Prometheus stole fire and gave it to men. But when
Zeus learned of it, he ordered Hephaestus to nail his
body to Mount Caucasus. On it Prometheus was nailed
and kept bound for many years. Every day an eagle
swooped on him and devoured the lobes of his liver,
which grew by night. According to some stories, after
great torment and punishment, he was freed at last by the
Apollodorus, The Library, book 1:7,
second century B.C.
There are rare men and women, who, inspired by dreams of conquest or righteousness and obsessed by feelings of destiny, overreach with power. They are risk takers and tend toward a Machiavellian personality. They compulsively put their moral integrity in great danger, disregard authority, and believe that they are too special to bend to the wishes of others. In our Western tradition Prometheus mythologizes the unreserved quest for knowledge, where, then, they overreach and face unintended consequences.
In the Romantic era of our history, visionaries who sometimes transformed civilization were thought to be lone geniuses who attempted to go beyond traditional ties and suffered as a result. Today we might consider them unbound Machiavellians with great desires and uncurbed appetites.
The anatomy of Prometheus in this art concept was inspired by Willy Pogany 1979, The Art of Drawing., page 100: Totowa, New Jersey, Littlefield, Adams &U Co. The myth of Prometheus threads the above description.
Classic cases of the Prometheus influence commonly appear in literature and in biographical perspectives, including these well-known examples.
1. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s romantic story of Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Dr. Frankenstein successfully creates a monster from body parts and lightning strikes, in his attempt to give humans the potential for everlasting life. Things become chaotic; the monster rebels against his grossness, finally dies, and Dr. Frankenstein is jailed for months, humbled, and perishes.
2. Joan of Arc has a vision from God in 1429 to lead the French against the British who would occupy all of France. Her vision and confidence inspired the French to resist the invasions from Britain. She led French troops through several successive battles before failing in a critical battle. She was captured in1430 by the British, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake. A rehabilitation trial in 1455-1456 reversed the verdict and she was canonized by the Church in 1920.
3. Jesus Christ was presumably born of God, rose to great influence within the growing Christian faith, was crucified by the Romans, and within days following his death on the cross rose from the dead to extend his influence.
4. T.E. Lawrence, a lowly officer of the British forces in World War 1, was sent to Arabia to help the Arabs in their fight against Turkey and Germany. By promising the Arabs freedom at the end of the war he gained their support and with boldness and cunning and unending sacrifices, Lawrence successfully led the Arab forces to Damascus for a peace conference with the allies. The British and the French refused the Arabs the freedom that Lawrence expected, and Lawrence immediately left Arabia and soon became a recluse until his death by motorcycle accident.
George S. Patton led the allied forces to their victory over the Nazis in World War II, only to find that he was relegated to a minor administrative position. Ironically, he was killed in a car-truck accident and was buried in Germany. His visions of conquests over the Russians were crushed with his death. O’Reilly, in his new book believes that the evidence supports the theory that Patton was deliberately destroyed – Prometheus unbound.
6. Robert Oppenheimer, a renowned physicist, with a vision to build the first atomic bomb, was supported by our government even though it was suspected that he might have been a member of the communist party during his teaching days in Berkeley. He did, in fact, build a research facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and staffed it with some of the most brilliant scientists in the world. Two bombs were produced and exploded on Japan in August of 1945, saving perhaps two million American and Japanese lives. But his days of fame were nearly over, when the government tried him for his communist ties, and took his research security clearances away – Prometheus bound.
These few cases are well-known illustrations of the Prometheus influence, and indeed can be observed among many strong and able politicians, scientists, and unknown folks in every walk of life. The Prometheus Myth is no myth at all. It is common and it can be deadly. It seems to be an almost inevitable circle of psychological change that begins with the unfolding of power and the obsessions that often follow. The changes are often followed by overreaching ambitions, loss of support by allies and enemies, conflict, and loss of prestige, financial status, and power. It is often fatal when conflicts become extreme.
Prometheus Image has a hidden danger for all of us.
Those infected by Prometheus may be at times doomed to lose more than they gain. But, remember this: we who watch the ascension of Prometheus with awe and blessings, thus encouraging behaviors that we favor, are also responsible for indifference and derision when Prometheus stumbles or another glittering alternative appears.
The late Chancellor of Boston University, and former colleague of mine at the University of Texas, John Silber, put it right when he said: “To adopt, as if it were true, an unproven materialism which denies all transcendent meaning to human existence, inevitably dwarfs the human spirit. But the possibility of transcendence, of the search for goals beyond our present reach, has been demonstrated in the lives of countless individuals throughout the history of mankind.” Silber, the most successful leader of Boston University, was another uncharted individual infected by Prometheus and made an outcast for the Governorship of Massachusetts.
We are equally responsible for the rise and fall of excellence. The useful reaction is to value the benefits bestowed by Prometheus, and understand the importance of long-range evaluations during short-term catastrophes.
We also need to develop an attitude of forgiveness when a person fails and accept the right of a person to seek redemption or change of direction without social punishment. Without these attributes a culture may fail to realize its potential.
Empires fatefully follow the same cycles as individuals. The hand of fate deals the high and low cards, and there may be little we can personally do, but we should be aware of the rules of the game and play our options as judicially as possible.
Del Wolf Thiessen, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas at Austin, February 20, 2015