Frankenstein & Prometheus

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Frankenstein in Popular Culture

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Who Is Prometheus?
  • 0:48 Victor Frankenstein
  • 1:26 Victor's Era & His Eagle
  • 2:46 The Monster as the…
  • 3:45 A Price to Pay
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

This lesson explores the myth of Prometheus as it relates to Mary Shelley's 1818 masterpiece, ''Frankenstein.'' Still, the question remains: who in ''Frankenstein'' is the 'modern Prometheus?'

Who Is Prometheus?

Mary Shelley's 1818 masterpiece Frankenstein is famously subtitled The Modern Prometheus, after the Greek myth of the god Prometheus. This Greek god steals the sacred fire of Mount Olympus and gifts it to humanity.

The supreme god Zeus condemns Prometheus to eternal punishment for his treachery against the gods. Chained to a rock, Prometheus' liver is eaten by an eagle. Because he's immortal, he heals by night, only to endure the same torture the next day and every day throughout all eternity.

So why would Shelley use this subtitle for her famous novel? Who exactly is the modern Prometheus in Frankenstein? Is it Victor Frankenstein - or his monster?

Victor Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein certainly seems like a modern Prometheus. Prometheus dares to give to humans what had before belonged only to the gods: the sacred fire. In this, he was also giving technology to mankind. The sacred fire provides warmth and sustenance, but it also allows mankind to forge tools and weapons. It frees us from our dependence on the good pleasure of the gods for our survival.

Additionally, Victor dares to give to humans what had belonged only to God: immortality. No longer are life and death a matter of God's will: they are the byproduct of human learning and the outcome of human endeavor and intention.

Victor's Era & His Eagle

Prometheus' name means 'forethought,' but his successor, Victor, is also able to think ahead, planning and carrying out what once only the gods had been able to do. The rapid advance of scientific knowledge characterizes the late 18th century, known as the Age of Enlightenment. It was believed that there was nothing science couldn't do, nothing man couldn't achieve.

This is exactly what Victor does. Locking himself for weeks at a time in his lab, he uses Enlightenment science to steal the sacred fire of immortality from the gods and, in the process, free humans from their dependence on the gods.

In Shelley's novel, things work out for Victor almost as badly as they did for poor Prometheus. Victor, too, endures daily punishment for overstepping his boundaries. He trifles in matters that perhaps humans don't have any right to trifle with. In the process, he brings about what he had tried to conquer: one by one, his loved ones are murdered by that which was to defeat death.

Like Prometheus, Victor's torture is slow. His family isn't wiped out in one fell swoop. Victor must endure the tearing away, piece by piece, of the family and friends who are blood and bone to him. Victor waits for each new loss, just like Prometheus in the nighttime waits for a new day of agony to begin. Both men know the torture that is to come, which is perhaps the greatest punishment of all.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account