Shelley’s reputation is based on the 1820 volume of verse containing Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama on a cosmic scale that presents more fully than any other poem Shelley’s philosophy of life.
In ancient mythology, Prometheus was the smartest of the Titans. He separated humanity from the gods and gave it fire, symbolizing imaginative powers of thought. Jupiter punished him by nailing him to a rock in the Caucasus mountain range. Shelley begins his sequel to Aeschylus’s play Prometheus desmts (date unknown; Prometheus Bound, 1777) with Prometheus still in that predicament after some time has elapsed. The Titan describes his ordeal and tells the hopeful Ione and the faithful Panthea that he has secret knowledge of the time when Jupiter will fall from power. Misery has made Prometheus wise. He has realized that hatred makes one like the object of hate, and thus his bondage is primarily internal, self-imposed, and even within his will to end. His hatred for Jupiter having cooled to mere pity, Prometheus wants to gather his sundered strength, reunite with his beloved Asia, and recall the curse that he had cast upon Jupiter. However, he cannot remember it and Nature is too fearful to utter it, so he summons the Phantasm of Jupiter to repeat it. Once divulged, the curse is repudiated by Prometheus, who declares, “I wish no living thing to suffer pain.” Earth mistakenly thinks Jupiter’s victory is now complete, and Mercury carries that message to Jupiter while Panthea goes in search of Asia. As the first act...
(The entire section is 637 words.)