, it is us. If there are beings that can be called Gods out there, then we have the same drives and capacities and dreams as them. Prometheus is said to have fashioned humans in the image of the Gods, but the Greeks fashioned their Gods in the image of humans.
There’s something about this idea that is fascinating to me. The Ancient Greeks seemed to understand and capture what I feel many other societies did not: the search for the divine is misguided, for it is inside us. Not in some temple or altar or in some mountain in the sky. We are free to be masters of our own lives and captains of our own ships.
The very same fire that fuels the Gods fuels us. That’s why we can create, craft, inspire and imagine and it’s also why we can be mean and cruel and rapacious and irascible. We take pride in humanity’s accomplishments, and we take fault for its atrocities.
And there’s my take on one of my favorite myths! If anything I hope I’ve given you a motive to look more into the fascinating world that is Greek mythology, and feel a little better about yourself, knowing you have divine fire in you. To top it off, here’s a redraw of that very first comic:
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