Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus (525 BC – 456 BC)
- List of characters:
- K = Kratos (God of Strength)
- HP = Hephaestus (God of Blacksmithing & Fire)
- P = Prometheus (Titan, personifying science & technology – name means “foresight”)
- C = Chorus of Oceanids (Daughters of Oceanus)
- O = Oceanus (Titan, personifying the Sea)
- I = Io (Mortal lover of Zeus)
- HR = Hermes (Messenger of the Gods)
K – We have come to the end of the earth, the Scythian wild. Hephaestus has to chain this criminal to the rocks in adamantine chains. It was your pride & joy that he stole & gave to the mortals. This is so he learns to live with Zeus’s rule & stop loving mortals
HP – Kratos & Bia, you’re done here, you may go. I can’t
bear tying a fellow god to this rock but I can’t refuse. To disobey Zeus would
be bad news.
à Son of Themis, this breaks my heart to do this. You’ll be alone, no mortals to come & visit you. The sun will back you. The night will freeze you. You’ll get no relief. But this is what you get for disobeying gods & loving mortals too much. You’ll never stop. You’ll never move. Any cries from you will be ignored. Zeus is merciless, as are most new rules
K – Why are we delaying & pitying him? Why don’t you hate the god who’s betrayed you by giving away our most valuable possession?
HP – Out of friendship & blood.
K – OK, but you can’t disobey the Father. Aren’t you afraid of him?
HP – You’re cruel
K – Your pity doesn’t help him. Save your breath
HP – This job is the worst
K – This isn’t your fault. Don’t worry why it’s being done
HP – Still, I wish someone else could do it
K – Everything is a chore. Only the ruler of gods, Zeus, is really free
HP – These chains are evidence enough
K – Hurry up. Zeus will tan your hide if he sees you dawdling
H – The chains are set
K – Double check them. They have to be as strong as possible
HP – There’s no way he’ll get loose
K – Chain the other side too. He has to learn that no one can outsmart Zeus
HP – Prometheus, poor guy. I feel bad about this
K – Slowing down? Pitying Zeus’s enemy? Careful, this could be you one day.
HP – Easy, this is difficult to do
K – He’s only getting what’s coming to him. Make the chains tighter. The judge of our work is a very harsh critic
HP – Your words are as harsh as these locks
K – Be as pathetic as you like but I’m not being harsh
HP – He’s all tied up. I’m out of here
K to P – This is what you get for stealing from the gods & giving it to the mortals. Will the mortals save you? The name “designer” or “foresight”. You’re going to need a designer & foresight to get you out of this one. [ALL BUT PROMETHEUS LEAVE]
P – Oh, divine air, river fountains, laughing oceans… Mother
Earth, help! See what torment I, a god, have to suffer from other gods. Look
what the new ruler has come up with to torture me. I’m groaning for the
suffering to come. Who knows when it will end? I’m chained up because I gave
gifts to the mortals. I sneaked in & stole fire. This act has given every
human a skill & so I have to pay the price, chained up out here in the open
àWhat’s that sound & smell? Gods? Mortals? Both? Is someone out here just to watch me suffer? What do they want? Look at me, prisoner & enemy of Zeus, lover of mortals… [CHORUS ENTERS]
C – Don’t be afraid. We come as friends but with wings. We’ve fought for our father’s consent to come out here once we heard the chains being forged. We came as quickly as our wings could carry us.
P – Daughters of Tethys & Oceanus. Do you see me chained up here to this rock?
C – We see you, Prometheus. Fear brings tears to our eyes to see you waste away in these shameful chains. The new rulers of Olympia & Zeus have thrown their weight around arbitrarily. He’s destroyed everything we hold dear
P – I wish he’d sent me down to Hades with the dead or Tartarus & left me chained up here so no one could see me. Now I have to deal with the elements & my enemies
C – What terrible god could enjoy seeing this? Who doesn’t feel your pain, except Zeus? He’s conquered all the other gods & won’t stop until he’s had enough, or at least until another god topples him
P – I might be chained up here but I can tell you Zeus’ll want to talk to me about the secret of his downfall but he won’t get a peep out of me until he gets me out of here & makes it up to me
C – So defiant in all of this. Are you sure that’s wise? Zeus is mean & doesn’t seem to be the type to back down
P – Yes, but his “justice” is just whim. One day, he’ll soften up. His time will come. He’ll come crawling to me one day, I’m sure
C – Let’s hear how this whole mess happened. Why’d he arrest you & abuse you? But… only if telling us won’t get you in worse trouble
P – It’s hard to say but harder not to say. The gods began
to argue. Some wanted to overthrow Cronos so Zeus could rule. Others didn’t
want Zeus to take me. I gave advice to the Titans but they wouldn’t listen… I
thought it’d be best to back Zeus – something both sides of the Titans liked.
Because of my advice, Cronos is in Tartarus. I did that for Zeus & this is
the thanks I get. It seems common to all tyrants, never to trust friends. But
you asked why I’ve been punished…
à When Zeus took power, he gave the gods various privileges & set up his empire. But he didn’t do anything for the mortals. He wanted to wipe the race out & start another one. I was the only not to get on board with that. I braved this plan & saved the mortals from total destruction. That’s why I’m here. I pitied mortals but no one has pity for me. This is a shame to the glory of Zeus
C – It’s really a hard heart who wouldn’t feel your pain. We wish we hadn’t seen it & now that we have, we all feel pain
P – It’s bad to look at.
C – Anything else?
P – Yes, I took away the mortals’ expectancy of death
C – How?
P – I put blind hope in their hearts. & I gave them fire. Now I’m in chains.
C – & there’s no end to it?
P – Not until he decided it’ll end
C – Why would Zeus change his mind? Is there any hope? Didn’t you see you were in the wrong? Why don’t you try to get out of this somehow?
P – That’s easy for you to say down there.
C – We want to hear the whole story [OCEANUS ENTERS ON A SEA MONSTER]
O – Prometheus, I’ve come a long way to see you. I feel your pain as a friend & family member. I hold no one in higher regard than you. I want to show you I’m not just saying that. How can I help?
P – Who’s this? Another one to come watch me suffer? How did you leave the water? Why are you here? To see Zeus’s friend tortured by Zeus himself?
O – Prometheus, I’ve got some advice. There’s a new ruler in town. You ought to learn to adapt & get used to it. Zeus will hear what you say. Let’s calm down & relax. I know I sound silly but you have to respect the gods. Zeus is a despot & no one can control him. I’ll do my best for you but try not to say anything you’ll regret. Every extra word worsens things for you
P – Lucky you. You didn’t get into the trouble I did. You ought to leave. You’ll never persuade him. Don’t get yourself into any trouble
O – You’re a better advisor to others than you are to yourself. I’m going to see Zeus. He’ll listen to me
P – I appreciate your concern but I don’t want you punished on my behalf. It won’t do any good. Save yourself. I don’t want my cause to harm others. I can wait until Zeus calms down. I feel what’s been done to Atlas, having to hold up the heavens. Typhon lived in Cilician caves before he was zapped by Zeus’s lightning bolt. I feel their pain but I can wait it out
O – Will crying help?
P – Yes. You can soften the heart with soft words, not with roughness
O – If I can’t change your mind, I’ll leave you. This isn’t fun [OCEANUS LEAVES]
C – We mourn for you. Zeus has tortured you, made laws only for his own good, & shown the elder gods no respect. Every country mourns your fall from grace. All mortals share in your suffering. The ocean waves cry out for you & Hades’s caves rumble
P – Don’t think it’s out of arrogance or pride that I’m up
here. My heart’s tearing apart at the injustice. Who gave the new gods the
authority? I’ll finish my story for you
àIn the beginning, mortals had senses but couldn’t understood what they saw & heard. They lived in a dream & lived in holes like ants. They couldn’t tell winter from summer & couldn’t make plans. I showed them how to domesticate animals, create the wheel – all inventions to make their lives better. But for all that, I can’t make my life any better
C – Your suffering is eating at your brain. You can’t cure yourself
P – I even taught them to make medicine to get rid of disease
C – You’ve helped man at your own expense. One day, you’ll be free & will be greater than Zeus
P – Not any time soon. I’ll have to suffer more. Necessity is stronger than skill
C – Who’s in charge of necessity?
P – The 3 Fates & the unforgiving Furies
C – Is Zeus weaker than them?
P – He can’t escape fate?
C – What’s his fate? Not to rule forever?
P – I’m getting tired of these questions
C – You’re hiding something important
P – Now’s not the time. I’ll use it to escape
C – We hope all-powerful Zeus never does this to us. We can’t forget to sacrifice to the gods. Let’s never speak ill of them. Hope restores by giving it joy. We shudder to see your pain. Your reverence for man is higher than it should be… What good has it done you? What help can mortals give you? Don’t you see how helpless & feeble they are? There’s no way they can ever get you off Zeus’s shitlist. [IO ENTERS WITH A HORN ON HER HEAD, IN A CRAZE]
I – Where am I? Who’s that chained to the mountain? Why are you there? Tell me how I’ve come here. Ah!! Ah!! More gadflies stinging me. Piss off! The 100-eyed man, Argus, I see him even though he’s dead, hunting & haunting me – making me wander. Why am I here? What have I done? I’ve lost my mind. Burn me. Throw me into the sea to be eaten by monsters. All this wandering has worn me out. Don’t you hear me?
P – How can I not? You’re Io, daughter of Inachus, object of Zeus’s desire & you’ve been doomed to wander the earth by Hera
I – How did you know all that? Why are you here? How do I get out of this mess? Help me!
P – I’m Prometheus, the fire-giver
I – You’re a hero to man. Why are you being punished?
P – I’ve just told my story?
I – Who did this to you?
P – Zeus’s decision & Hephaestus did the work
I – Why?
P – I can’t say any more
I – Ok. Tell me when my wandering will end
P – I probably shouldn’t say
I – Please don’t hide it. Why won’t you tell me?
P – It’ll destroy your mind
I – I’m already in bad shape
P – OK
C – Before you tell her, let’s hear what happened to her
I – Every night I heard a voice in my dreams, saying “Why remain a virgin when you could have the greatest of all unions? Zeus wants to make love to you. Don’t turn him down. Go to the meadow in Lerna with your father’s flocks & herds. So Zeus can assuage his desire.” I had these dreams every night until I told my father. He sent people to check with the Oracles. The answers were vague & contradictory. Finally, a clear answer came back that I should go. If my father had refused, Zeus would’ve destroyed my family. So he sent me out. My mind & body have become twisted. I grew horns, got stung by gadflies constantly. I met Argus, the 100-eyed giant, but he was killed. Now I’ve been running from these gadflies so long I have no idea where I am
C – That’s a crazy story. It’s frightening to imagine what fate awaits her
P – This poor thing has had to deal with Hera’s hatred. Io, go east, over the unploughed fields of Scythia. There’ll be nomads with long-bows. Stay away from them. Continue along the coast. On your left will be Chalybes, big into blacksmithing. Stay away from them – they’re savages. You’ll come to the river Hybristes. Don’t cross it until you reach the Caucuses, massive mountains. Then go south where you’ll see the man-hating Amazons, who’ll guide you a while. Then you’ll get to the Cimmerian Isthmus, a narrow gateway to the Lake Maeotis. Your crossing will be so famous, they’ll give it the name, Bosporus because of you. You’ll leave Europe & into Asia. Zeus is a terrible tyrant to all. He’s ruined you just in order to get his rocks off
I – Oh… Oh…
P – You’re crying but what will you do once you hear what’ll happen to you?
C – Tell us. There’s more than all that?
I – Why should I carry on living? Why should I not just jump off this cliff? I’ll be dead & all the suffering will end
P – I’m not you could handle what I’m going through. I can’t die & I can’t get down. I’m stuck Zeus is no longer in charge.
I – Will he ever lose power? How?
P – You’d like to see that wouldn’t you?
I – Of course, especially since he’s done this to me. Who’ll take the power from him?
P – He himself by his own vain imagination. His marriage will make things bad for him. But I can’t say much more
I – & all this will make him leave his throne? By a new spouse? Or an overthrow?
P – She will bear him a child & he’ll be mightier than him
I – Who will make him undo the chains?
P – Your child?
I – My Child?
P – Not your but many generations later
I – Sounds like the Oracle talking nonsense
P – Not yours but many generations later
I – Sounds like the Oracle talking nonsense
P – Then don’t try to learn your own fate
C – Let’s hear it
P – The city of Canobus at the mouth of the Nile, there Zeus will restore your mind & your body. You will have a child, Epaphus. He’ll be a successful man. 5 generations later, 50 women of the family will come back to Argos running from unlawful marriages within their own family. They will be hunted down but god will protect their chastity. Each woman will kill her husband. However, one girl will not kill her husband. She’d rather be seen as a coward or weak than a killer. But she will be the mother of the kings of Argos. One son’s bow will set me free. That’s what my mom told me, anyway
I – Oh, here it comes again. The fury & the pain. My heart pounds from the insanity. I can’t control my tongue. Ohh [IO LEAVES RAVING]
C – The first man who uttered the words “Marry within your own class” was very wise. Don’t marry up or down. Please fate, don’t let us share a bed with Zeus or any other god for that matter. Just seeing Io’s fate is an example of what not to do. She’s been made crazy by Hera. A marriage at one’s own level is best
P – Zeus’s pride in going after mortals will be his downfall. He’ll suffer the same fate as his father, Cronos, when the new gods replaced the old. Let him feel secure in his throne. His time is going to come. [ENTER HERMES]
HR – You old arrogant bastard. Fire-thief, mortal lover. I’m here to tell you this is Zeus’s will. But we hear there will be a problem resulting from the marriage. We want a clear explanation. No word games. Don’t keep silent & make me come back for an answer
P – Such insolence from a gofer to the gods. You’re young & so is your rule. You can’t imagine any trouble coming down the road. I’ve seen 2 falls & I’m looking forward to seeing the 3rd. Soon enough… You don’t see me running in fear, do you? Piss off. I won’t tell you a thing
HR – This is what got you here in the first place.
P – Better than being the gods’ minion
HR – Is it better to serve a rock than be the trusted messenger of the Zeus?
P – That how I answer insolence, with insolence
HR – Enjoying yourself? Don’t blame me for your miseries
P – I hate all gods who treat me badly after them
HR – You sound crazy
P – Sure, if hating your enemies is mad. Alas… the misery…
HR – “Alas”. “Misery”. Those are words that Zeus doesn’t understand
P – He’ll learn it eventually. Time will teach it to him
HR – Time hasn’t taught you to be sensible
P – Not to a lackey like you
HR – This is a waste of time
P – Why do you expect help from me? I won’t talk until I’m unchained. Tell Zeus to do his worst
HR – This isn’t helping you any. I wish you would think straight
P – Your advice is useless. I’m not afraid of Zeus. I won’t beg my enemy to free me
HR – This is pointless. I can’t get through to you. You’re so stubborn, which won’t do you any good. You’re going to experience real hell & never come out of it. Zeus’s lightning will shatter you. Eventually you will come back up to the light & an eagle will pick at your liver as well as the rest of you. Your suffering will never end. It won’t end until some god puts an end to it & go down into Hades & into Tartarus & fetch you. Think about it…
C – Hermes doesn’t mince words, does he? I’d take him up on the offer
P – I already knew what he was going to say. Suffering at the hands of an enemy is no shame. Throw some lightning at me. Show me an earthquake. Send me to Tartarus. Do it
HR – You sound crazy. [TO CHORUS] You ought to clear out. This is going to get ugly
C – We’re not persuaded. We can’t abandon our friends. We’d rather stay than commit treachery
P – There’s the earthquake. There’s the thunder & lightning. The winds are whirling. The sky & the sea are melding into each other. What a terrible wrong I have to suffer. [VISIBLE EARTHQUAKE, THUNDER, LIGHTNING. PROMETHEUS & CHORUS SINK INTO THE ABYSS]