Greek Mythology

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What is the main theme in "Prometheus and his gift to mankind"?

Quick answer:

The main theme of the story of Prometheus and his gift to mankind is self-sacrifice. As the patron and protector of humankind, Prometheus defies Zeus to bring fire to humanity. It is a story of intense self-sacrifice, made out of love for humankind.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The story of Prometheus's theft of fire is one of the most famous myths of the Ancient Greeks. Prometheus was one of the Titans of Greek mythology, said to have previously sided with the gods in their rebellion against Cronus, and he was the primary patron and protector of humanity (and often their creator). This special relationship is reflected in the story in question.

Ultimately, fire is one of the key symbols and enablers of human civilization: it can be used for cooking, warmth, or illumination (just to give a few examples), and in this respect, the mastery of fire still represents one of humanity's most important and far-reaching achievements. This association of Prometheus with fire and the image of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and bringing it back to Earth to benefit man is a striking illustration of his close relationship with humanity and status as its protector.

However, it is also important to remember that Prometheus suffers excruciating agony for his rebellion. As the story continues, he is bound on a mountain and left at the mercy of an eagle that would gnaw each day at his liver. Being immortal, Prometheus cannot die, and so he is left to suffer.

In this sense, the story of Prometheus's theft of fire is also a story of intense personal sacrifice, one made out of love for humanity to ensure that they might thrive, even as he himself must pay a horrifying price.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the theme of the Prometheus story?

The primary theme in the story of Prometheus is that rivalry can and does easily lead to chaos. Let's look at this in more detail.

Prometheus is a Titan, one of the group of immortals who warred against Zeus and the other Olympians. Here is the first rivalry that leads to tremendous chaos. Prometheus isn't directly involved in the conflict, however, so Zeus does not exile him, and he actually gives Prometheus the job of creating men.

Prometheus fulfills his task well, and he decides that he would much rather spend time with men than with the gods. In fact, he is not overly fond of Zeus, and he is resentful that Zeus does not want men to have any particular powers. Zeus would rather see Prometheus's beloved creation suffer.

So Prometheus decides that he will steal something very special for men. He throws a golden fruit with a label directed to the most beautiful goddess into the midst of the Olympians. Chaos breaks out at once as the goddesses compete for the fruit while the gods look on. No one notices Prometheus steal the fire.

When Zeus finds out about the theft, though, he punishes both Prometheus and men. Zeus has Prometheus chained to a mountain where an eagle eats his liver over and over again. He has another god make Pandora, the first woman, and he gives her a jar that she is not to open. Pandora, however, is so curious that she opens the jar and unleashes all kinds of horrors and pains on humanity. Rivalry has once again led to chaos.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on