Prometheus An Immortal Myth English Literature Essay
As stated by some theories, myths are distorted accounts of historical events*1. Through narratives myths provide an explanation to natural and social facts and answer puzzling questions raised by people hence mythology is considered to be “the womb of mankind’s initiation to life and death” *2
As a matter of fact one can assert that the reason behind the immortality of the myth lies in its universal and timeless themes.
Hence mythology is nothing but an attempt to elucidate social structures and ideologies.
The mythical representation is akin to the historical discourse as the reality to which they refer is a bygone one. Myths are important to the extent that “humans live through their myths and only endure their realities”*3
Prometheus ; An immortal myth
Prometheus has long been and lasts a stirring and a suggestive figure to many poets as well as dramatists.
*2= Joseph Campell “Bios and myths”
*3= Robert Anton Wilson
And perhaps it is its universal themes that stand behind its immortality. As the search for freedom and the defiance of tyranny and oppression are the concerns of mankind throughout ages and centuries. The myth is therefore “a statement about society and a man’s place in it and the surrounding universe”* 4
Prometheus is by far a source of inspiration and an object of interest for many writers and poets mainly romantic poets as their concerns powerfully dovetail with Prometheus’ ones.
The different re-writings of the mythical figure of Prometheus not only translate and reflect deeply the psyche of the poets but also contribute in immortalizing the myth.
*4= Middleton “myths and cosmos”
Prometheus in the Romantic Era and the importance of the context in the re-writing of the myth :
One of the major reasons behind the rise of Romantic poetry is the tumultuous political events of that period. Hence romantic poetry is a reflexion upon the atrocities of reality and a poem “must say something significant about a reality common to us all”*5
Therefore the fact that makes the story of Prometheus a source of interest to romantic poets such as Byron, Goethe and Achabbi is that its themes are reflexive of the rebellious and expressive attitudes of the romantic trend.
The story of the mythical figure was alluring to artists of the romantic era as the identity of Prometheus as both “rebel and liberator”*6 apostrophize vigorously to poets working in the shadow of the revolutions and national movements.
The fact that makes Prometheus’ rebelliousness against Zeus strongly correspond with the romantic poet’s rebelliousness against tyrannies and injustices of his period.
The myth therefore serves the context in which it is written.
*5= W.H Auden
*6= Paul Bertagnolli “Prometheus in music; the representation of the myth in the romantic era”
Hence the mythical as well as the poetic text cannot be detached from its context. As they both represent hope, fears and needs of mankind as a whole.
Prometheus is a heroic example of overcoming limits the fact that is used by romantic poets as a metaphor of the endless human thirst for freedom which in front of it man at the colonial era feels chained and paralysed. The mythical figure therefore represents the anxiety and anguish of the romantic soul.
Through the representation of Prometheus’ suffering and pain the romantic poets shed the light on the weakness and impotency of man in front of tyranny and injustice .
Facing his misfortune with imperious high-mindedness the tragic figure of Prometheus turns into an inspiring symbol of the rebel who stands fearless steadfast in front of Zeus’s strength and violence and who mirrors the image of the romantic poet’s struggle with his surrounding.
Prometheus’ figure represents for romantic poets a projection of their concerns as they both represent the “unrepentant one who while bound and tortured manages to question the sovereign power and ill will of an all-ruling god”*7 or ruler.
Hence Pometheus’ rebellion becomes a symbol of men’s
*7= “ The Gruffish Kratos and the rebel Prometheus . State, Violence and political imagination”
becoming a political beings and mimesis the romantic poets’ quest for the affirmation of men’s right or capacity to exist as a man.
Prometheus therefore “made possible the imaginative enhancement of experience, the metaphysical distinction between what happens to us and what we made of this happening” *8.
The blend between the mythic and the poetic becomes therefore obvious as Zeus stands for the existing order which Prometheus along with the romantic poets attempt to question it in an eternal quarrel between the State and Subversive imagination.
Prometheus upholds the idea of personal freedom, promising individuals a liberation from powerless anonymity by defining themselves beyond external forces.
The dialectics between the freedom of the individual and the pressure of the surrounding are the core of romantics’ concerns.
Hence the myth of Prometheus is highly appealing to the romantic poets since it embodies themes of the defiant who strives for the romantic ideals of knowledge and ambition as opposed to tyranny and oppression.
*8= Donoghue ( 1973 p 26)
The identification with the mythical figure in Goethe, Byron , and Achabbi’s poems :
The re-writing of the myth paved the way to many romantic poets to further explore the status of man in the universe. As “an artist does not tinker with the universe he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life”*9
The following texts which are : Goethe’s “Prometheus”, Lord Byron’s “ Prometheus” and Abul Qasim Achabbi’s “ Nachidou al jabbar” along with Aeschylus’ original text are nothing but an analysis of the ideological and political scene of totalitarianism and tyranny. The poem becomes therefore a space of bespeaking the self.
Aeschylus’ tragedy illustrates exactly the agonistic conflict and extreme polarisation between a “wicked god” and an exalted hero whose freedom is a freedom of “defiance and not of participation”*10
1) Defiance vs Tyranny :
The suffering of injustice is an exclusive trait of man and Prometheus as well as the romantic poet hold a vigorous determination to stand against the mainstream and the ruling force presented in the original text as Zeus the imperious god.
*9= Henry Miller
*10= Paul Ricoeur
This re-writing of the mythical figure varies from one poet to another depending on the different contexts, historical moments they belonged to.
Let’s take for instance the issue of defiance which is highly protuberant in Achabbi’s song in which Prometheus symbolizes “the creative thinker’s stubborn refusal to yield to fate”.
Achabbi here goes beyond defining the oppressor and confronts divine forces “fate”.
In the earlier text the rebel titan by subverting the constituted power actually puts in question the justness of Zeus’ judicial order and hence the justness of the cosmic order as a whole. And by casting Prometheus as a hero Achabbi utilizes him as a reminder that humans can overcome restraints imposed upon them hence the political Prometheus communicates powerfully to Romantic poets.
Prometheus as well as the poets’ transgression is less a mere case of disobedience or law-breaking than an attempt to posit a new man-living law.
Byron also used the same strategy when he accused fate ;
“ and the deaf tyranny of fate”
Prometheus challenges and defies Zeus the fact that mirrors the poet’s struggle against the ruling tyrants and they find in poetry a way to escape from the brutality of their reality.
The same notion of defiance is evident in Goethe’ poem;
“Yet though must leave
My earth still standing
My cottage too, which has not raised by thee”
Many of Goethe’s traits are clearly portrayed through “Prometheus” including his belief in intellectual independence, clarity of thought, confidence in human nature and affirmation of life.
Similarly to the mythical figure the poets confront their enemies through their poetry by which they subvert and reflect upon the ideology of that time the fact that is translated in Goethe’s poem;
“ Here sit I, forming mortals
After my image;
A race resembling me,
To suffer , to weep,
To enjoy , to be glad,
And thee to scorn,
As I ! ”
These verses reflect the resistance and defiance of the poet, as the notion of rebellion is persistent in Goethe’s
*11= Georg Brandes
poem to the extent that “a greater poem of rebellion has never been written”*11 The same idea is permanent in Byron’s poem ;
“ Titan ! to thee the strife was given
Between the suffering and the will,
Which torture where they cannot kill”
The poets then identify themselves with the mythical figure and they reinterpret the myth in their own way
which is of course inundated with Romanticism.
The notion of resistance is stronger in achabbi’s poem which is evident in the tone of the poem;
victory and death ;
Romantic poets’ ultimate goal was to change to status quo in order to prepare for a world in which knowledge and hope prevail. One of their primary target was to stand against tyranny and oppression which was made possible through poetry.
These poets found something that spoke to them in the promethean myth. As they have seen Prometheus’ sacrifice to better humanity mirroring the way they devoted themselves for the sake of defending people’s rights.
Salvation in romantic poetry is not only reached through victory but also through death the fact that is strongly evident in Achabbi’s romanticization of death ;
Even death and punishment turned into a form of victory in the hands of Romantic poets.
They therefore used this synergy between mythology and romanticism as a starting point from which they explored political and moral issues of the day. They attempted to paint a picture of how much worse the world would be if Prometheus in particular and the intellectuals in general had not struggled for the salvation of the nation.
Byron’s poem holds the same notion of making death a form of triumph ;
“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.”
Hence the three poems served as a forum to voice the poets’ dissatisfaction and displeasure with the strict rules that made it impossible to live as one wished.
Throughout their Promethean narratives, each poet vividly allegorizes the social problems of this era.
Poetry therefore becomes an omen for the highly centralized and illegitimate forms of power and Prometheus by far is a means to convey political and moral messages.
It is noteworthy also that Goethe also has the same tendency to transform defeat into victory as he considers the acceptance of tyranny and slavery a form of downfall;
“who rescued me from certain death,
Romantic poets returned to the Promethean myth and infused it with their personal feelings toward the current political and moral structures.
Prometheus has been the emblem for revolutionaries the symbol of triumph over tyrants as he portrays “the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends”.*12
*12= From Preface to Prometheus Unbound, 1820
Bringing the mythic and the poetic together bestows in the birth of a “mythopoeic”*13 poetry. The fact that makes the mythical story of Prometheus conformable to romantic poetry as it amplifies mythological dimensions to the romantic pattern.
As the interconnection between the nature of the Romantic poet and that of Prometheus the defiant, rebellious hero immortalizes and glorifies the mythical figure.
*13= “myth as genre in Romantic Poetry”
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