Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn all about the Ancient Greek play 'Prometheus Bound,' the story of Prometheus while he was tied up on a mountain top at Zeus' command. Then take the quiz and see what you've learned.

Tied Up for Centuries?

For a serious punishment, the Mongolians would take off one joint by drenching a piece of leather in water and then tying it to the joint and pulling it taught. All day the leather would dry, until finally the joint tore off. The more serious the crime, the more was taken. This punishment seems pretty extreme, but it pales in comparison to the punishment Zeus doled out to Prometheus in the Greek tragedy Prometheus Bound.

In the play, Zeus tries to kill mankind. Prometheus not only saves humanity, but brings them fire as well as writing, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, architecture, and agriculture. Zeus responds by giving Prometheus a punishment even the Mongolians would have been awed by -- he had the Titan tied up on Kazbeck Mountain in the Caucasus Mountains. There, an eagle ate his liver. Of course, Prometheus was an immortal, so each night the liver would regrow and allow the cycle to continue.

Prometheus enduring his punishment as an eagle eats his liver
Prometheus Bound

A Little Different from the Myth

The playwright of Prometheus Bound took a few liberties with the story of Zeus and Prometheus. In the myths as we have them, Prometheus was a trickster god who generally helped humans. You can think of him like a Loki if Loki actually cared about people. He was actually more like the Maui of Polynesian myths or Coyote among the Native Americans. The Prometheus in the play is a thoughtful person who also has the ability of prophecy. Several immortals come to visit him during the play in order to help or be helped by him.

There are also all those extra things Prometheus helped mankind with in the play - writing, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, architecture, and agriculture. Those aren't to be found in any of the myths.

How Much Do We Know About the Play?

Prometheus Bound is only one play of a trilogy, but only pieces of the other two plays still exist today. So, we really don't know a lot about the play. We do know that Zeus is punishing Prometheus for saving humans and giving them fire, and there are scenes with the Oceanids, the god Oceanus, a beautiful nymph called Io, and Hermes.

Prometheus tells the Oceanids that if Zeus marries a certain woman, he will be overthrown. Oceanus comes to help him make peace with Zeus, but Prometheus doesn't want to. Prometheus prophecies that Io's thirteenth generation descendant will free him. When Hermes comes to find out which woman's child will overthrow Zeus, Prometheus refuses to answer.

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