Prometheus Bound was the first work in a trilogy that also included the plays Prometheus Lyomenos (Prometheus Unbound) and Prometheus Pyrphoros (Prometheus the Fire-Bearer), neither of which has survived. Since the final two dramas of the trilogy have been lost, it is difficult to determine Aeschylus’s original intention for the work as a whole. This problem is intensified since the date of the trilogy is unknown. A reference (lines 363-372) to the eruption of Mount Aetna in 479 suggests that Prometheus Bound may date later than this event. Aside from that, however, scholars cannot agree whether the play was written early or late in Aeschylus’s career or even whether it is a genuine work of Aeschylus.

The theme of Prometheus Bound is the conflict between force and justice. The supreme god Zeus has recently assumed control of the universe from the Titans and is ruling like a petty tyrant. He has bound Prometheus to a rock in a remote corner of the earth because Prometheus gave the gift of fire to humankind, a race whom Zeus had sought to destroy. To the original Athenian audience, which had expelled the tyrant Hippias only in 510 b.c.e., Aeschylus’s references to tyranny in this play would have been topical. Moreover, it is surprising to find that these references are applied to the god Zeus, usually depicted in Aeschylean tragedy as the defender of justice...

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Condemned by Zeus for giving fire to mortals, the Titan Prometheus is brought to a barren cliff in Scythia by Hephaestus, the god of fire, and two guards named Kratos and Bia. There he is to be bound to the jagged cliffs. Kratos and Bia are willing to obey Zeus’s commands, but Hephaestus experiences pangs of sorrow and is reluctant to bind his kinsman to the storm-beaten cliff in that desolate region, where Prometheus will never again hear the voice or see the form of a human being. Hephaestus grieves that the Titan is doomed forever to be guardian of the desolate cliff, but he is powerless against the commands of Zeus. At last, he chains Prometheus to the cliff. He rivets Prometheus’s arms beyond release, thrusts a wedge of adamant straight through his heart, and puts iron girths on both his sides with shackles around his legs. After Hephaestus and Bia depart, Kratos remains to hurl one last taunt at Prometheus, asking him what aid he expects humankind to offer their benefactor. The gods who gave Prometheus his name, which means Forethinker, were foolish, Kratos points out, for Prometheus requires a higher intelligence to do his thinking for him.

Alone and chained, Prometheus calls upon the winds, the waters, mother earth, and the sun to look on him and see how the gods torture a god. He admits that he will have to bear his lot as best he can because the power of fate is invincible, but he remains defiant. He has committed no crime, he insists; he has merely loved humankind. He remembers how the gods first conceived the plan to revolt against the rule of Kronos and seat Zeus on the throne. At first Prometheus did his best to bring about a reasonable peace between the ancient Titans and the gods. When he failed, to avoid further violence, he had placed himself on the side of Zeus, who through the counsel of Prometheus overthrew Kronos. Once on the throne, Zeus parceled out to the lesser gods their share of power, but he ignored mortals. His ultimate plan...

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