Prometheus Unbound by Shelley: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Prometheus Unbound: A…
  • 1:38 Freeing Onself
  • 2:49 Forgiveness & Self-Sacrifice
  • 4:06 Reunion
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

Whether you're new to the works of Percy Shelley or a returning reader, this lesson is sure to help you get to the heart (or liver) of one of his most notable pieces: 'Prometheus Unbound.' Keep reading to get a synopsis of the drama and see it analyzed.

Prometheus Unbound: A Brief Synopsis

Like its Greek predecessor by the same name, Percy Shelley's drama, Prometheus Unbound centers on the titan, Prometheus,' release from captivity, but the similarities between Shelley's version of this play and Aeschylus' version from centuries before end there.

Shelley's 1820 version opens with Prometheus chained to the Caucasus Mountains, where he originally curses Jupiter, or Zeus, for having sentenced him to this fate. He revokes this curse though, once he becomes aware of the consequences of his hate and instead begins to pity the king of the gods for his insecurity. In spite of 3,000 years of torture--both physical and mental, including having had his liver eaten and regenerated each day--Prometheus will not be persuaded to abandon his hope for humanity and the world.

In Act II, Panthea, a daughter of Ocean and attendant to captive Prometheus, rushes to find the titan's lost love, Asia. Following the signs of Panthea's dream, the two goddesses travel to see Demogorgon. Though an ancient symbol of darkness, the genderless Demogorgon is persuaded by Asia to act on behalf of Prometheus and the betterment of humankind.

Act III sees Jupiter overthrown by his offspring, Demogorgon, and Prometheus is finally released from his imprisonment. He is reunited with Asia, and their bliss is mirrored with the harmonious union of Earth and Moon. In the last stanzas, Demogorgon heralds the news of this harmony and ushers in an age of peace and prosperity for all.

Many scenes like this one depict Prometheus as he is tormented by the eagle of Jupiter, having his liver eaten and regenerated each day.
Sketch of captive Prometheus

Freeing Oneself

Many of us know the feeling of either holding a grudge or having one held against us. However, we've also known the liberation of letting bygones be bygones. When we visit Aeschylus' version of Prometheus Unbound, we find a play that details an ancient grudge-match coming to a close when Zeus (Jupiter) and Prometheus reconcile after 3,000 years.

Shelley's Prometheus also releases his long-held anger, but it is not through reconciliation. In fact, Shelley found the task of reconciling the champion, Prometheus, with the oppressor, Jupiter, of mankind to be impossible. This is because, through reconciliation, Prometheus would've been made to look weak and subordinate.

In Shelley's mind, Prometheus (which is Greek for 'forethought') was the embodiment of humanity's hope for a better tomorrow, a tomorrow free from the restrictions of corrupt government, class, religion, or other social distinctions. Prometheus, being the original foreseer, understood that in order for this dream to become reality, people had to free themselves from the hatred that those distinctions often create.

Forgiveness and Self-Sacrifice

Accordingly, Prometheus liberates himself from his own ancient rage toward Jupiter. Just as we may eventually forgive but not necessarily forget, Prometheus forgives and even pities his jailer. Nonetheless, he doesn't release Jupiter from responsibility for his actions by reconciling with him as though nothing happened.

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