How is the Prometheus myth used as an allusion throughout Frankenstein?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are always going to be different readings of mythology, so some level of discrepancy will have to be part of the equation.  However, in terms of the Prometheus myth and its connection to Shelley's work, we can make some claims that are relatively valid.  The first is that Prometheus can be seen as the creator of man.  He was given this as a reward for his assistance to Zeus when he overthrew the other Titans. He also bestowed fire to mankind.  He did this to show his devotion to mankind, his creation, and to allow humans to be "closer" to possessing the capacity of the gods.   The dependence argument is a new twist for me, but I think it makes sense because any creator that cares for their created seeks to give it independence of thought and action.  This is logical to me.  Indeed, Zeus was angry when he was tricked by being given rotten meat as a sacrifice, and Prometheus did give advice to mankind as to how to trick Zeus.  Finally, both Prometheus and Mankind are punished.

The connection between Prometheus and Victor as both creators has received a great deal of publicity on enotes.  I would check out the answers featured.  You are going to see some divergence of opinion.  It is difficult to be able to obtain "a perfectly right and correct answer" because this is the kind of question that we have to ask of the author, and she is not going to be much help to us right now.  However, we can make some assertions as to what their connection might be.  The first point to be made here is that the work is entitled, "Modern Prometheus."  This indicates that Mary Shelley did see Victor as a modern version of Prometheus.  However, she does create the character of Victor and his relationship to the monster as different than the relationship that Prometheus had to mankind.  The first is that Prometheus made mankind in an almost "loving image" of his own sense of self.  This is in stark contrast to Victor, who creates the monster as larger than life and almost beast like.  (Note Shelley's use of the term "hideous progeny.)  By itself, this indicates a difference between the Promethian creator and the Victor creator.  Additionally, Prometheus remains true and loyal to his creation.  He guides mankind, empowers them with fire, a symbol of light and truth and wisdom, and does not abandon them, even at great cost to himself ("Liver/ chain/ cliff/ eagles" thing).  Victor does not have the same level of connection to his creation.  Upon seeing the creature, Victor abandons it and runs away, terrified at what he is created.  He leaves the creature- a being that did not ask to be brought into the world.  This modern creation myth, "Modern Prometheus," depicts abandonment as part of the myth, that in a way the modern setting creates abandonment as part of our identity. Victor abandons the creation and really does not accept his responsibility for taking care and guiding it.  Note again, Prometheus seeks to guide mankind and enable it to be independent.  There is little evidence of this emotional connection between Victor and the monster, and the former has to assume a great deal of that blame.  It is true that Victor does accept the responsibility for killing the monster and hunting it down, but that is not of the same caliber of emotional bond between creator and creation.  This re-conceptualization might be why the modern version of Prometheus is different that the traditional one.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In crafting the creature and giving it life, Victor Frankenstein takes on the role of God, assuming a power that is divine, and, not to be trifled with by men.  Victor, in his desire to expand his creative knowledge, his drive, his ambition to know the origin of life, puts him in conflict with the Provence of God.  He ventures into the realm of God, committing a grave sin, the creation of the monster, and then, subsequently is punished.

Similarly, Prometheus, on instructions from Zeus, creates a race of men from clay and water.  However, the race of beings are not as obedient and do not adore the god as he pleases, so Zeus denies the being the use of fire.

Promethus, on the side of the human beings, brings fire to man behind Zeus's back and is then punished by the god for his disobedience.

What Victor Frankenstein and Prometheus share are a creative spirit, responsible for crafting beings, as well as a destiny of eternal suffering for going beyond the limits.  Victor creates life, crossing into a realm exclusive to God, the creator, Prometheus, disobeys Zeus and gives humans fire.

It can be argued that Prometheus was more loyal to his creatures that Victor Frankenstein, who abandoned his monster because he was repulsed by his hideous appearance. At least Prometheus fought for his creation against the power of Zeus.

However, the greatest similarity between the two lies in their suffering for the unforgivable transgressions committed against the gods, or God in Victor's case. They both suffer isolation and rejection, Prometheus chained to a rock having his liver eaten nightly, Victor becomes obsessed with the creature which isolates him and infuses his life with innumerable suffering, until he dies in his quest for the monster.

"Victor verges on inhuman – he doesn’t seem to have “normal” emotional reactions to any of the events in his life. He cuts himself off from the world, eventually devoting the remainder of his life to one obsession: Destroying the monster he created."

Comparing the use of fire between the two stories, fire contains the essence of life, as in a spark which ignites life in Victor's creature.  For Promethus, fire, in the hands of man, his beings, allows this race of men to advance and grow into a society of people.  The discovery of fire by man marks a leap in his development as a thinking creature capable of not only surviving, but advancing.

" The quality of Man’s life improved as each facet of this marvelous gift of fire was discovered: light, warmth, cooking, healing and the ability to forge and craft. Prometheus’ gift gave Man the seeds he needed to plant so that hiS life would grow and flourish. Fire became the basis for the Greek culture and ultimately all Western culture."


favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some aspects of the allusion run parallel, such as the fact that Prometheus is from an older race of gods and Zeus is from a younger race of gods, a race begotten by the older Titans. Similarly, Victor (older) creates a child of his own in the younger "monster."  Just like the Olympian Zeus and the Titan Prometheus, "the monster" is able to overpower Victor physically.  Furthermore, Zeus is often associated with lightning, his principal weapon, as is Victor's creation.  After their initial interaction during which the creature comes to life, Victor next spots him by lightning. As his creation ruins his life, he even compares himself to a "blasted tree" that has been destroyed by lightning—just as Zeus tries to destroy Prometheus.

In a different way, though, the allusion is ironic.  In one myth, Prometheus creates human beings after his brother, Epimetheus, messes up and gives all of the good qualities— strong teeth, thick hide, claws, and so on—to the other animals.  Prometheus steps in and fashions us to walk upright, like the gods, only smaller, and he gives us fire to provide many of the benefits we might have reaped from the qualities his brother gave away.  Victor, on the other hand, is NOT a god, but he tries to do better than the gods, making his creation stronger, faster, and taller than other human beings.  Then, he abandons him, unlike Prometheus who continues to protect humans (in this and other myths).  Prometheus is a generous creator and Victor is a cruel and selfish one.  Perhaps this is why Shelley styles him the "modern Prometheus" in the novel's subtitle. Her titling is an indictment of the modern values of her age, values she seems to associate with Victor.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both of the myths you read are correct.  Most versions portray Prometheus creating man out of clay and asking Zeus if he can give mankind fire.  Zeus denies Prometheus's request, and Prometheus goes against Zeus.  He takes the fire to mankind and shows him how to use it.  The punishment for Prometheus's disobedience is the same in the versions.  Prometheus is chained to a mountainside, etc., and eventually rescued by Hercules.

The connection to Victor and fire is more symbolic.  Obviously, Victor is similar to Prometheus in that he defies "god" by trying to become a god himself (creating life).  Likewise, once Prometheus's men had fire, they started using it for tasks that displeased Zeus.  The same can be said of the monster if one thinks of fire or light as illumination.  Once the monster has knowledge, he begins to use it in a harmful manner.  What Victor fails to realize is that his creation is using knowledge or science without balance just as Victor has done. 

Another similarity between the myth and Frankenstein is that the creator is tortured by his creation.  Prometheus's creation or his obsession with his creation ultimately causes his continuing torture, and Victor's creation of the monster causes undeniable grief and anger which torture Victor until his death.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Prometheus legend is about a Greek Titan who brings fire to mankind from Mt. Olympus. His goal was to help humanity. However, fire can also be used as a destructive force. This parallels Victor's story.His initial motivation began when his mother died. He initially thinks that by creating the monster he can create life and thus, overcome deaths like those of his mother. Of course, he also has a tremendous ego and does not really think through the consequences of his actions. Like Prometheus, Victor begins with noble intentions, but his actions lead to dreadful consequences. Like fire, the monster is at first something good. But, through the actions of mankind, he becomes an evil force. Although there is no Zeus or eagle to punish Victor, Victor's regret at the loss of his family and his conscience does a pretty good job of making him miserable each day. So I do think Mary Shelley did a good job of subtitling to book. It helps the reader to understand the universality of her theme and not just dismiss her book as a fanciful horror story.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Also, like Prometheus, Victor Frankenstein suffers horribly for his mistakes. Prometheus is destined to have his liver eaten every day by birds of prey...his liver grows back over night and the process repeats itself.  Victor, by the same token, suffers as a result of his selfishness and his thoughtless creation of a "son" whom he abandons, neglects, and ignores.  As a result of this neglect, the creature/son exacts revenge by punishing Victor through his loved ones. 

Wiggin42 | Student

By their very nature, myths come in many different versions. Both the versions you mentioned apply to Frankenstein. The one my class discussed was the one where he stole fire from the gods and gave it to the humans. This is in analogy to victor becoming more god-like himself when creating the monster. 

paprika | Student

"Victor verges on inhuman – he doesn’t seem to have “normal” emotional reactions to any of the events in his life. He cuts himself off from the world, eventually devoting the remainder of his life to one obsession: Destroying the monster he created."


Is tht a quote from the book, b/c I don't remember that one... where is it from?

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