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Who Was the God Prometheus? - Mythology, Overview

Instructor: Trenton Mabey

Trenton has a master's degree in global history and has developed college Asian history courses.

Prometheus was a rebel, stealing fire and angering the god Zeus. Explore the stories about Prometheus and learn of his endless torture, chained to a mountain top.

Prometheus

Greek mythology tells of two races of beings that came before humans: the gods and the Titans. Prometheus was the offspring of the Titan Iapetus and the brother of Atlas. The name Prometheus means 'forethought.' Prometheus figures prominently in Greek mythology for one major deed: stealing fire from the gods to give to humanity. He is portrayed as a wise and benevolent individual, even wiser than the gods.

Creation of Humankind

In Greek mythology, humans were created in five different events. The Titans created the first race of humans and Zeus and the other gods created the next four. This is the accepted version of the Greek creation myth. But there is one creation myth that includes Prometheus as a central figure. In this story, Prometheus and his brother Epimetheus, whose name means 'afterthought,' were tasked by the gods to create humankind. Epimetheus was impulsive and created animals first, giving them gifts of power like strength and cunning. When time came to create humans, all of the gifts had been used by Epimetheus on the animals. Prometheus took over at this point and created the first man, named Phaenon, out of clay and water. He created Phaenon to walk upright, the same form as the gods.

Conflict with Zeus

Prometheus did not fight on the side of the Titans like his brother Atlas, but sided with Zeus in the conflict. However, Zeus and Prometheus had different attitudes when it came to the human race. Zeus' father, the Titan Kronos, treated the human race as equals, an attitude his son did not share. After the defeat of the Titans, Prometheus continued with the same attitude as Kronos, supporting humans. Prometheus was asked to prepare an animal sacrifice, a ritual that humans would perform in worship of the gods. He prepared an ox for sacrifice and created two sacrificial bundles. Zeus would choose which one was to be for the gods and which for humanity. Prometheus disguised the bundles by concealing the best parts of meat under the organs of the animal. Zeus chose the sacrifice that included only bones and fat. The deception was designed by Prometheus to benefit humans with the best parts of the sacrifice. Zeus was angry at the deception but had to live with his choice.

Fire

Prometheus supported humans and their development of civilization, which annoyed Zeus. In retaliation for the treatment of the human race by Prometheus, Zeus withheld the knowledge of fire from humanity. Enter Prometheus and the reason for his fame; he stole fire from the gods to give to humankind. Prometheus entered the domain of Hephaestus, the god of fire, and stole fire from his forge. Hiding the flame in a fennel stalk, Prometheus descended from the realm of the gods and delivered the gift of fire to humankind.

Prometheus stealing fire from the gods
Prometheus steals fire

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